From writer/director Mike Doyle, the romantic comedy Almost Love follows a group of friends, as they navigate love, life and relationships. From Adam (Scott Evans) and Marklin (Augustus Prew) assessing where they’re at in their five-year relationship, to Elizabeth (Kate Walsh) and the questionable state of her marriage, to Cammy (Michelle Buteau) and the homeless status of her new beau Henry (Colin Donnell), to Haley (Zoe Chao) and her feelings toward the teenaged Scott James (Christopher Gray), they’re all just trying to figure out how to make things work, with the humor and heartbreak that comes with life.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Colin Donnell talked about making this movie with his filmmaker friend, getting to play a more comedic character, what makes Henry an adult in arrested development, how much fun he had working alongside Michelle Buteau, and the vibe throughout the shoot. He also talked about what it meant to him to get to return for the eighth and final season of The CW series Arrow, how much he’s enjoyed getting to develop his performance as Russell in the Almost Famous musical (which had an initial run in San Diego at the Old Globe Theater in 2019, with a look ahead to Broadway), and the TV show he’d love to do a fun guest spot on, once production gets going again.
COLIN DONNELL: First and foremost, it was (writer/director) Mike Doyle. He’s been a friend for quite some time, and he had told me that he was working on a script, long before he ever asked me to be a part of it. So, when he got into a place where he felt comfortable sharing it, he let me read it. What immediately drew me in was the fact that it was a love story and a romantic comedy that happened to center around a gay couple, but wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, just a gay film. It was a universal story about a group of friends, at various points in their relationships. I thought that it was such a good reflection of where we are today, in the world, that you can have a straight up romantic comedy that has the main characters be gay, and not have to call such loud attention to it.
I’m one of those people that tends to roll their eyes at romantic comedies because they often don’t feel real, but this movie feels different and unique, not what we’re typically used to seeing, and a lot more real.
DONNELL: Yeah. I think Mike did a really great job of capturing people in their 30s. There’s such a natural way about the comedy. It never felt forced, on the page. He was really great about letting us and encouraging us to play it, as real as possible, and just letting the comedy be what it would be.
Because you guys were friends and this is his first feature film as a writer/director, what most impressed you about how he handled that, on set?
DONNELL: There’s always that tricky thing about working with friends. It’s like, “Oh, gosh, what are we gonna get into?” But when I wasn’t in it with him, it was so cool to sit back and appreciate how well he commanded the set, and how well he worked with his crew and the other actors. I enjoyed working with him, myself, which was really exciting and encouraging. It was impressive to see somebody who, no matter what was going on inside of him, had a calm at the inside of the storm, putting together an indie movie in 18 days.
This definitely seems like it would have been a fun character to play. Was that always there, on the page, when you first read the script, or did that evolve over time?
DONNELL: It was there. When Mike came to me, to ask maybe a part of the movie, he said, “Look, I think you’d be good in something else, but I want to give you an opportunity to do something that people don’t ever see you do.” He was very kind and said, “You’re funny. You have the ability to play outlandish characters, in a very real way. Do you wanna give it a shot?” And I jumped on it, especially considering what I was doing for 10 months out of the year. To be able to jump into something so absurd and fun. For me, that was really exciting.
Other people’s perceptions of us can be different than our own. Did you feel like that was something you were good at, when he said that to you, or were like, “I’m not sure if I can pull this off”?
DONNELL: I was certainly flattered, but I was definitely encouraged by his confidence in me. I was just hoping that I wasn’t gonna fuck up his movie.
There’s definitely a particularly funny moment when your character tells this woman that he barely knows that he’s actually homeless, and seems to have no self-awareness about that could be a problem for someone. Why do you think he’s someone that seems to think that this is just a perfectly okay situation and that everybody should just be perfectly okay with it?
DONNELL: I think that there’s something about him that is like an adult in arrested development. He knows that it’s not the norm, but he’s finally met somebody and he wants to figure out if she can get beyond it and maybe break the cycle that he’s been in, of screwing things up, left and right, and possibly take advantage of her. It’s interesting because, with Henry, we didn’t wanna make light of the fact that he was homeless, so it was just a circumstance that he happened to find himself in.
It’s funny because he not only is having this relationship with her, he almost feels like he’s having a relationship with her home, since they don’t go out. Does it even occur to him to want more, before all of this?
DONNELL: I think there’s something about him that sees the situation that he’s in and he’s like, “Well, this is better than what I had, so this is fine. And I’ll just try to hang onto this, for as long as possible, because something’s probably gonna screw it up, and that thing is probably gonna be me.”
What did you enjoy about playing and exploring the dynamic between Henry and Cammy, and having Michelle Buteau to explore that with? Did you just have a lot of fun together?
DONNELL: We definitely did. It’s not really a secret that Michelle Buteau is blowing up right now. Not only is she so funny, but she’s so dropped in and so capable of flushing out a character, within all of the hilarity that she brings. She really brings a lot of humanity and depth to whatever she’s doing. And we just had a blast, on set. We met for net for a drink, before we started shooting, and hit it off, and it just grew from there. I really had so much respect for what she was doing, on set. It was awesome to watch, and I was often snorting with laughter.
