Ryan O’Connell in Fiction Debut, Embracing Disabled Artists – The Hollywood Reporter

Ryan O’Connell is used to harnessing his personal life for better creative purposes.

His breakout comedy Especially, which ran for two seasons on Netflix and was nominated for four Emmy Awards, is based on his own journey as a disabled gay gay man dealing with his cerebral palsy. He played a version of himself in the lead role. Before O’Connell arrived in Los Angeles, in an age where blogging can eliminate petty celebrity status, he wrote a very popular Thought Catalog column about his dating life as a teenager. a young man in his twenties in New York City. Now, he is releasing his debut novel Just look at him — a poignant, spicy story about a self-described “gay man in his thirties with an expensive haircut.” Elliot has cerebral palsy, lives in Los Angeles, and is struggling with a long-term relationship that’s slowly dwindling into something between the stale and slightly toxic and the psychological warfare that is the writers’ room Hollywood. Sit in the manicured backyard of his Eastside Los Angeles home (where he and partner, writer Jonathan Parks-Ramage, live among framed photographs of O’s literary heroes Joan Didion and Nora Ephron ‘Connell), O’Connell described the book as “emotional” Autobiography, but insisted it was not a cover-up memoir. “From Especially, I can see how you read the diary of this book and like, she can read it again! “, he said. “But according to the plot, it’s all fiction.”

Fans of O’Connell’s very distinctive writing style will find in this novel a familiar delightful humour – Elliot narrates in first person and without prisoners in the running commentary. mine. About his colleague in the scripting room of the recipe network sitcom for which he was reluctantly staffed: “Cindy is 50 years old and dressed as a front desk clerk who has recently lost her moral center mine.” About a friend from afar who chose to live in Santa Monica: “The First Sign of Unwell.” About his sex worker, River: “[He] objectively handsome, like if James Franco fucked Dave Franco and gave birth to a less problematic Franco. ”

O’Connell realized early in his career that his voice was one of his greatest career assets. His work at Thought Catalog led to him becoming an agent and a book deal (his 2015 memoir). I’m special was later used as the source material for the series), and within a few weeks of moving to LA, he landed a writing position for MTV’s Clumsy, a show that relies heavily on youth slang and banter. “Then I realized that for better or worse, my voice is so distinctive that there are, like, three [existing] he say. “I will never be able to jump in New girl. The only way to sustain a career is to make things on your own.”

Especially It’s personal and completely original to be sure, but O’Connell admits that the team project elements required to make a TV show (and act as host) have been removed. the pure expression of self that comes from writing and creating alone – pure expression what that is Just look at him recommended author. When the pandemic begins to close, stop production EspeciallyIn the second season, he decided to start writing 1,000 words a day. It’s both an art exercise and a coping mechanism: “I don’t like the feeling of losing control.” He continued to laugh, adding, “If you want to learn all the liberal arts schools about it, it probably stems from being born in a body I can’t control.” He wasn’t about to write an entire book, but Elliot’s story flew out of him, the novel’s narrative rhythm coming easily. “I wrote cliff stories,” he says. “So it presented me with a problem to deal with the next day.” The first draft was made in three months. He’s aware of the rarity there – his partner Parks-Ramage wrote his own debut novel (Yes, Father) for several years, a more typical pace – and describes the sensations that came to him during the writing process as “dryness”.

With exorcism literature complete, O’Connell needed to find a book dealer. He was looking for gay representation, so reached out to author and friend Melissa Broder (in 2021). Milk Fed) for help — “I’m a TV artist, she’s a literary diva” — he said — and ended up signing on to a publisher that was delighted to release the book without blur the edges. The novel is not filtered in the descriptions of Elliot’s sex life (the opening line is “My boyfriend Gus has a nice penis” and the realities of living in a crippled body (entering a job). work on set made him “sweat, looking like Reese Witherspoon in Wild”) and the author is required to keep it that way. He also felt strongly that it should be allowed to remain a beach read. “Usually when a marginalized person talks about their experience, it’s a capital L,” he says. “But the reality is that I am a bitch to Nancy Meyers. I am a commercial novel. ”

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Ryan O’Connell as Julian in ‘Queer as Folk’
Courtesy of Alyssa Moran / Peacock

Just look at him will release same week Queer As Folk relaunched early screenings on Peacock – O’Connell acted and wrote the show – and a film adaptation was made. He is experiencing unmistakable success, but notes that he still feels professionally unsatisfied. Partly because of his upbringing in Ventura, Calif., a far cry from the dominant regions of Los Angeles, adding yet another highlight to his premier belt. As a kid, he never even expected to attend a liberal arts college; A settlement from the hospital where he was born financed his tuition and supplemented his meager salary during his early days in New York. “The culture is set up that way,” he said. “That money opened up a whole new world for me.” But he’s also candid about the difficulty he still faces when it comes to getting the type of content he likes to be greenlit by an industry that’s slow to diversify. He recently lost a role in an extensive studio comedy because of what he described as concerns about reading the role as offensive if played by a person with a disability: “They locked it in disability wakes up, but Hollywood is still the toxic dog she has always been.” And the success of Especially didn’t translate to an expansion in disabled content the way he thought it would. “I think there will be more calls coming in,” he said.

Publication, too, has expanded the scope of the author’s voices and topics more slowly than critics hoped. The industry relies heavily on compilation books, and the first books of its kind can be intimidating to editors and marketers. When publishers deliver Just look at himthey cite its analogy with Especially as reason. O’Connell makes that argument, citing talented filmmakers whose entire work is variations on the same theme: Sofia Coppola and her documentary about the dire condition of people. rich, or Woody Allen (“raw,” he added) and his neurosis The New York Stories. “And, I’m sorry and I love her, but really Sally Rooney has written the same book over and over again,” he said. “No one questioned that. We’re okay with artists dipping from the same well over and over again as long as it’s a certain type of artist. “

He came up with the idea that there was only room for so many quirky handicapped narratives, and noted that his worst fear about his own success was that it might come at the cost of money. other people’s prices. His goal is to help drive the business – on screen and on the page – green-lighting the work of more disabled artists. And he vowed to never stop taking up space. “I spent so many years getting emotional to the point where I just finished it,” he said. “I’ll have the confidence of Rob Schneider in the ’90s.”

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