In the era of streaming content and binge-able TV, it’s never been easier to bring your vision to life. As queer people, these accessible platforms are crucial to our visibility. When big networks are dragging their feet to come up with quality queer characters and storylines, it’s up to us to tell our own stories.
No one has proven this quite like Kit Williamson. Creator and star of Eastsiders, he’s built a fan base of loyal queer followers. With sex positive storylines, diverse characters, and an intimate depiction of various kinds of relationships, it’s no surprise that LGBTQ viewers have fallen in love.
Although the show’s popularity has hoisted it to Netflix status, the production is still very much grassroots. Crowdsourcing to fund each season, the making of the show becomes a labor of love not just for the cast and crew, but for its loyal followers who want to see it continue. With the recent release of the third season to Netflix, it’s cause for celebration among anyone who watches.
This season follows Cal (Williamson) and Thom (Van Hansis) as they make the long road trip from New York back to LA, with a vintage camper in tow. As they cross state lines and pick up hitchhikers, their relationship is put to the test.
Meanwhile, their friends back in LA are going through their own changes, including Douglas (Willam Belli) and Quincy (Stephen Guarino), who are taking a bold new step as they get engaged, and lovebirds Hillary (Brianna Brown) and Ian (John Halbach) who are adjusting to the recent return of Ian’s ex, Kathy (Constance Wu).
We recently caught up with Kit as he was promoting the new season. We chatted about everything from getting snowed out of Yellowstone National Park to working with Trump-supporting porn stars.
Congrats on season three of Eastsiders. How does it feel to see these characters you created grow and evolve, and to see the fans grow to love them?
The show has been on such an incredible journey, from starting out on YouTube in 2012 to getting picked up by Logo, getting a distribution deal with Wolfe Video, and finally making the leap to Netflix last year. I’m so excited to share the third season with everyone. It really feels like the show has grown up and we’ve grown up with it.
It’s really common for creators like Issa Rae, Lena Dunham, etc. to star in their own work. Why was it important for you to play Cal?
I started acting professionally when I was in college. I got the chance to act on Broadway and Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Off-Broadway. And I was always writing, but I never attempted to act in my own work. It wasn’t until I was in grad school, getting my MFA in playwriting that I realized it was because I was afraid of putting myself on the line and getting dismissed. And that’s when I knew I needed to do it. Nothing risked, nothing gained.
You also work with your husband, John Halbach, who plays Ian and helps produce. Do your personal and professional relationships just go together or do you have to leave the work talk at set and leave the husband talk at home?
Unfortunately, our home is the set of Eastsiders. We literally live in Thom and Cal’s apartment. We also manage the marketing and PR campaigns for the show together. We’ve been able to strike a pretty good balance, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a challenge at times. We work great together, but we’re definitely husbands first and business partners second, which is probably why we’ve been together for 11 years.
It’s interesting to have him play a straight character instead of Thom. Were there ever plans to play partners or does that blur the lines of what’s autobiographical?
I wrote the part of Ian with John in mind, but we did consider having him switch over to play Thom at one point because we were having trouble casting the main gay roles in season 1 until we connected with Van Hansis through our mutual acting teacher Lesly Kahn. I’m so grateful it worked out this way, because Van is beyond perfect in that part and I do think it would blur the lines too much. People already assume everything in the show is autobiographical, which is hilarious to me. Some things are drawn from life, but people almost always guess the wrong things. I really love it when people are shocked to discover John and I are in a relationship.
As far as queer web series goes, Eastsiders has developed such a huge following. How do you see the importance of online platforms and self-created content for queer stories?
I think it’s so fucking important that we get our stories out there on our own terms. If we wait for studios and networks to cater to us, we’re going to be waiting a long time. We get one LGBT series every five years basically, and when it’s on the air, networks say the market is “oversaturated” with LGBT content. I get that we’re a small part of the population, but come on, we deserve more than one story.
