An­dré Aci­man

The au­thor

Gay Times Magazine - - Culture -

The orig­i­nal writer of the 2007 novel.

Where did the in­spi­ra­tion come for your first novel, Call Me By Your Name? It’s very hard for an au­thor to know what the in­spi­ra­tion is. The real in­spi­ra­tion is that I saw a pic­ture of a house that I liked a lot, and then I thought of a street lined with pines lead­ing to a pri­vate villa and then I imag­ined a car com­ing and then I saw my­self as a child or as a young man, but more as an early ado­les­cence, then the story sort of took off from there.

The real source of the story might be found in the first tale of Enigma Vari­a­tions, my latest book, be­cause the boy is 12 and he does have a crush on an older per­son, and the irony, if irony you want to call it, is that he has ab­so­lutely, ab­so­lutely no idea of what’s hap­pen­ing to him. He doesn’t know the first thing about sex, let alone gay sex, so he’s to­tally lost. And in a sense, this was the be­gin­ning of the story, I de­cided to make the young man a bit older, I didn’t want him

to have any in­hi­bi­tions of the sort that most peo­ple go through. And I wanted him to know ex­actly what he wanted from Oliver.

What were the ini­tial re­ac­tions to the

pub­li­ca­tion of the book? On­line you saw it more of­ten, there was some reser­va­tion about, ‘How could a mar­ried man, who has three chil­dren, un­der­stand what our life is.’ This is – what is it called now? Cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion.

I mean there was some ver­sion of that go­ing on, with­out the dis­tinc­tive name for it. ‘How could he do that’, ‘What does he know.’ Oh my God… What did Shake­speare know about mur­der? And you can go on and on and on. Peo­ple who were gay would usu­ally com­ment back on those sites and say, ‘It doesn’t mat­ter, it’s a story about love. It doesn’t have to be about gay or not gay,’ or this or that. Al­though I do think to sort of counter the dis­claimer, this is a gay story. There’s no ques­tion about it, yes, it is about love and love ex­ists in all forms on this planet, but if I gave it that par­tic­u­lar im­po­si­tion it means there must have been some gut re­al­ity to the tale, the way it came out. I don’t think that this story could have hap­pened this way be­tween a boy and a girl.

How long af­ter pub­li­ca­tion did the

film start to look likely? I think it took at least seven years. A lot of peo­ple wrote to me. Some­body even wrote to me and sent me his mu­si­cal ver­sion of Call Me by Your Name. It had some songs in it that were nicely done. I mean the man re­ally put to­gether a CD of the words that were taken from the book and yet made them into songs. And it wasn’t so bad – but I’m not a mu­si­cal per­son. I mean, I don’t like mu­si­cals as a rule, so I’m the last per­son to judge, but I passed that on too and it kind of went nowhere.

What were your thoughts on see­ing the

fin­ished movie? Well I knew the story… [Laughs] I like how it was made. I was very ner­vous about the peach scene, be­cause I just had a feel­ing they were gonna show a bit too much, and I was go­ing to feel re­pelled by the thing. And yet they did it ex­tremely well, in a very sort of chaste man­ner, that at the same time did not cheat what was go­ing on.

But you wrote that scene, it came from

your mind! Well come on, I mean… All the things that come from your mind, do they not re­pel you some­times? How could I even have thought of that? I al­ways ask my­self where did that come from? [Laughs] I’ve never done any­thing close, I’ve never fucked a fruit in my whole life [Laughs]. I thought of eras­ing it when I was writ­ing and I said, ‘No, no it has to stay.’

And the film of course I was ex­pect­ing... were you go­ing to see se­men? Were you go­ing to see him eat­ing the se­men? I mean it could be grotesque, and it wasn’t, it was done ex­cep­tion­ally well. And if any­thing, im­me­di­ately af­ter that scene it tran­si­tions into a moment in which Elio bursts out cry­ing. In the film it’s done so well that you for­get the peach, and you see them both em­brac­ing each other.

