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Queerty: Can a threesome save sanity during COVID-19? Brian Jordan Alvarez knows…


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SOCIAL DISTANCE (L to R) BRIAN JORDAN ALVAREZ as MARCO, MAX JENKINS as SHANE, and PETER VACK as ADAM in episode 104 of SOCIAL DISTANCE Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2020

“Oh my God, my favorite!”

You heard it here first, folks: Brian Jordan Alvarez loves Queerty. That’s a good thing: we love him back.

New York-born and Tennessee raised, Alvarez jump-started his career with the web series The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo, which he wrote, produced and starred in. The show gained a broad online following, which helped Alvarez land roles in Hot in Clevland, 2 Broke Girls, and Jane the Virgin. In 2018, Alvarez nabbed his biggest role to date, as Jack’s (Sean Hayes) fiance Estefan Gloria on the revival seasons of Will & Grace. Amid it all, Alvarez has also maintained a strong social media presence, gaining a following for his Instagram videos which feature him dancing in his underwear, or imitating the vapid spiritual coach Marnie T. through the magic of Snapchat filters.

Now, Alvarez proves even a pandemic can’t keep him from working. The actor joined the cast of the new Netflix anthology series Social Distance, about Americans doing their best to live through the slog of COVID-19. In the show, Alvarez plays Marco, an up-tight, sexually frustrated man trying to hold together his relationship with Shane (Max Jenkins). No longer feeling the spark between them, Marco and Shane decide to have a threesome with Adam (Peter Vack), which goes hilariously off the rails.

We snagged time to chat with Alvarez about the new show, his prolific Instagram accounts, and how he’s keeping sane through the ongoing crisis. Social Distance streams on Netflix.

So, I have to ask again, but are you doing ok?

Yeah. I find ways to deal. For me, exercise is a big one that helps me feel happy. So I do a lot of that, maybe more than ever. Exercise is paramount to my mental health.

SOCIAL DISTANCE (L to R) MAX JENKINS as SHANE and BRIAN JORDAN ALVAREZ as MARCO in episode 104 of SOCIAL DISTANCE Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2020

At least you’re being productive. How surprised were you to get a call to do a show filming during COVID?

Oh my God, I was so excited. Finally. I think I was hungrier than ever to be creative. It felt like such a gift.

Were you hesitant about doing a show that was going to involve you doing intimate scenes with other actors?

It was made very clear how extremely safely it was going to be done. I was pretty much excited right away.

Normally, I wouldn’t ask a technical question. That said, one thing that impressed me about the show is the way it doesn’t adhere to the “Zoom” format which is common at the moment. The idea of shooting via security cams is really clever. Tell me what the shooting process was like in terms of going to the set every day, and working with Max Jenkins.

He’s brilliant. I felt so grateful to be able to work with Max. He’s an actor I’ve admired for years. What’s interesting about it, I think, is that I was surprised at how much it was directed. Basically, the whole thing is directed over a Zoom call, but it’s very involved with the writer, the director, Claire [Scanlon], who is incredible, our DP, Mark [Schwartzbard]. The only difference is we’re in my apartment. Luckily, I have a lot of experience with cameras. This was all shot on iPhones. Of course, they sent us all this stuff through no contact deliveries.

Sure.

There was an amazing team that pulled off this whole look, and the whole visual aesthetic. That wasn’t us. We were their hands, but they had monitors in their own homes where they were seeing a shot. So we would move the camera around for them, but they were completely in control. It left us free to focus on acting. And that’s part of the fun of it. It was such an adventure. I also knew I was participating in something unique, which is not something I always get a chance to do. That thrills me.

Related: WATCH: Brian Jordan Alvarez & Sean Hayes get spiritual…and scare us to death

How does your director, Claire direct you if she’s not in the room? Obviously, she has the monitor and is on speakerphone, but how does that affect your ability to trust and communicate with your director?

It’s funny. I guess it ended up feeling more like a traditional set in the best way possible. Imagine instead of Claire being there in person, she’s just on a laptop. She also has her computer keyed into the Zoom call and the shots we have set up so she can see the performances. She’s basically in the room with us. We would go to the laptop and talk to her. Sometimes we’d have breakout rooms. She’s a fantastic director. She has a deeply encouraging quality where she takes what you’re doing and makes minor adjustments. It’s really freeing. It’s just funny that by the end [of the shoot] it feels strange that I’ve never met Claire in person. I feel as close to her as any director I’ve worked with. That was part of the uniqueness of it. I feel close to this group of people, and I’ve never met [most of them] in person. It’s also worth noting that I love this episode.

Well of course.

I woke up and happened to catch it the minute it went from the preview being on Netflix to the actual episodes being available. I saw that change happen in the app, so I watched my episode right away. I thought they did something extraordinary. It’s expertly done.

