Gio goes Below the Belt with South Florida’s own Andy Zeffer, author of Going Down in La-La Land.
Many in South Florida already know Andy Zeffer through his editorial skills at Express Gay News and other writings, but soon America will be introduced to this talented writer through his first published novel. On May 1, 2006 his debut novel Going Down in La-La Land will hit the shelves and the pre-release buzz is very encouraging for a first time author. His approach to writing is to take “real life” experiences and supplement them with his ability to fashion a story that is stimulating and engaging.
Going Down in La-La Land is a candid, sexy, and outrageously funny look at what an actor can-and will-do to survive in Hollywood. Young, ambitious, and gay, Adam Zeller arrives from New York with the looks and talent to become a star but soon finds himself lost in a seamy (and steamy) underworld of gay porn and male prostitution, dealing with down-and-out directors, washed up starlets, kinky best-selling authors, crystal meth addicts, and the pretty boy Hollywood “A” list.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Andy in an effort to gain more insight into the (what some would consider), glamorous life of this talented man and how this novel evolved from his life experiences. From his college days in NYC, shattered hopes and dreams in LA to his crucial move to South Florida; Andy reveals that these experiences are what gave him the inspiration and motivation to put pen to paper and share his stories with the world.
GIO Andy, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me!
Andy Anything for you babe.
GIO I must say it is nice to interview someone that I can call a friend and that is something I do not get to do too often. Of course that makes this interview more special and nerve wracking for me as well!
Andy Relax. You can do no wrong.
GIO I understand you studied at the prestigious “New School” in NYC as an undergrad in Liberal Arts. Tell me what the experience of learning the “craft” meant to you and how it was for you going through the New School program.
Andy I think most of my learning was outside of the classroom. I could have learned a lot more, had I been more mature. What was cool was having real professionals come in as directors, set designers, costume designers, lighting designers, etc. Then the students were involved in every aspect, from rehearsing to building the sets to hanging the lights and everything else.
GIO As a graduate of a theater arts program as well, I know that some of the classes would be considered “odd” by most people. What was the oddest class you had to endure for your art?
Andy I’ll just throw out a few names of some classes I took, and I swear I’m not making them up. “Puppet, Prophet & Transvestite,” “From Stand-up to Shakespeare,” “Drama of Opera.” Not exactly the curriculum one would have at MIT. Sometimes when I think of the tuition paid for my college education, it makes me gag.
GIO I totally understand (both laugh) let’s take a moment and talk about your adventures after you completed your degree. Tell me about your initial move to Hollywood and what your hopes and dreams were prior to going out there.
Andy Despite my education, after graduation I really wasn’t firm on what I wanted, where my capabilities lay. That was hard because I had friends who were really doing well in their chosen fields. If you are not firm on what you’re about, New York can be debilitating. So after getting in the Screen Actors Guild I just moved to L.A. on a whim. I had a friend there and figured I could at least do extra work if nothing else. Instead I got a whole lot more than I bargained for!
GIO I understand you appeared in the 1998 Woody Allen film Celebrity. Was this your first film?
Andy No. I had appeared in two low budget, almost no budget films. One of which never got completed.
GIO What was it like working with Woody Allen and being cast in a role that gives you screen time standing next to Leonardo DiCaprio?
Andy It was a real trip. For three days I stood outside the Stanhope Hotel alongside a mob of people, half of which consisted of these giggly, screaming preteen girls. It was right before Titanic opened and Leo got really huge. He played a young heartthrob actor, a real stretch. If I remember correctly, Allen had real paparazzi on hand. I guess I was supposed to be an obsessed fan. I had a prop camera hanging around my neck the whole time. Woody actually signed the Polaroid I had from the costume department. It was fun, but by the third day I wanted to rip the vocal chords right out of the screaming girls’ mouths. The funny thing is that when Titanic came out, all these Leo teen magazines came out, and there was a picture in one of them with Leo standing in the middle, and me off to the side looking completely bored and stupid. I still have it somewhere.
GIO You also appeared in the very popular 2001 independent film The Fluffer Directed by Wash West and Richard Glatzer. This movie delves into the world of gay porn, a subject that is the focus of your new book Going Down in La-La Land (more to come on this later). What was your experience like working on this film and playing the role of a porn star?