I think Luca had the per­fect in­stinct for this be­cause he re­alised that ac­tu­ally the story is about emo­tion and less about the phys­i­cal acts them­selves. Well, let’s say that it be­comes about emo­tion over and above the phys­i­cal act. And he cap­tures that bril­liantly, with­out be­ing melo­dra­matic in the slight­est, be­cause there’s a sense of irony punc­tu­at­ing the whole film.

And there’s also quite a bit of hu­mour, which I don’t re­mem­ber hav­ing in the book, but it was done per­fectly in the movie.

Did you visit the set at all? I was in­vited to visit the set. Part of me felt, ‘What do they want the au­thor on the set for?’ Well there was a rea­son – they wanted me to play a part. It’s me, and the pro­ducer of the film, playing one of the two older gay lovers who show up at the din­ner.

I don’t know if you ever read Tintin when you were a boy, and there are those two twins? What I wanted to do was por­tray gay men the way peo­ple have no­to­ri­ously al­ways por­trayed gay men. And I wanted that to be sort of in the back­ground, at the same time that Elio and Oliver were go­ing to sleep to­gether for the first time. So, I wanted that to be there, and

to prove, just to ba­si­cally if one could wipe the slate clean of any ridicu­lous in­ci­dents that peo­ple al­ways made, par­tic­u­larly when I was grow­ing up and I was grow­ing up in the mid­dle east so you can imag­ine what things were be­ing said. Playing that part was won­der­ful, I en­joyed it to­tally, and I thought I was go­ing to be ner­vous but I wasn’t. We had a great time.

Did you get to see much more of it be­ing

filmed? The thing that moved me the most, is that when I ar­rived, they picked me up from the air­port with my wife and they said, ‘We want you on the set right now.’ I ar­rive, and they are ac­tu­ally re­hears­ing and playing the scene that I thought was the most dif­fi­cult scene to write. Which is the scene when Elio tells Oliver, ‘I know noth­ing,’ and Oliver says, ‘Do you mean what I think you mean?’ and he says, ‘Yes, I do,’ and it’s the con­ces­sion scene, and that was very hard to do, be­cause I wanted it to be done in the most sub­dued man­ner, the most am­biva­lent and the most am­bigu­ous man­ner pos­si­ble.

So that there was al­ways room for, in case it needed to hap­pen, for re­trac­tion. And of course, it didn’t need to be be­cause Oliver re­sponded more or less right away.

Didn’t you think that the fathers speech at the very end was amaz­ing? It’s an amaz­ing, amaz­ing moment in the film. I can’t say I choked up, but I could feel that if I didn’t know this so well, I would have prob­a­bly been teary eyed, be­cause the fathers speech is a speech that ev­ery per­son wishes their father had told them, and never did. But I was lucky be­cause I had a father like that. But that’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent story.

It’s a very dif­fer­ent end­ing to your

book... It doesn’t for­give you, it doesn’t re­lent. And I thought it was per­fect. In fact, you want to walk out of this movie the­atre by your­self. And even­tu­ally sort of hav­ing a drink with some­body, and ba­si­cally spill the whole movie as you un­der­stood it, but for a few sec­onds as you’re walk­ing out of the movie, ‘Don’t talk to me, don’t say any­thing, I’m still there.’

Will there ever be a se­quel? No, I wouldn’t, be­cause it would spoil ev­ery­thing, and es­sen­tially the book I wrote most re­cently, Enigma Vari­a­tions, is re­ally the story of a bi­sex­ual man, from his child­hood into his late adult­hood. And it takes var­i­ous seg­ments of his life and por­trays them and I think that’s a good enough way of hav­ing a se­quel to this. I don’t even know how the book [Call Me By Your Name] ends, be­cause the book ends in a con­di­tional mood. Which is a way of say­ing, is Oliver go­ing to stay in house for­ever? Or is he leav­ing the next morn­ing? We don’t know. Is Elio with some­body? Is he part­nered? Is he mar­ried? Is he gay? Is he bi? Is he what­ever? I didn’t want to an­swer any of these things, I didn’t even want to delve into it.

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