“Russell's an average guy who's really looking for somewhere to fit in,” says Cameron Deane Stewart, discussing his starring turn as the questioning young protagonist Russell in the new film Geography Club. “He's not the flamboyant young guy that's the stereotype you often find in movies and television featuring young gay male characters, and I really wanted to break that mould. The film's about Russell dealing with his sexual identity, but it is also just as much about him struggling to find himself and find people he can relate to and that help him find inner strength.”
A breezy hybrid of classic teen films like Breakfast Club and newer television shows like Glee and Friday Night Lights, Geography Club is based on the critically acclaimed, bestselling young adult novel of the same name by Brent Hartinger.
It tells the story of 16-year-old Russell, a typical suburban teen struggling to navigate his sexuality in the face of the painful adversities of high school. Russell falls into a blooming but closeted relationship with the star football jock Kevin and even joins the football team while he quietly makes new friends with the kids in his school's “Geography Club,” a secretive front full of outcasts who are trying to figure out their own sexual paths.
The film throws a wrench in the average plot-line of the typical gay coming-of-age story, including having Kevin's macho, football-loving Christian father, played by Scott Bakula, be accepting of his own gay brother, which has no effect on Kevin's self-acceptance.
“One of my favourite things about the film is that it's a very realistic portrayal of what happens for some people when, despite having supportive parents, sometimes their biggest enemy is themselves,” Stewart says. “Russell has an arc where he starts off really struggling with who he is, but in interacting with his new friends and his family he learns how to accept himself regardless of any pressure he had from people who would rather he hide from the truth.”
Stewart is straight but had no issues with taking on a gay role, noting that things in Hollywood have changed and that for him it was all about the quality of the part and what the film has to say. “I'm from a pretty conservative place in Texas, and I did see some bullying. And any of the kids that I did see growing up who were struggling with coming out, were very few,” he says, adding that he is thrilled to see friends and family back home be supportive of the project. ”Moving from Texas to LA, I've gotten to meet so many different people from so many different walks of life, and with these kinds of movies and TV shows being made, people who don't have the ability to travel to urban places to get a glimpse at how other people live . . . it's a great gateway for them. If I can do something that adds a little more good into the world, then nothing else matters.
“It's hilarious, it's heart-wrenching and it's the kind of coming-of-age story that anyone can relate to,” says Stewart, who has travelled with the film to both mainstream and gay film festivals, including LA Outfest, where it won the Audience Award for Best Feature. “It's a film that really proves that whether you're struggling with your sexuality or anything to do with embracing who you are, you have to believe you're not alone, and when you search out people with similar philosophies, those are the people who will really help you grow.”