Andy Now that was a lot of fun. I had met Wash at a film festival in Manhattan. When I moved to L.A. I basically bugged him for a part in his first legit film, because I just felt like after all I had been through I deserved to have a speaking part in one film, you know what I mean? I played the part of a burned out porn star named Rick Daniels. I remember dressing real trashy for the part, a too tight cut off tank top, shiny sweat pants, and I even bleached my hair (which was very painful and caused my scalp to scab over. That was really gross). By the time the movie filming came my natural color had come back, but I bagged the part at the audition so it didn’t matter.
We shot it in by the pool of a mansion up in the Hollywood Hills. It was actually the producer’s home. I had a few funny lines, including one where I tell the gay-for-pay hunk of the film to get it done quickly so I can make it to a stripping gig in time. The crew broke out in laughter after the first take, so I guess I did something right. I had another scene that took place at a party, where I wore cowboy boots, a cowboy hat, and a lame thong and shot off confetti from toy pistols. Sadly, that landed up on the cutting room floor. Such a loss for the world of cinema.
GIO Awww…that is too bad! At what point in your life did you decide that Hollywood was not for you?
Andy I started to get indications my first few months there when I accumulated dozens of parking tickets in a matter of weeks. That and when at every other restaurant on Santa Monica where I applied for a job, the bitchy queens just looked me up and down and told me there was seldom any turnover. It just never felt right - the clogged up traffic, the smog, the vapid people. There are things I liked and miss, like the hiking, Trader Joe’s, the really great Mexican restaurants. But I’m just not an L.A. guy.
GIO I understand that you and Edison Farrow established a friendship while you were in LA and he is who helped you decide to move to South Florida rather than back to NYC?
Edison Farrow photograph: Joseph Brown
Andy He was an influence. I really didn’t know Florida outside of two family vacations, one to the Keys and the other Disney World. I visited him after he moved back to South Beach and I was still in L.A. It was during White Party week and I had so much fun. He was doing really well, and had just gotten a great deal on a place (this was six years ago before real estate prices really shot up). The bottom line was I didn’t have enough money to move back to New York. Florida was warm and affordable, not to mention the beaches were better than L.A. After losing my job at a dot com that went bust, I had a yard sale, packed the rest of my stuff in my Honda, and drove across the country.
GIO You have been writing for a number of years and your work has appeared in the Provincetown Banner, the New York Blade, the Washington Blade, Southern Voice, and US Weekly. How did you discover your passion for writing?
Andy It kind of all came together after moving here. I had a lot of wacky things happen in L.A. that I thought would be a great foundation for a book. And after moving to Florida, the Fluffer opened at the Gateway Cinema, where it ran for about a month. Wash and Richard asked if I could help promote it, so that was how I met the local press.
GIO I see, now it all makes sense. How did you become the Features Editor of Express Gay News?
Andy Through a bizarre string of circumstances too long to get into. I started as a freelancer four years ago.
GIO What do you enjoy most about living in South Florida?
Andy So much. Swimming laps at the Swimming Hall of Fame. Drinks at Cathode on a Friday night. Having a Barnes & Noble, Borders, Starbucks, and Whole Foods all within a five minute drive. The glitz of South Beach and comfort of Fort Lauderdale. Great restaurants, especially Thai and Sushi places. I could go on forever.
GIO And the least?
Andy Lately the hurricanes.
GIO I agree! Shhhh…that is a bad word! The Fort Lauderdale gay community has risen to one of the largest in the country, why do you think so many gay men gravitate to this area?
Andy Well there is the obvious reasons, like the weather and recreation. But also the fact that a really great gay community has evolved here.
GIO How would you compare our community to that of NYC or LA?
Andy In New York and LA the gay communities are more spread out. But it is important to remember that while society in general is more accepting of gays and lesbians, we still have a long way to go. We can’t just walk into any church. When we are visiting a doctor, we have certain needs and issues and need to feel comfortable. If it is necessary to find a lawyer or other professional, we want somebody who respects us. And we can’t go into just any restaurant or bar holding hands or showing other signs of affection.
The fact is we still need concentrated gay areas, places where we feel safe, happy, and accepted. And South Florida, Fort Lauderdale especially, has built one of the largest gay infrastructures in the country.
GIO There has been tremendous buzz surrounding your first published book, Going Down In La-La Land, what prompted you create this story?
Andy Determination. I was determined to take my years in LA and turn them into something productive. All those wacky experiences, bizarre situations, and strange encounters were something I knew people would find entertaining. It was also somewhat therapeutic to put it on the page. It’s that old cliché, turning lemons into lemonade. Or you can just call it one big emotional purge!
GIO I also understand that this book is somewhat semi-autobiographical in that you “dabbled” in the porn industry when you were out in LA?
