Even if you don’t know Greg Berlanti’s name, you’ve for sure seen his work. Writer, director and executive producer, Berlanti is the creative mind behind The Flash, Supergirl, Riverdale, Arrow – just to name a few. Now, Berlanti has directed the highly anticipated new movie “Love, Simon” starring Nick Robinson. The movie follows closeted teen Simon who begins writing to another boy online, hoping to develop a romantic relationship. YEM sat down with Greg Berlanti to discuss the new movie and how it differs from his CW hit shows.
Young Entertainment Mag: Fox acquired the rights to the book ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ in 2015. When did you first get involved with the project?
Greg Berlanti: I got involved [in] 2016, and we made it in ’17, and here we are now. So, I worked on it really through the Fall of ‘16 around September.
YEM: The book speaks very openly about the diversity of Simon’s friends group, and you have spoken in the past about how you like having diverse casts making up the works that you are behind. How much did you prioritize maintaining that diversity and how does it play with the overall message of this movie?
GB: I think it’s always a priority for me, because I think it makes for better stories. Because when the world looks like our world and it feels like our world – like the real world – then it tends to connect with people more, because it feels truthful.
This movie has a message that is about inclusion and the book so wonderfully details itself and made itself known as being different, and we wanted to have the same impact in that way.
YEM: You’ve spoken about the character of Simon being an individual and a high schooler who is developed beyond his sexual orientation. How important was that when you were filming?
GB: Yeah. I think again, [it was] the fullness of his character – whether it was the details of what his room was like or whether it was in the relationships that he had.
The relationships were really important because, even though they were all people that he loved, [they were] still people he was afraid to come out to, because he was afraid about sharing that part of himself. He feels like ‘I have such a good thing, do I want to give it up?, and then he comes to realize, no, that just makes the life you have richer.
YEM: Because ‘Coming of Age’ films have such a rich history, were there any movies that provided inspiration or that you wanted to play homage to over the course of filming?
GB: We looked at a lot of teen coming of age movies from the 80s. We looked at them musically. We looked at them visually. And I think more than anything, we wanted the story to be contemporary and feel like now, but we wanted a sort of nostalgic look and feel, so we really looked at them technically.
I think what they were doing in the 80s that really worked – and we wanted to touch-on – was a sense that these stories even though they were small stories, seemingly, they still felt big to young people; they felt important to them.
YEM: So, then where in the Coming Of Age genre does it Love, Simon break away from its peers and where does it hold true to that small narrative that has a larger impact?
GB: I think it breaks away in terms of – and some of this really came right of the book – the correspondence between them and knowing the online elements. And then also cyberbullying, in the sense that you can be outed in a whole different way now and potentially how horrible that can be and scary that can be. I think in that regard that made it feel like ‘oh, okay, this is very true of the moment’, but there are a lot of things that I think are really timeless about being a high-schooler. [You] still sweat when you’re thinking about your first love. How pure that is. How you can still fall in love with your best friend.
You know, just all those different things – connections that are first to happen.
Greg Berlani with Love, Simon star Nick Robinson
YEM: In that correspondence, you decided to cutaway and give a face to the character of Blue. What was the thought behind doing that?
GB: I think it could really create the guessing game for the audience. I loved the sense of mystery kind of pulling you forward in the story. So often romantic comedies regardless of the subject matter, there’s not a mystery. This had one, and I loved that element of it, so we wanted to sort of shoot it in that way so the audience could really create Blue in their heads the way Simon does.
YEM: So it was essentially a thru-line between the outlook of the main character and the audience.
GB: Yeah. For me, this kind of storytelling is so much about putting you and the audience in the main character’s perspective, and really having them connect [in what] feels like an empathetic way.
YEM: The book that the movie is based off of has a very cerebral title. Was it your choice to change that or was that from a different element?
GB: No, it was Fox. They were always upfront about wanting to make that title a teeny bit more digestible. [We] went through a process, and very early on somebody recommended ‘Love, Simon’ and it ultimately was where everybody ended up.
YEM: And in the end credits, you thank Colton Hayes.
GB: We say thank you again, a special thanks. He did a day in the picture. He’s a friend and he was in a section of the movie that ended up getting cut from the film. So, the producers and myself strived to thank him at the end for his time.
YEM: Well, ‘Love, Simon’ was featured on the latest episode of Riverdale. So, two questions: what was it like to have those two world collide; and, in theory, is there a Greg Berlanti that exists in the Riverdale universe somewhere?
GB: It was great. That’s an example of Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] [being] so autonomous. He’s really the creator and showrunner for that show, and Fox went to him directly about doing an integration, and I found out about it after they were already talking.
Obviously, I was encouraging, but Roberto brought all of the writers of the show to the movie. They enjoyed it and wanted to support it, and dreamed up this episode connecting the storyline, which was really rewarding for me to see. I was really grateful to all of the writers, and all the people who worked on Riverdale for helping out.
No, there’s no Greg Berlanti.
YEM: Maybe Laura Benanti then directed the movie. The names sound somewhat the same.
GB: Exactly, yes.
Greg Berlanti with the cast of Riverdale
YEM: With the Second Season of Riverdale outperforming Season One, did you anticipate it being as big of a hit. And some have attributed that to Netflix, what is your relationship with Netflix going forward? I know you have the new Sabrina show coming up.
GB: We were shooting this film when Riverdale came out and I remember thinking ‘the show’s so good, and I know it will connect’. And I have to say, more than anyone the CW just kept believing in it. They obviously picked it up for a second season in the fall.
In Terms of Netflix, they have been great to work with also. There are a lot of creative people over there that have been fun to work on a lot of the shows that we’ve worked on, and that run there in some capacity.
YEM: Sliding a quick on in there, one of the big themes in Love Simon is Oreos. Do you have a favorite Oreo?
GB: I’m a regular old-timely, old fashioned, the Original Oreo person. I always say too that it’s more about how you eat the Oreo. I open the Oreo and eat the inside before I actually eat the Oreo. I have not changed since I was six.
YEM: Well, I still eat Hydrox.
GB: There you go.
*This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.