What if your 4-year-old son would rather dress up as Rapunzel than a pirate for Halloween or prefers playing with a Cinderella figurine than G.I. Joe? These are questions confronting a married couple played by Jim Parsons and Claire Danes in the IFC Films drama “A Kid Like Jake.”
The picture — out June 1 — centers on how the parents learn to respond to their gender-questioning kid and whether they should conform their child to traditional gender norms as they enroll him in kindergarten.
“The beauty of this movie is it takes a topic that talks about transgender issues and doesn’t give the audience any strong conclusions about what’s right or wrong,” Parsons told Variety at the film’s New York premiere on Monday held at the Landmark 57 West Theater. “What the movie does is grounds it in a situation that people can identity with. You don’t have to have this specific issue in your life, but it shows a family dealing with raising a young person and having honest arguments and conversations and fumbling — just like all humans do.”
Parsons, who arrived at the screening with a cane and a boot over his right foot due to fracturing it while performing in his Broadway play “The Boys in the Band,” said he was immediately drawn to the film’s story after watching Daniel Pearle’s 2013 play of the same name. Parsons acquired the rights with his producing partner and husband Todd Spiewak and hired Pearle to adapt his stage version for the big screen.
For Parsons, being an openly gay actor sets him apart from the majority of his peers. He said he’s “fortunate in many ways” that Hollywood and fans recognize his talents, rather than his sexuality.
“I have never felt like an outsider in the arts world,” said the “Big Bang Theory” star. “I do feel like I bring a lot of unique qualities, and that makes me different — that’s my bread and butter. In a way, I feel accepted because of that. Growing up, of course there were other aspects where I felt like I stuck out and I wished I didn’t stick out. I later realized what’s good about sticking out is that you can use it in a positive way, and then you enjoy sticking out.”
When Danes read the script, she coincidentally had finished “the grueling process applying to schools” for her own son and felt a strong connection with the project.
“The story was very relatable. It was almost problematic because there were a lot of overlaps,” said Danes. “Sometimes it’s more challenging to chart the emotional course of the character when you see too much of yourself in the character. It’s not a problem on ‘Homeland.’ But, the dialogue was so fresh, alive and realistic. I hadn’t read scenes that were so rich between people like this in a long time. We need more stories like this.”
Director Silas Howard echoed Danes’ sentiments and hopes studios are willing to finance and distribute more films similar to “A Kid Like Jake,” so that “people will understand that things are different,” said the transgender filmmaker. “We are taught in life that certain things are this way or that way, especially when it comes to gender. If you don’t fit in a box, then you’re not accepted, which is wrong.”
Octavia Spencer, who plays Jake’s preschool advisor, also celebrated the film’s contribution to diversity. The actress encourages individuals to rebel against any labels. “It’s crazy that people aren’t allowed to be who they are and crazy to make people conform to any ideal,” she said. “I love the differences and we need to learn to embrace one another. That’s what makes us unique and beautiful.”