Lukas Gage and Zachary Quinto on the ‘Unabashed Gayness’ of Their Raunchy SXSW Comedy ‘Down Low’

“Down Low,” an outrageous new comedy that premieres this week at SXSW, starts with a failed attempt at a happy ending. And things go sharply downhill from there.

The raunchy film is the brainchild of Lukas Gage, best known for being on the receiving end of Murray Bartlett’s, um, affections in “The White Lotus.” He wrote the film with Phoebe Fisher and stars as Cameron, a masseuse who is hired to get off Gary, a repressed millionaire played by Zachary Quinto. It’s an attempt at alleviating pressure that careens dangerously off the rails as Gary and Cameron destroy several lives over the course of one crazy day and night. Gage and Fisher were inspired to write the film after watching “Pretty Woman” and learning more about that rom-com’s original script, which was titled “3,000” and told a far darker tale about sex workers.

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“We had an idea — what if we made it queer?” Gage tells Variety. “What if we made it a little bit more insane?”

The go-for-broke plot (and to say much more would be to spoil some truly WTF moments and ruin a cornucopia of twists and turns) was what appealed to Quinto, the openly gay “Star Trek” star.

“I like the unabashed gayness of it,” Quinto says. “It didn’t apologize for itself. It was the first thing I’ve done since the pandemic, and it was exciting to come do something unique and singular.”

It was also a chance for Quinto to do a lot of broad physical comedy, a muscle he’d never really been asked to flex before. “It allowed me to throw the boundaries out the window,” he says. “It carved out space that I was eager to step into in terms of humor and doing something unexpected.”

To stage the madness on screen, Gage enlisted Rightor Doyle, an actor and director whose credits include “Barry” and “Bonding.” Doyle urged Gage and Fisher to tone down some Gary and Cameron’s more despicable actions and to emphasize the emotional bond they form while juggling various felonies and misdemeanors.

“The question of the movie is if you do bad things, can you still be a good person?” says Doyle. “There’s a larger issue surrounding queer identity where many people in our society feel like at a base level you can’t be good. We wanted to fly in the face of that.”

At the same time, Gage says he was inspired to push back against the more sanitized, uplifting depictions of LGBTQ life that have cropped up on screen in recent years — most of them part of a genuine desire to change attitudes and provide some moments of cinematic empowerment.

“This is not to bash ‘Love Simon’ or any of those coming-of-age gay movies, but I want to see queer people and characters and situations where it’s not just about how being gay is okay,” says Gage. “I wanted to situate LGBTQ people in a different genre. I wanted to have queer characters and not just have it be a queer story of ‘it’s okay to be gay and love ourselves.'”

Both Cameron and Gary find themselves desperately trying to do damage control, but as the increasingly outlandish situations pile up, the younger, unabashedly out gay man teaches his closeted counterpart a lot about the life he has deferred in order to fit in. That journey makes “Down Low” surprisingly touching, as well as envelope pushing.

“Gary is a person who through these madcap experiences is able to wake up just in time,” says Doyle. “For one day, at least, he’s able to see what it’s like to be gay and to be fully himself.”

It’s just that in Gary’s case, kicking open the closet door causes some collateral damage.

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