Struggling with your sense of identity, and trying to find the best way to stay truthful to your genuine personality, is often a difficult process for many people. But the ability to stay committed to your real self becomes increasingly daunting as you reach the later stages in your life. That chronicle of staying true to your beliefs, no matter what stage of life you’re in, is powerfully showcased in not only the protagonist’s life in the new independent drama, ‘Boulevard,’ but also the career of its director, Dito Montiel. The filmmaker, who will be participating in Q&As following tonight’s screenings of the drama at the Landmark Theatre in New York City, has showcased the difficulties of maintaining important emotional connections since his first movies, which he made after he toured with musicians when he was younger. He captivatingly infused that experience into his latest film, which emphasizes the main character finally wanting to embrace his true personality, after forming and maintaining relationships that didn’t always completely fulfill him.

‘Boulevard’ follows the introverted and reserved Nolan Mack (Robin Williams), who is seemingly content in staying at the same redundant office job at a small Nashville bank, and with the same woman, Joy (Kathy Baker), who he’s been married to his entire adult life. The two are affectionate towards each other in a friendly way, but aren’t overly passionate or intimate with each other; they even sleep in separate bedrooms. So when Nolan is offered the chance to apply for a management position at the bank, he begins reevaluating his life, and realizes that he’s always done what he’s supposed to, instead of what he truly wants.

As he begins looking for more emotional fulfillment in his life, Nolan decides to start making changes one night after visiting his ill father in the hospital. He makes an impromptu decision to talk to Leo (Roberto Aguire), an underprivileged young men who’s struggling to survive on the street. While Leo immediately realizes that Nolan is different from many of his other clients, he’s still surprised when the older man only wants to form an emotional relationship with him, and help him out financially.

While Leo is hesitant to give up his lifestyle to form a closer connection with Nolan, who is finally embracing his true sexuality that he’s been suppressing since his adolescence, the banker becomes devoted to financially helping his new companion anyway he can. Even though Nolan is trying to keep his new feelings and relationship hidden from everyone in his life, including his best friend, Winston (Bob Odenkirk), he’s unable to keep the change in his personality and feelings concealed from Joy. While she’s seemingly aware that her husband is gay, as she repeatedly catches him in lies about who’s been spending time with, she never confronts him. But she’s still not ready to end their marriage and finally give them both the chance to pursue real happiness on their own, as she, like Leo, aren’t fully prepared to accept Nolan’s determined stance to finally embrace who he has always been.

Montiel generously took the time recently to talk about directing ‘Boulevard,’ which expands to theaters in Los Angeles and additional cities next Friday, July 17, during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how he decided to helm Soesbe’s script because not only did he think the story was complex, but he was also able to relate part of his own personal experiences, including his parents getting divorced when they were older, to Nolan and Joy’s marriage; how Nolan and Joy did love each other in their own way, but their marriage wouldn’t have remained the same, even if he didn’t meet Leo, because he was finally accepting who he really was; and how trusting Williams, Aguire and Baker’s instincts on how to best present their characters convinced him to cast them in the main roles.

ShockYa (SY): You directed the new independent drama, ‘Boulevard,’ which was written by Douglas Soesbe. What was it about the character arcs and relationships that convinced you to helm the film?

Dito Montiel (DM): I read an early draft of the script, and when you read something, you have to put a little bit of yourself into it. I thought about my parents when I was reading the screenplay for the film, because they got divorced in their 70s. I thought that was odd, and my sisters and I were all asking our mother what she was going to do. She said, “Well, I’m not done yet.” (laughs) So that stuck with me as I was reading the script, particularly with the aspect of Robin and Kathy’s characters making such drastic changes in their lives at their ages. I thought that showing that idea, instead of featuring the typical coming-out story, was complex, which really touched me.

SY: With ‘Boulevard’ chronicling Nolan finally accepting his sexuality after being married to Joy for several decades, did you feel you had a social responsibility to present him in a certain way as you were filming the movie?

DM: The film is meant for everyone to put their own thoughts into it. But my idea was that their marriage was pretty good, and that they did love each other. When I was working on the film, including collaborating on the script and with the actors, I thought that even if that night didn’t happen, and Robin’s character didn’t see Roberto’s character, his life wouldn’t have just continued as it was.

I’m a pretty complacent person, and I can continuously watch ‘Big Brother’-I watch it three times a week (laughs), and I also watch ‘The Bachelorette.’ I’m like my father in the fact that I don’t need much in my life. But my mother wanted to do more than just sit in Queens for the rest of her life. So everyone’s different in how they like to live their life. My sisters and I sometimes joke that our parents may have been happier if they stayed miserable together to the end. It’s tricky to know if they made the right choice.

There’s a nice tagline to the film that says, “It’s never too late to make a U-turn.” That’s true, but sometimes it’s nice to stay on your side. If Robin’s character was 23-years-old, this would be the story of him coming out, and there may be a super exciting music scene at the end of the film. But this story is a little more complex than that, and that’s why it became such an interesting film to make.