Andy That is correct. Let’s just put it this way – you don’t have to search too hard to find naked pictures of me on the Internet.
GIO I have recently asked the following question of my readers…What constitutes a porn star? In your opinion, what is the answer to this question?
Andy I think the term is used much too loosely. For starters, in my mind you have to appear in more than a few flicks to be considered a porn star. You might have been a model or performer, but I think you have to build up a number of appearances, or some kind of name recognition before you can be considered a porn star. Porn might not be rocket science, but it ain’t as easy as whistling either.
GIO You gave a transcript of your book to Chi Chi LaRue to read and she said… “THE PAGES WERE SO HOT they burnt my fingers. I closed my eyes and visualized one of my movies!” Quite the compliment coming from her! How sexy is this book?
Andy Very. This is my first time out of the gates, so to speak, and sex sells. Besides, many of my encounters in LA were sexually charged anyhow. I enjoyed writing the explicit scenes. They turned out to be very hot. In that sense, there is something for everyone.
GIO This book also has a hilarious side to it. In creating the story, did you consciously decide make it sexy, funny and serious all wrapped together? Or, did it just happen that way?
Andy It just happened that way. A lot of the shit that happened to me was very funny, and I made a lot of funny shit up. And with the painful things in life, often times its humor that gets us through. So the book is hilarious in that respect.
GIO How long did it take you to pen this book, shop it and get it published?
Andy More than four years. It has been quite a journey.
GIO Where can people buy this book?
Andy It is available online, from TLAShop.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and haworthpress.com. And it should be on shelves of all gay bookstores and major bookstores by May 1.
GIO Awesome! Do you plan on writing more books?
Andy Absolutely. I have already written another manuscript that I want to go back and tweak out. And I have ideas for other projects. A short story of mine will be featured in the book “Paws And Reflect,” which will published this coming September by Alyson Press.
GIO The official release date of the book is May 1, 2006. You have two appearances scheduled in Fort Lauderdale and Miami surrounding the release of your book. How excited are you about the release?
Andy It is beyond gratifying. When you put so much work into something and have it come to fruition, it is such a fantastic feeling.
GIO Aside from writing, what are you passionate about in life?
Andy Lately I have become passionate about environmental awareness, especially where climate change and global warming are concerned. I find it both fascinating and disturbing how the population in general is either ignoring or just ignorant in regards to the issue. It is like biting off the hand that feeds you. I have signed up for both the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense Action Fund, and encourage others to do so.
Otherwise my list of passions goes on forever. Yoga, the outdoors, eyeing hot looking guys, pouring over the New York Times with a scone and coffee, Linda’s Fudge Cake from the Cheesecake Factory, just to throw a few at you.
GIO If I were to ask your two closest friends what your best and worst qualities are, what would the tell me?
Andy My best qualities are honesty and dedication. My worst quality is getting worked up over the small stuff. But it is something I am working on. (-;
GIO Since your book is about porn I have to ask…Do you have a favorite “porn star?” Who and why?
Andy Gus Mattox, Tom Chase, Chase Hunter, Joe Foster, Lane Fuller, and Jim Slade just to name a few. I like really sexually charged performers who you can tell are enjoying themselves. Rocco Siffredi and Erik Everhard are two straight male performers who are hot.
GIO If you could pick anyone to play the lead character in the film version of your book, who would it be?
Andy Someone who is a good actor with a bit of an edge, like Joseph Gordon Elliot or Jared Leto. Maybe an unknown…
GIO In your opinion, what are the good qualities of porn and the bad?
Andy I think it is like so many other things in life. Take it in moderation. If it becomes a crutch and you haven’t left the house in days except to rent DVDs, you have a problem.
GIO I agree with that! Damn, I guess I have a problem (both laugh) but for me it is work. Is there anything else that you would like to share with the readers about yourself?
Andy I just want to thank everyone for their support with the book. It is a fun and fast-paced read, something I think everyone will enjoy.
Andy and his publisher have given permission to Below the Belt with Gio to offer the following excerpt from his novel. Enjoy!
From Going Down in La-La Land, a novel by Andy Zeffer. © 2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc. For additional information on the book or to order, visit http://www.haworthpress.com/store/product.asp?sku=5663 or contact the publisher: The Haworth Press, Inc. 10 Alice Street, Binghamton, NY 13904-1580 / In US/Canada: 1-800-429-6784 / Fax: (607) 722-6362, email: orders@HaworthPress.com.