You’ve had some pretty amazing guest stars. Who’s been your favorite to work with? Is there one you’re hoping to work with that you haven’t yet?
It’s such a blast directing Willam and Stephen together. Their chemistry is insane, and they have so much fun with their characters. That said, it has been a dream come true to work with Traci Lords. I was so nervousand still very green as a directorwhen she agreed to do a scene in episode one. I tried not to be too obvious about it, but I was a huge fan. She was fantastic to work with and really boosted my confidence. I’m forever grateful to her, and her scenes all really stand out to me in the series. I would literally kill a man to work with Parker Posey. We’re both from Mississippi, and I’ve been a fan of hers forever.
This season features Colby Keller, who’s become pretty controversial for his pro-Trump stance. Was that ever an issue when it came to casting or working together?
We were actually already on the road to Idaho with the crew, hauling a vintage camper trailer when the news first broke about his views. His tickets were already booked to meet us there. I couldn’t disagree with his stance more, but I had to ask myself if I would be okay with someone firing me because they found out I planned on voting for Hillary Clinton. Also, it was a month before the election, and I was certain Clinton would win.
I understand why some people think we should cast everyone that disagrees with us out of the village. I’m still furious about the election, and I’m furious every time I check my goddamn Facebook feed. But I think we have to find a middle ground. I think he’s great in the show, and I hope he can listen to the people who have been impacted by Trump’s presidency and understand why the real-life consequences they face are more important than his ideological purity. Sorry bud, but the revolution’s not coming. At least not yet.
This season was filmed as a road trip. What was it like producing that and planning the logistics?
The road trip was absolute insanity! We shot in 16 states, and we never had the luxury of scouting a location before we arrived. We had a tight schedule to keep, and we had to arrive in Idaho in time to move into our Airbnb and shoot the interior camper scenes. I still don’t know how we pulled it off.
Did you have a favorite city to shoot in?
We got snowed out of Yellowstone, which was wild. But it ended up leading to some of my favorite shots from the trip, just having to think on our feet and redirect what our goals were for the day. The Black Hills and The Badlands are so stunning.
You and John own that camper now, and I know you love to travel. Any place you plan on taking it?
First stop, Joshua Tree. We’re going to take it to the spot where we got married and camp near there. We also have plans to go exploring the Pacific Northwest this fall.
The show has been known to explore polyamory and other kinds of relationships. How does it tackle those stories this season?
At this point, it’s just a fact of the characters’ (Thom and Cal) relationship. I don’t want to sensationalize it. It’s not the conflict of the season, and it’s not something that is really causing issues in their relationship.
They have bigger fish to fry between their issues with money and drinking and figuring out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Douglas and Quincy are facing the big questions toowhen I look towards the future, where am I going, and is this person going to be there with me?
Are there other relationship or sex positive stories you hope to explore?
Pretty much any story I hope to explore is a sex positive story. My only agenda is empathy; I hope people that watch the show can relate to the characters even if they don’t agree with their decisions. I wouldn’t make the same choices as all of my characters either, but I care about them and understand why they do the things they do. That’s all I think you can really ask of storytelling. I’m not interested in watching a morality tale.
Any other plans for a season four or any other projects you can discuss?
Right now, we’re just focusing on getting season three out there. But I love Douglas and Quincy’s story, and it’s been so much fun taking them from fun secondary characters in season two to primary characters in season three. I’d love to keep playing with the dynamics of a love story between an eccentric party promoter and a drag queen.
I’d also love to circle back to the characters we got to know in season two, like Jeremy (Matthew McKelligon) and his burgeoning relationship with Derrick (Leith M Burke) and Jeremy’s lesbian sister Bri (Brea Grant). I think there’s still a lot to explore there.
And I’d love to explore Val more. I love all of the actors in the show so much, and it’s so easy to write for all of them. They’re so inspiring to me.
All three seasons of Eastsiders are now available to stream on Netflix.