By any measure, gay writer, director and producer Greg Berlanti has had an amazing career so far. Over the last 20 years, he’s been involved in the creation and development of several iconic movies and television series, many of which have featured prominent LGBT characters. Now he’s about to launch a very personal project, a big screen gay romance called “Love, Simon.”
The 45-year-old Berlanti was born in Rye, N.Y. and studied playwriting at Northwestern University. His first gig in Hollywood (1998-2002) was working as writer and then producer of the WB’s popular teen drama “Dawson’s Creek.” The cast of the show included Kerr Smith who played one of the first openly gay teens on television. In the 1998 episode entitled “True Love,” Jack’s kiss with Ethan (Adam Kaufman) was the first-ever gay male kiss on prime time television.
Following his success with “Dawson’s Creek,” Berlanti went on to create two more successful series for the WB: “Everwood” (2002-2006) and “Jack and Bobby” (2004-2005). The final season of “Everwood” featured the coming-out story of piano prodigy Kyle Hunter (played by Steven R. McQueen).
After his success at the WB, Berlanti moved to ABC to launch the series “Brothers and Sisters.” Written by gay playwright Jon Robin Baitz, the show explored the life of Nora Walker (Sally Fields), matriarch of the Walker clan following the sudden death of her husband. Gay son Kevin (played by Matthew Rhys) helps his mother tend his siblings while he sorted out his own on-again, off-again relationship with Scotty Wandell (Luke MacFarlane).
In 2007, Berlanti created “Dirty Sexy Money” about a New York lawyer (Peter Krause) and his rich New York City clients for ABC. Berlanti cast trans actress Candis Cayne as Carmella Rainer, a trans woman having an affair with married New York Attorney General Patrick Darling (William Baldwin). This made Cayne the first transgender actress to play a recurring transgender character on primetime TV.
Meanwhile, Berlanti began to explore his interest in filmmaking. In 2000, he wrote and directed “The Broken Hearts Club: a Romantic Comedy,” a heartwarming movie that has become a perennial gay favorite. Set in West Hollywood, the film is centered on a bar owned by Jack (John Mahoney) and the group of friends who frequent the bar and play on Jack’s softball team. Based on Berlanti’s friends at the time, the cast was filled with rising stars including Timothy Olyphant, Dean Cain, Zach Braff, Matt McGrath, Andrew Keegan and Billy Porter.
Movies were also Berlanti’s introduction to the DC Extended Universe with which he is now closely associated. In 2011, he co-wrote and co-produced “Green Lantern” starring Ryan Reynolds as the title character. Although the movie was neither a critical nor financial success, a reboot of the franchise is in development.
Since then, Berlanti has developed a highly successful and lucrative collaboration with DC Comics and the CW network. GLAAD and other LGBT media watchdogs have frequently praised Berlanti’s work with the DC Extended Universe for its inclusion of so many LGBT actors and characters.
Since 2012, Berlanti has been producing “Arrow.” He’s also involved with several other superhero series that are still on the air, including “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” “Legends of Tomorrow” and “Black Lightning.” He also produces “Riverdale,” based on updated versions of the characters from the Archie comics.
With all these series underway (and even more on their way), Berlanti set a record for having 10 different scripted television series planned to air in the 2017-2018 television season on various networks and digital platforms.
In the midst of all this, Berlanti still found time to get married. Last Dec. 2, Berlanti exchanged vows with Robbie Rogers who made history by coming out while he was a professional soccer player. Forced to retire in 2017 due to injuries, Rogers is now working as an actor and producer. Berlanti and Rogers live in Los Angeles with their son Caleb who just celebrated his second birthday.
And now, Berlanti is set to release his next project, “Love, Simon,” a romantic comedy-drama slated for a U.S. release March 16. Adapted by the writing team of Isaak Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger from the award-winning book “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, the movie is about Simon Spier, a gay teenager who is not ready to come out of the closet. Things begin to look better when he starts an online relationship with a fellow student named “Blue,” but takes a turn for the worse when a classmate discovers the emails and blackmails him.
Berlanti says the movie is “a coming-out story that makes you laugh, cry and feel.” He became aware of the book when people in his office decided to pursue it, but couldn’t get the rights.
“When the script was written it came my way,” Berlanti says. “I fell in love. It felt both timely and timeless. It reminded me of films that I grew up with that were about coming of age and figuring yourself out. But, it had one essential difference — this script had a gay character front and center. I had a visceral reaction to the script and I hoped that audiences would have the same reaction.”
Once he had his hands on the script, Berlanti used the skills he has developed adapting comic books for the small screen.
“Working with the DC Comic Universe,” he says, “I’ve learned to try and honor the DNA of the characters, but it still has to work in this new art form. There’s a reason the character was popular to begin with and you have to get the heart of the character and extrapolate that out. … I would go back to the book all the time whether it was for a line or a moment. I just didn’t want to miss anything.”
With the premiere of “Love, Simon” approaching, Berlanti says he finds himself thinking about his first feature film, “The Broken Hearts Club.” Partially it’s because his new movie is getting the wide release that his first movie never received.
But it’s also because he misses his friend, actor John Mahoney (“Frasier”) who died in February at 77.
“John was a real godfather for that movie. He was the name who came on board to help us get financing. He knew I was kind of figuring out how I would pull this off and he was very supportive. I remember sitting with him in between set-ups and he was just giving me the confidence to tell that story.”
As for Mahoney’s sexuality, Berlanti says, “He and I never discussed our private lives.”
Of posthumous attempts to out people, Berlanti says, “I really think that Harvey Milk said it right: Every gay person has to come out. But, I do believe that everyone needs to determine their own timeline. To borrow Simon’s line from the movie, ‘I’m supposed to be the one that decides when and how and who knows, and how I get to say it, that’s supposed to be my thing.’”
To borrow another of Simon’s lines, “I’m done living in a world where I don’t get to be who I am. I deserve a great love story and I want someone to share it with.”