From director Don Argott, HBO Documentary Films and Live Nation Productions, the documentary Believer delves into the fact that the suicide rates in Utah, among members of the LGBTQ community, have skyrocketed since 2008, as a result of the Mormon church’s official stance on same-sex relationships. Looking inward at the affect these teachings were having on some of his own friends, Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds has decided to shine a spotlight on the culture he grew up in, in the hopes that through dialogue and conversation on a very human level, some changes can be made that will help save lives.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Dan Reynolds talked about learning how to speak his own truth, how this documentary evolved, why he wanted to work with filmmaker Don Argott, creating the music and spoken-word festival LoveLoud with openly gay former Mormon Tyler Glenn (lead singer of Neon Trees) to speak dialogue between the Church and members of the LGBTQ community, what he hopes people take away from seeing this documentary and hearing its stories of tragedy and hope, the best thing about being a part of Imagine Dragons, and what the next step in all of this is for him.
Collider: Thank you for being so open, honest and vulnerable in the film. I think it’s so important and meaningful, both for you to be able to process what you’re dealing with and to show so many other people that’ll see this that they’re not alone. Could you ever have imagined that you’d be putting at this place, putting a documentary out into the world that isn’t specifically about your band, Imagine Dragons, but it more about your own crisis of faith and finding your own way to have an impact on the world?
DAN REYNOLDS: No. I really have enjoyed a life, for better or for worse, of anonymity. I’m quite an introvert. On stage, that’s my time to really be free and be an extrovert. When I’m off stage, I really enjoy privacy. What happened was that I have an incredible therapist that I’ve been working with, for many years, and one of the things that we’ve talked about, these last couple of years, is really trying to be open and honest and to speak my truth. This journey, for me, was really about speaking my truth about something that I’ve felt very passionate about for awhile and haven’t really done anything about. I watched my community and my culture fail, in a really specific way that’s been hurting people who are close to me. I’ve lost friends to suicide. I’ve had many friends who grew up Mormon and gay, and I watched the conflict that they went through. I just think it’s been a long time coming, you know?
The director of this documentary, Don Argott, told me that this all started in a very different way, with you looking at telling the stories of the individuals on Fremont Street in Las Vegas, which is clearly a very different story from what we’re seeing now. Why was that a story you wanted to tell, and why did you think there was a film there?
REYNOLDS: I knew that I needed to do something to see outside of myself. My career is so self-focused. It’s one of the things that just burns me out. My main goal was to see outside of myself and speak my truth, and to find truth in others, or wherever it may lie. I didn’t really know what that meant, to be honest. I just knew that I needed to find my truth. And so, in meeting with Don and spending time together, and having him dive into my life, and me talking about my life and the things that I was passionate about, and things that were important to me kept coming up, it got to a point where I just knew that I could make a difference here. I could make real change in a community that needs it. It’s my community, it’s my family, it’s my culture, and it’s my friends. We just went along with the ride, and that’s where it got us.
Why was Don Argott the director that you wanted to work with?
REYNOLDS: For the exact reason that he was raw and he understood me. We had a lot of similarities, just in his desire to be very honest and not afraid to approach things from a different perspective, and also to not be afraid to rock the boat, which I spent my entire life fearing. Mormons are taught to be very unoffensive and to roll with the tide. I saw immediately that that was not Don’s MO, and that’s what I needed. I needed someone who was going to help me to have the courage to follow whatever path was laid out in front of me.
I’m always very impressed with documentaries because the filmmaker typically has hours and hours of footage that they have to form into a coherent movie, and I thought the way that this was handled, from the topics you were trying to explore to the concert and trying to get all of that to come together, was so well done, on every level.
REYNOLDS: That really is Don. For me, I was just living. He was the one who had to film through everything and put it together. He and Sheena, his wife, basically lived with me for months and we became so close that I think that helped a lot. They were able to really understand all of the weird nitty gritty of Mormonism that takes a long time to understand, like the cultural things that lay under the surface.
I loved the moment in the film when you reached out to Tyler Glenn, and I thought the fact that you reach out to him with a personal apology and then ultimately ended up working together was just so beautiful. What was it like for you to reach out and start that conversation with him, and then also have something so meaningful come out of it?
REYNOLDS: Honestly, that was the most intimidating thing for me, but it was also a really important thing for me to do. We have existed in each other’s circle for a long time, but I just didn’t have the courage to say to him, “Hey, I’m sorry for not standing by you. How can I help?” That’s a hard conversation to have, but I think it was one that had to happen because I knew that the two of us together could really make an impact. He’s just one of the most beautiful, wonderful human beings, and now we’re best friends. It’s been a really cool process. We’ve grown so close through it.
When you perform on stage in front of huge crowds full of thousands of people who are singing along with you, I would imagine that it must be a huge rush for you. How much more special is it to take the stage at something like LoveLoud and really feel all of that love coming back at you?
REYNOLDS: I wish that everybody could attend LoveLoud because, even though it’s a beautiful thing in the doc and Don did an incredible job of showing it, it’s just so magical that you can’t put it into video and a small vignette to show how impactful that day was. The feeling in the air was nothing short of magical. I am the most skeptical person about energy and all that stuff because I’ve been raised with religion and I feel like I’ve been burned in a lot of ways, but that day, in particular, was something that is indescribable. There was such a feeling in the air, getting to see these families come together, and having these kids tell me that their uncle came out and that this was the first time their uncle had ever supported them in anything because they were gay and it had put a strain on their relationship, but then the uncle felt safe to come to LoveLoud and the uncle listened to LGBTQ powerful, healthy members of the community get up and talk and play music. It just brought families together, in this way, and it was so incredible and needed. I’m even more excited for it next year.
You went through so many ups and downs, just trying to put that music festival together and actually getting it to happen. How many times did you wonder whether you’d actually be able to pull this off? Did you really feel like it wasn’t going to happen?
REYNOLDS: Oh, 100%. There were a couple weeks, in particular, where it was basically off and it just wasn’t gonna happen. We couldn’t get anybody to sponsor, and we couldn’t get a place to give us the property to do it. There were so many powerful people in Utah that were just pulling every string possible to stop it from happening because they didn’t want that there. It was infuriating. It was so frustrating because we knew that there were people there that wanted it. It didn’t represent all of Utah, just the powerful people who didn’t want to talk about the black eye that is on Utah, which is the suicide rate that is skyrocketing. They don’t want to look bad like that. They’d rather fly under the radar.
There are some tragic stories in this documentary, but there’s also a lot of hope in it. What do you hope people will take away from seeing this? If you can’t change the Church, do you at least hope that you can empower the individuals that are in it?