River Gallo is mostly known for being an intersex rights activist, a filmmaker and an actor (Ponyboi, Love Victor). POOL BOY is a short film that’s playing at the BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, focusing on gender identity, starring River Gallo, directed by Luke Willis (The Summer House, BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival 2020).
Austin (Tim Torre), a college jock home for the summer, unexpectedly develops feelings for Star (River Gallo), his parents’ non-binary pool cleaner, and struggles to hide his growing feelings from his clique of straight friends. The film also stars Justin Chien as “Jake”.
YASS Magazine met River Gallo and here is everything you need to know.
What are your pronouns and how do you identify, first of all?
My pronouns are they, them, theirs. And I identify as intersex, trans and non-binary.
You are mostly known for being an actor, a filmmaker and an intersex rights activist. How would you personally describe yourself and which of these roles is the most important to you?
Yes, I would describe myself as an actor, a filmmaker, a writer and an intersex rights activist. I would use all of those to describe myself, but I think at the end of the day, acting has always been my first love, since high school, since seeing musicals. But, I would also argue that acting is the one thing that we all do. I think we’re all actors and I think all of this is just a kind of existential level. I believe that the art of acting has led me to realise that I wanted to write parts for myself and, so, I started writing plays first, and, then screenplays. This is how I realised that I wanted to direct them and get into filmmaking. So, I feel like acting was like the doorway to everything else.
What is the most challenging part of all? Is it more difficult to be an actor or is it more difficult to come up with a screenplay and to direct a movie?
I would say the hardest part is definitely writing. I think all writers will tell you this. But, something that I’m learning is to cope with the challenges and difficulties that come with it. Writing is hard because it is deeply personal, but good writing, just comes from a place of deep honesty and deep investigation and it is a personal experience. The hard part has been when it comes to writing in a way in which I can find the joy in talking about my traumas and the difficult things that have happened in my life, while at the same time, not losing a bit of that suffering. You always need to be authentic to your experiences.
And is it difficult to write about your personal life?
It is. And it isn’t, at the same time. I like to say that all my work is at least emotionally autobiographical, but I also find entertaining the idea of including more and more fiction and imagination into my writing. It is hard to write about personal things, especially when you still haven’t healed from certain things from your past. It takes a lot out of me emotionally, so now I prefer to write something that’s not entirely real.
Is there enough representation of intersex people in in the movie industry?
No. There is not enough intersex representation in the movie industry, comparatively speaking to just any other demographic. I mean there’s me and there’s a few others working and raising awareness on intersex rights. I am sure there are people who are out about being intersex. But, that’s kind of the hard part, because intersex people make up for the 1.7% of the world’s population. There are as many intersex people as there are with red hair. But, it’s the shame and stigma of growing up intersex that many intersex people feel like they can’t talk about it. And, also, inherently when you talk about being intersex, you’re implying there’s something “wrong” or different with your genitals. So, you end up speaking about the most intimate parts of your body. And many people do not want to talk about this. This is partly the reason why there aren’t as many out intersex people in the industry. We need more intersex activists to increase that visibility, so that the next generation of intersex people feels comfortable coming out and starting to share their stories.
What are the main topics that you want to raise awareness on?
I want to raise awareness on the shame and loneliness of intersex people, and how those two really feed each other when. I think that we as intersex people have been told to be silent about things and have been advised to hide certain parts of our identity, not just to protect us, but to fit in with the rest. And, for me, this has been so damaging to my psychology, to my mind and to my heart. I’m interested in speaking about the journey of how one feels oneself. Which to me involves revisiting my past. It is about trying to find more joy and love and happiness in my life. And I I’m interested in creating work, that, on some level, doesn’t necessarily have to have a happy ending, but, on some level, gives some hope, and lifts the world up, even just a little bit.
Talk to me about POOL BOY.
POOL BOY was written and directed by Luke Willis, a friend from LA. We both went to film school at USC together, at different times. Luke casted me and it was really exciting to be in this kind of sweet love story that has some real depth and heart to it. When I read the script, I realised the film was about creating hope in the end, showing that someone was realising that there’s a different way to exist, where they didn’t have to succumb to the pressures that their friends were giving them and where they could decide to give love a chance! Also, the aesthetic was just beautiful, and I look really good. And, I was happy Luke was able to capture that.
What is the message that you want to spread the word with this movie?
I want people to recognise that at the end of the day everyone is looking for connection and we shouldn’t block ourselves with what that connection might look like, or with whom that might be with. Intimacy is something that is so individual. There’s so much of a degree of just diversity in love and intimacy and sensuality.
Who are the people you admire?
Well, there’s so many people that I that I love so much in various different mediums and art forms. In movies I love the work of David Lynch and Miranda July, who’s also a writer and her writing also inspires me in writing. Additionally, I love Oprah. I think like the rest of the world saw that interview with Meghan and Harry recently. I think Oprah is fantastic. I also love the work of photographer Diane Arbus. I think she worked during the 40s or 50s and her portraiture has always been fascinating. I saw an exhibition of her portraiture in Berlin in 2011, and I remember crying in the exhibit.
I really like work that captures just the flaws of the being human, those small moments of change and transition and transformation.
What are the similarities between POOL BOY and Ponyboi?
You know, it’s funny. I feel like there are many similarities, that we were not planning but are just there. First of all, the name. I did not plan that; that’s just a funny coincidence. But, in the end of the day, it is about someone trying to let go of what’s holding them back. They are both about self-love and healing and listening to your heart and not to what other people expect or want from you.
How was your experience in Love, Victor ?
It was so lovely! It’s funny because when I auditioned for that part I was so excited to have this small modest part on the show. So, I was really excited. And then when it came out, I didn’t realise how much the episode that I was in, meant to the character in the entire scheme of Victor’s journey into coming out and finding himself. In this episode, Victor found a queer community and a queer family and love in a communal sense. When the episode came out all the fans were pouring with love saying how my words changed their lives. It was the first time someone was saying on tv they were non-binary. I feel so proud and humbled to be a part of this. In life you don’t know if one thing you do can literally change somebody’s life.
How has life been the last year?
It’s been hard, and, but also beautiful, in a way that I never, I never thought, given COVID the Black Lives Matter protests and a death of a very close friend of me. So much happened last year, one after another. But, it all actually led me to a place of deeper connection with parts of myself that I think I had been running away from for a long time. And it was hard to do that. But, I am also grateful with everything that happened the way it did, because I feel I’m finally in a place where I feel, for the first time, myself. And that’s hard to say because I thought I’ve been myself, but there were things about myself that I wasn’t being completely honest with. And now, I am finally being honest.
What are your future plans?
I’m developing Ponyboi into a feature film. Right now, we’re developing it and we’re planning to shoot at the end of this year. I’m really excited about that. It just feels like it’s been so long in the making since when I wrote the short film in the summer of 2017, and then I shot it in 2018, and then it came out in 2019. Aside from that, I’m also writing my first book of short stories and poems and essays that I’m also turning into an album of spoken words. You can say that I am exploring myself in the world of literature and in the world of music.
POOL BOY will be available to stream on BFI Player for free as part of BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival between 17-28 March