Brad Bell is a fresh face in TV, currently working as a Consulting Producer for VH1′s Pop Up Video. Bell has crafted the online persona of “Cheeks” for years and built a preexisting fan base that he brings to his projects. In addition to short form comedic videos on You Tube, “Cheeks” has also released three albums on iTunes, all of which debuted in the Top Ten Electronic charts. Bell is Executive Producer, co-writer, and star of Husbands the Series, a marriage equality comedy that has become an online sensation and garnered positive notices from The Atlantic, USA Today, and The Advocate. The New Yorker hailed Bell as “the standout” in a rave review — the only one that publication has ever given to a web series. Bell has been nominated for both writing and acting awards for his work on Husbands. You can follow Cheeks on Twitter @gocheeksgo.
An Interview with Brad “Cheeks” Bell
What inspired the original concept for “Husbands”?
Originally the story I wanted to develop for the web, dealt more with Hailey (played by Alessandra Torresani) and Cheeks’ (played by Bell) character–living in Los Angeles, living in the Hollywood culture and being young. The moral of the story was you’re in your twenties now, time to grow up. I was talking about it with Jane Espensen over dinner one night. She felt it had aspects to make it really good, but just felt like we’ve seen this story before; we had Will & Grace, and that twenties something story. We got onto a conversation about I Love Lucy, and thought that’s it! A first sitcom that revolves around a young newlywed couple making the same mistakes everyone makes in their twenties.
With the pending changes in gay legislation, do you see the show as being a symbol for that era?
I think it’s reflective of the era that it lives in, like anything I guess. With Mary Tyler Moore (in the Mary Tyler Moor Show) it was a single woman at the height of women’s liberation—I think the show (Husbands) is a product of its generation in many ways.
You’re two main characters wrestle with gender politics and roles within marriage, how did you go about deciding that conflict?
Well the way that I thought about these two characters- they we’re on two opposite sides of the spectrum. One of them uber butch and athletic (Brady, played by Sean Hemeon), who is very worried about how people perceive him. The other (Cheeks) is completely free spirited and who cares who perceives it as feminine or masculine. The conflict naturally rose from that. (Brady) stands on the end of the spectrum that is very prevalent in the gay community, which is “We’re just like you, we can fit in too”, and the other end you have “No, we’re not just like you and that’s why we’re fabulous. “
Can you describe the road to getting the show picked up by network?
It was the goal to get it on a bigger platform, so more people could see it and appreciate it; perhaps inspire someone to give us money to make a lot more. But I won’t say it was ever like “We want this to be on Television and that is the end goal for us”. It was certainly an avenue we entertained, and would entertain. It was interesting to see the reaction that Television had…
Can you describe that reaction?
That it was inappropriate, controversial, or crossing the line. But it’s not; I mean there’s nothing in it that you wouldn’t see in a sitcom twenty years ago. The fact that there were two men in it, and there was just a much different response. There was a comment that read “Even if you got all the gay people in the country to watch, you still wouldn’t have the viewers”, and that just wasn’t the point. Most of our viewers are actually straight women. It was surprising.
In writing and developing the characters, was there a consciousness in how much affection the men could show or what America would be ready to see?
I remember I actually didn’t want them to kiss. Not because I was afraid of the reaction, I wanted it to open up a conversation between them (Brady & Cheeks). Eventually I was talked out of that, I think it was Jeff (Director Jeff Greenstein), he said “That issues been done. Just have em kiss, don’t have a conversation about it before it happens.”
We’ve seen portrayals of white gay culture in shows like Queer as Folk and The L Word. Do you see media reaching an age of more queers of color portrayals?
You know I think so. Casting people of color, gay or straight, seems to be not a priority in Hollywood–as we’ve seen with Girls. It’s a huge uproar about it, but I guess it’s good that there’s uproar because clearly someone’s paying attention… The tricky thing about gay and black, (Television) doesn’t want to have too much of a minority in one character because they think it makes them less relatable. Interestingly enough, I’m not sure if minority actors have a thing against playing gay; I sent out a script to a (black) actor and he responded “Well is it gay, cause I can’t play gay again, I just played gay.” We hadn’t had anyone say that to us before, so that was interesting.
You were speaking of a second season, when can fans expect that second season?
Well we’re shooting it later this month. I’m in the troughs of pre-production right now. I say late July would be the earliest, certainly by the end of August.
What can fans expect from the new season?
We keep talking about what we can say and what we can’t. It’s(Season two) sort of what we’re talking about now; what is America ready for, what is okay to show, what are they comfortable with. What are gays allowed to be in society? Should you push those boundaries or wait for things to be different?
So it’s a dilemma you’re wrestling with I take it?
Well yeah, these are still things that are unanswered today. They are interesting topics of conversations and could play out all sorts of ways in comedy, in fiction. So we’re exploring that.