It seems to like romantic scenes and sex scenes are always weird and sometimes awkward to shoot, but does it help when those moments have some comedy to them and you can laugh about them, and not just have to be so serious about it?
DONNELL: Definitely! Knowing where that scene was going took away any discomfort, at the beginning. They are what they are. They’re never 100% completely comfortable, but we had fun with it.
Was there a most fun or memorable day or scene on this shoot, for you?
DONNELL: Golly, it was a really wild, fun shoot. I remember there was one day, in particular, where we actually shot the beginning scene of the movie in a Chinese restaurant, and it was just one of those days that was hectic and wild and crazy. It was Scott [Evans] and Augustus [Prew] and Michelle and I, and we were shooting in the middle of the night. It was torrentially down pouring and we were scrambling to get shots outside and trying to figure it all out. I haven’t done a lot of indie films. I think this is only my second one, actually. There’s something really cool about how a crew and a cast all just band together to get it done. And then, throw in the fact that you’ve got Michelle cracking everybody up, and you’ve got Scott and Augustus really just killing everything, and I just had a blast. It was fast and furious and really fun, the entire time.
I was definitely happy to see you show back up on Arrow for the final season. You started on that show at the beginning and popped up occasionally, here and there, but what did it mean to you to get to return for the final season and be a part of that send-off?
DONNELL: It was great. When Beth Schwartz reached out about doing it, and her and Marc [Guggenheim] asked if I would be able to come back, it was really special. I think we created something really cool, eight seasons ago, that sparked a whole new era of superhero TV. Popping back up, over the years, was really great, and I was really happy and very thankful that they wanted to include me in the final season.
Was there ever a chance that it might not have worked out, or was everybody pretty set on making something happen?
DONNELL: We were definitely trying. My circumstances changed a little bit, when I ended my run on Chicago Med, which made things a little easier. But then, I was out of town, in San Diego, doing a new musical out there instead. Scheduling is always hard ‘cause production has to run on a very tight ship, so sometimes things just don’t work out. But luckily, we were all able to make it work.
I have to say that I was lucky enough to get down to San Diego to see the Almost Famous musical. I went to see it because it’s one of my favorite films, so I was very curious to see how that would translate to the stage. What was it like for you to be a part of that show and play that character, and do that in front of a live audience?
DONNELL: It sounds cliche, but it’s hard to put it into words. Like you, I was such a huge fan of the movie, before getting involved with the project. And so, when it all came about, I don’t wanna say that there’s a certain trepidation, but I was very curious about how they were gonna do it. What’s cool about the movie is that, more than some pieces out there, it really lends itself towards being adapted into a musical because of the nature of the material. It’s a love letter to music and fandom, so it’s a very easy thing to take that joy and expand it into a musical universe. It was incredible. Stepping into Russell was really exciting. There’s certainly a lot of expectation to live up to. Billy [Crudup]’s betrayal of Russell was so iconic. He was the Rock God. And so, it was fun to see Cameron [Crowe] approach it, in the room, in a brand new, fresh way, and then really hand over the reigns and say, “This is your guy now. Do with it as you will. It’s yours.” It was just amazing. The audience response was incredible, with the energy that we had every night. It was a really, really cool experience. I’m excited for it to eventually make its way onto Broadway.
Are you hoping to be a part of the show, whenever it does ultimately gets to Broadway?
DONNELL: Yeah. They’re gonna continue to work on the show, over the next little bit. Things are certainly in an interesting place, right now, with the industry. As far as I know, the plan is sometime in 2020, so I’m excited to see what happens. Hopefully, I will continue on with the show. That is the plan, as of right now. Certainly, things can change, but we are all very excited for New York audiences to see it ‘cause we think we’ve got a really special show that is a good fit and maybe just the thing that audiences are needing right now.
When things do get back into production, at this point in your life and career, what is it that attracts you to projects? Do you have some kind of personal checklist that you look for?
DONNELL: Not necessarily. The truth is that I’m just hoping that somebody will hire me. I just hope that somebody is gonna wanna work with me. It’s great when they’re friends and they know what I can do. I’ve been really lucky, over the past 10 years now, that I’ve been able to hop back and forth between TV and film and stage. I’ve been working to develop Almost Famous for awhile now. Things with Chicago Med happened to go the way they did, right at the right time, because it would have been very hard for me to possibly do both. I was craving being back on stage, and hopefully this will be the opportunity to do it. I just love characters that are a little off-beat. I love being able to take a guy that wouldn’t necessarily be a traditional good guy and make him likable. I like to try to bring as much humanity to whoever I’m playing as possible, just to see what I can do.
Is there a current TV show that you watch, that you’d love to do a fun guest spot on?
DONNELL: Oh, gosh, there’s so many. I’m absolutely loving Superstore. I think it’s one of the best comedies out there, so I would kill to be Random Shopper #8.
Almost Love is available to watch on-demand.