SY: Like Nolan accepting his true personality later in his life, you began writing and directing films later in your professional life. How did your previous jobs and experiences influence your decision to become a filmmaker, and the way you approach penning and scribing movies?

DM: Well, I was too crazy in my teenage years. (laughs), and I wasn’t doing anything that made any sense. Then I spent a lot of time making music and touring around the country and living the weird life. I was just trying to keep a job and get by. So in a lot of ways, I went through a strange version of film school. So you live through a lot of things, and put them into your work.

I’m such a fan of actors, and also enjoy watching them work, so that I can help their acting in any way I can. Sometimes it walks a tricky line, because you want to be entertaining to some degree. But honesty is always entertaining to me. I’m a big Woody Allen and Spike Lee fan, and I find their films to be very honest.

SY: How did writing and directing your first few films, including ‘A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,’ ‘Fighting’ and ‘The Son of No One,’ compare and contrast to solely helming ‘Boulevard?’ Does also penning the screenplay make your directorial duties easier or harder once you begin shooting?

DM: To me, it’s the same thing, because if I become involved in directing a film, I’m also going to collaborate on the script. To me, the screenplay only becomes the Bible of the film after the actors have been cast. You go over the initial script with them, and listen to the way they talk. Then you try to do a rewrite to accommodate them.

I like to see people put themselves into films, which is part of the reason why I love Woody Allen films so much-I believe his actors’ work. I have a feeling that many actors in his films are similar to their characters, and I like that. I know that some great actors can transform, and that’s fine. But I come from the school of thought that people put a version of themselves in their films.

So whether I’m writing the script, or someone else writes the initial draft, I’m always an actor’s director first. I always try to listen to them a lot, and try to put their voices into their character. If actors are making a little film with me at 2am in Nashville, they’re not doing it to get paid. They’re doing it because there’s something special about the characters, which helps the film become more interesting.

SY: With the drama primarily focusing on the different states the characters’ relationships are in, how did you decide to cast the main actors, including Robin Williams, who played Nolan, Kathy Baker, who portrayed Joy, and Roberto Aguire, who played Leo?

DM: Well, all three of them are great actors. With Robin and Kathy, you have entire bodies of work to look at. You think, wow, these people have won awards and moved me. Since they’re strong in their work, you feel confident.

Since Roberto’s a newer actor, and there’s also an innocence to him, you don’t have any preconceived notions about him. When I met him, it wasn’t about his sexuality; it was that I believe he could be lost somewhere. You think that his character was on the street because he needed money. I’m not sure if Leo is really gay or not, but Nolan most likely is gay.

So with these characters, I trusted the actors a lot. But we also worked on the characters together, and rehearsed until we were blue in the face, because it’s the small things in these roles that make them a big deal.

SY: Speaking of the rehearsal process, what was the process of working with the actors once they were cast, in order to develop their characters’ backstories and arcs?

DM: We didn’t have a remarkable amount of rehearsal time in person together, but we spoke on the phone as we were working on the characters. Robin, in particular, felt strongly about his character’s relationship with his wife. He also felt that this is a story about how she also felt strongly for him. He didn’t want her to be the evil wife he was getting away from, and now he’s gay and everyone’s going to stand up in the theater and clap for him. It was more about walking an interesting line in their relationship.

Kathy also had a lot of strong opinions about their relationship. They had an unwritten agreement, and he was breaking it. I thought that made her a lot more interesting, as she was shown to be a lot angrier and vulnerable in the end. She thought, how could he do this to me?

So I spent a lot of time talking to the actors, and then we had a little bit of rehearsing. But we mainly did that so we could hear the dialogue out loud.

SY: What was the experience of filming ‘Boulevard’ independently in Nashville-did it help build the characters and the story?

DM: Well, the film was originally called ‘Santa Monica Boulevard,’ as we were going to film in Los Angeles. But a tax break brought us to Nashville. (laughs) So it became interesting as we said, “Let’s embrace that.” We stayed away from Honky-tonk Lane, so that it could take place in any town in America.

As far as shooting there, it was great. We had a great crew, and it was intimate. Taking it out of a big city, and putting it in a small city, ended up being a really nice thing about the film. It gave the movie a quiet sense that I enjoyed. The setting in Nashville seemed to suit the characters more than if Robin had come up from the hill in The Valley in Los Angeles, and then started driving down Santa Monica Boulevard.

SY: ‘Boulevard’ had its world premiere at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, and then had its Los Angeles premiere at Outfest 2014. What did it mean to you that the film premiered at Tribeca, and went on to such festivals as Outfest? What was the experience like of bringing the drama on the festival circuit overall?

DM: It went over really well. If you get to bring a little movie on the festival circuit, it’s a nice experience, because you get to see it with an an audience. People who go to festivals to watch films are usually a little more eager to enjoy them. It’s exciting, because it’s like you’re going to the film’s opening night at every festival. Since everyone’s happy to be there, it’s an exciting thing. I would say to go to as many as you an, because there are just as many exciting small festivals as big ones. For us, it was the right way to go.

Interview Dito Montiel Talks Boulevard (Exclusive)

Written by: Karen Benardello

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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