I recently sat down under editorial impetus to watch “After Forever,” a short-form Amazon Video release whose first season has a total running time of 88 minutes (roughly 11 minutes per each of the eight episodes). While the narrative arc of the show is easy to pin down — it follows the romantic and social life of a gay man named Brian (played by Kevin Spirtas of “Days Of Our Lives” fame) after the unexpected death of his husband, and his struggle to find stability while still in the throes of his loss — I found myself pleasantly surprised by the show’s emotional core, and its earnest (if at times a little offbeat) depictions of middle-aged gay adulthood.
Both Brian and Jason (the aforementioned husband as played by Mitchell Anderson, a former Hollywood star newly out of acting retirement and the owner of Midtown restaurant MetroFresh) are depicted on-screen bearing all the supposed unpleasantries of aging. The two leads, as well as the supporting cast of close friends and potential love interests — all well-into adulthood in their own rights — bear the brunt of wrinkles and gray hair, and while this may not be a new sight for on-screen heterosexual couples, much of LGBTQ and film and media prioritizes romanticized portrayals of the lives of young gay men, mostly white, and their whirlwind first loves.
While the relevance of productions like “Moonlight” (Barry Jenkins, 2016) and its Oscar win show that this tide might be shifting, the narrative potential for speculation about the lives of older gay people still goes largely unexplored, making “After Forever” a novel venture. Upon interviewing Mitchell Anderson, I was even more delighted to weigh in not only on the broader cultural significance of this show as part of a wave of new and refreshing queer media, but also its importance to Mitchell as a means for contextualizing his own lived experiences. (Note: this correspondence has been paraphrased for clarity and cohesion. Warning: Spoilers for the Amazon Prime release, “After Forever.”)
What sort of challenges did you face, if any, in portraying this sort of situation, this unique depiction of loss and love for a middle-aged gay man, particularly from your character’s perspective as the source of the loss?
Well, it’s interesting because … I think, for me especially, having moved to Atlanta in 2002 after living in New York in the ’80s, and having watched so many friends fall at the height of the aids crisis-
Practically an entire generation of queer people, almost.
Right, nearly an entire generation … I found that the focus on grief and death felt less central to my life at the time that I was building Jason’s character last year. What’s kind of crazy, though, is that for me, nearly a year before I got the call about “After Forever” and agreed to come on board for the show, my father passed away, and I was in the position to watch him take his last breath, and, well, in the last episode of the season, viewers get to see that happen for Jason. And even sitting in the doctor’s office — when he gets that announcement — felt so real and immediate for me. I’m lucky to be in that position, y’know, as someone who survived and is aging out of the youth I spent in the ’80s and ’90s watching friends and loved ones die, where injuries now are the result of life well-spent.
And it’s a kind of a privilege, in that way.
Oh, absolutely, but I think it definitely resonates with the character. I mean [Mitchell gestures to the crutches nearby, evidence of his pulled hamstring] this is just from playing tennis, but those first few days, hell, weeks, after, I felt so feeble, and so aware of my own mortality, too, because of course that’s an integral and inevitable part of it. And I definitely brought those feelings and that experience into playing Jason and embodying that sort of decline.
Relatedly, what do you think is the importance of having varied gay experiences portrayed in film and on-screen?
Well, it’s obviously a necessity. I think the prevalence of blind-casting definitely helps; there are so many kinds of actors — really talented performers — who wouldn’t have had the opportunities I had when I was active in the industry. Even I barely got the opportunities I did. When I came out in 1999 at the GLAAD Music Awards, it was such a struggle for me as a gay actor to even get roles despite having industry friends in higher positions who were also gay … you know, there really wasn’t that kind of industry support or even a safety net that I think so many younger actors are able to benefit from now.
Do you think that these new short-form video productions have contributed to the influx of new queer media, particularly digital?
For sure. “After Forever” was nominated for twelve International Academy of Web Television Awards (IAWTV), and I flew out for the ceremony expecting, well, not to sweep the awards [Mitchell laughs], but we walked away with three, which is pretty good, and I was just astounded by the amount of amazing talent I saw, and the number of truly inventive shows. It was such an amazing experience. I opened MetroFresh and hadn’t ever thought about coming back to acting. The fact that I can be apart of this at all is so astounding, and [“After Forever”] is definitely easily digestible because of the form, right? We shot it like a movie, like a single storyline, and I hope the viewers feel that coherency, too.
You can watch After Forever on Amazon for free with Amazon Prime.