SOCIAL DISTANCE (L to R) BRIAN JORDAN ALVAREZ as MARCO, MAX JENKINS as SHANE, and PETER VACK as ADAM in episode 104 of SOCIAL DISTANCE Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2020

What you say there is really interesting, Brian. This is your apartment. In a way, that sounds even less invasive than being on a normal set. It’s so much more immersive than a traditional set would be. How does that affect your performance?

I think it’s good. I know an old story—I don’t know if it’s true—for a week before shooting Dirty Dancing, a movie I love, the cast would hang out every night. I was already good friends with Peter and Max, but like you say, the immersiveness—especially in a story about being immersed—it’s layers upon layers of what makes this an effective piece. I just feel like it’s so believable. I feel like I was with these guys. The believability is one thing that really stands out to me about it. I think us being around each other, like you say, might have contributed in a positive way.

Shane and Marco, your characters, are a couple that realizes over the course of the episode how socially distant they really are from one another.

Well said.

How do you and Max go about building a rapport with one another, and that you feel safe with each other?

A lot of that was just technical. Netflix was super safe. We had tests. So I think that element was taken care of, and we were free to do the work.

You’ve also been keeping busy. I’ve seen you gyrating on Instagram. You’ve also been keeping your alter-ego Marnie alive, and you’ve been scaring the hell out of me.

[Laughter]

I’m so glad you invoke Marnie. She has that scary effect on some people; I’ve heard that before.

Well, personally I’m someone fascinated by religion and gurus and cults, and the psychology of all of it. She has all those marking about her.

Right.

SOCIAL DISTANCE (L to R) BRIAN JORDAN ALVAREZ as MARCO and MAX JENKINS as SHANE in episode 104 of SOCIAL DISTANCE Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2020

What fascinates you about her as a character?

David, I have to say, I’m so fond of you. I love that I get to do an actual interview where we talk about Marnie T., my Snapchat filter character. I appreciate that.

It’s my job.

Marnie, the truth is…I’ve listened to a lot of self-help over the years. I was raised Catholic, but I’m not…

Practicing?

Yeah, not my style anymore. But I’ve listened to a lot of self-help, especially when I was younger. I think a lot of our creations as artist—and you experience this too—you’re putting gasoline in the tank for years, and you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Then one day this thing emerges. I think that’s part of the humor of it too, to the people who think it is funny. Sometimes it’s very vague, and sometimes it’s specific. But I think it’s years of different spiritual stuff I’ve listened to. And she doesn’t scare me.

To be clear, I do find her funny, but sort of in the way you watch a Hitchcock movie. It’s scary on the surface, but funny the more you think about it. Marnie’s the opposite: she’s funny on the surface, and terrifying the more you think about her.

There’s a contrast to the character.

And that’s what makes a compelling character. I look forward to seeing her movie someday.

I’ve thought about that a lot. Could I do an interview on a late-night show as Marnie? I would really love that. I made those fun videos with Sean Hayes, my friend and an amazing actor from Will & Grace. He was so sweet to have this idea to engage with Marnie. It was so fun.

If you ever want to do an extended interview as Marnie, I’ll happily sit down with her.

[Laughter]

I won’t be able to sleep after, but I’d do it.

You’d face the Marnie terror?

I live in Los Angeles. I face terror on an hourly basis.

[Laughter]

So your career has been gaining a lot of momentum in the past few years. Then COVID happened, and everything was shut down. When there’s an industry outage like that—and for the record, this goes beyond COVID. There are writer’s strikes, actors strikes, etc. But when production stops, how much do you worry about it stalling your career?

Well, that’s a great question. I can’t speak for other people, but I know a couple of good friends—really talented actors—who have experienced the inherent uncertainty of an acting career. I think you just have to develop inner peace about it. In this particular situation, for me, it helped me deal with it. I was already getting used to not knowing when my next job is coming, but trusting that it will. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of creative juice to put my own stuff out, like Marnie. It’s a beautiful question, because it reminds me of the kind of Zen you have to develop. You learn this practice of being at peace with uncertainty. I had a great professor in college named Joseph Hacker who had been a working actor for 20 or 30 years, and that was one thing he tried to get into our heads. You realize you are a working actor, and you have to trust it. I’m also lucky to have friends who work as actors, like Peter in the episode. He started working way younger than I did.

Alright.

I think he’s kind of helped me develop that spiritual practice. And I think it goes beyond acting into any artistic life. I’m sure you’ve experienced this: in an artistic life, you’re just not going to have that kind of totally rock-solid reliability as you’ll have in other career paths.

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Older than the star system Vega

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Oh yes.

But for me it’s worth it. For most people who love what they do, it is worth it.

Great answer. You mention your creative juices. Other than Social Distance and Marnie, what have you been juicing?

[Laughter]

I’m writing a bit. I’m very excited about what I’m writing for the first time in a while. I’ll talk more about it later. Doing the Marnie videos and generally the social media stuff—something about this year made me just try it.

Social Distance streams on Netflix. For more of Marnie T., visit Alvarez’s Instagram account.

Queerty