Michael Slade and Kevin Spirtas talks After Forever and much more. Check it out here--->>>
Our next show we are highlighting in our #DontSleepOnDigital Series, is After Forever. Oh boy! What a time we had chatting it up with Michael Slade and Kevin Spirtas, the co-creators and co-writers of the show. Kevin also stars in the show. There are no words to even begin to describe their chemistry, their vibe, their energy. We were only on the phone and it crackled through. We can only imagine witnessing it in person. They complement each other so well. I'm dating myself but how about if we take Lucy Ricardo, Ricky Ricardo (I Love Lucy), Felix Ungar, Oscar Madison (Odd Couple) put them all in a bag and shake it up real good. Open it up and we would get Michael and Kevin's energy. Talking to them was lively! They are off the charts in the best way! We told them they need to start their own podcast. I couldn't stop laughing.
What we loved most about them is their passion, zeal, pride and excitement for After Forever. It is palpable. It's contagious! In full transparency, at the time we spoke to them, I hadn't watched the show. But since then I have and I can see why they are so proud. This show is something special. The initial dialogue of the series goes like this, Brian: "Commitment's a funny word." Jason: "How so?" Brian: "Well, because we use it to refer to a serious, loving relationship, but we also use it to refer to someone being forcibly placed in a mental hospital." Never thought of it that way. I thought to myself right then and there this is going to be good. It was. There are times it is "just TV", "just a show" or "just fiction". But then there are those times that a show has the power and the ability to heal, transform and encourage. This is one of those times and one of those shows. It is entertaining, emotional, encouraging and humorous. It is a story rooted in the universal themes of love, loss and starting over. If you haven't watched it; you must.
Michael is an award winning writer; playwright, children's author and television writer. He is a part of our soap family. He has written for Another World, One Life to Live, Days of Our Lives and Passions. Kevin is a thirty year acting veteran and also a member of our soap family. He's best known for his roles as Dr. Craig Wesley (Days of our Lives) and Jonas Chamberlain (One Life to Live). Kevin made his producer debut in 2009 and that beginning led him here.
We spoke to Michael and Kevin about their backgrounds, their first meeting, After Forever, the personal experience that inspired the show, all those awards, the show's secret ingredient and so much more.
Thank you both for taking time to talk to us. Let's get right into it. You all were both at Days of our Lives at the same time. Is that where you two met?
Michael: "Not really. Yes, I was writing for Days of our Lives. I started writing at Days a couple of months before Kevin's character, Dr. Craig Wesley left the show. Fast forward some years later, I ran into Kevin in New York and introduced myself because although the writers all knew who the actors were on the show actors didn't necessarily know who the writers were."
Kevin: "That's very true. I remember that moment. I didn't know Michael. In fact, our relationship started out mainly professional and became more friendly and brotherly as we worked together and created this series."
The show has so many intriguing components. How did the concept of the show come about?
Kevin: "It was important for me to create a show about gay men who were "grown-ups", who were fifty or so, around my age."
Michael: "Gay men, like women, can tend to disappear from popular culture. We both tend to disappear after thirty. After pop culture no longer considers us the "hot thing". But there is life after thirty for everybody."
For all our sake's there had better be. Laughter. Let me back up a bit. I just thought of something that was said. You said you didn't really know each other. So Kevin, out of all the writers in the world why Michael?
Kevin: "Why Michael? Laughter. The idea of creating something had been in my head for awhile. I knew in my heart of hearts I was never going to be able to write anything like After Forever. I don't have that muscle. I was looking for a partner with that kind of experience. So when Michael introduced himself to me in New York, I shared with him my vision. I told him I wanted to create a web series so maybe the two of us should grab a cup of coffee one day. We crossed paths for a reason."
For sure. You all mentioned wanting to do a show that represented the LGBTQ community. There is also the component of losing a loved one, a spouse more specifically. How did you all decide that would be the foundation for the show?
Kevin: "When we were developing the series, I was in the middle of dating. I was finding it to be more of a comedy. Laughter. You could say it started when I asked Michael the questions, 'Are you involved? What's been your experience?' I think it would be better to hear about that from Michael. Would you talk about it, Michael?"
Michael: "Of course. I had lost my partner a couple of years before to a horrible cancer diagnosis. The diagnosis was basically there is nothing we can do. It's everywhere and there is nothing that can be done. My partner made the decision he wasn't going to have them pump him with stuff that was going to prolong his life for maybe some weeks or some months when it was inevitable. When Kevin and I met, I was at the point in my own grieving process, where I was ready to deal with it artistically. I was ready to explore the emotions surrounding it. And Kevin got very excited about that as a core for the show."
Kevin: "I was excited. But I didn't know him that well. I told him how sorry I was. Then I had to delicately ask him, 'Would you be able or be willing to extract that experience and write about it? Because I think that would give us a really heroic mount for this character.'"
That's alot over a cup of coffee. Laughter. There is also the element of time sequence in the show. Tell us a bit about that.
Kevin: "I don't know which one of us thought it up. But we began to talk about how we could tell the story out of sequence; in real time, flashback and the soliloquies one would have with themselves or in their alone time. We could introduce it as if Jason was still alive during that time. And that is when everything just sort of locked and that is when the story, the structure of it started falling into place."
Michael: "It wasn't just the story that fell into place. It has been like that over this entire project. Every step of the way everything just fell into place. The right people have shown up. Sometimes you work on a project and everything is hard. But with After Forever it just kept unfolding; finding Allison (Vanore, the producer), Jen Pepperman (the director), the cast. Everywhere we went the absolute right people said, 'I want to be a part of this."'
You sensed from the very beginning that this was meant to be that this was something special. Were you getting any feedback from anyone else about what you all were doing?
Kevin: "So glad you asked. There was a point where we had all the Season One scripts, and we decided to have a reading of them. I wanted to put the word out there. I wanted people to see what we were doing. It wasn't even to raise money at that point. I just wanted it to be out there. And hearing it out loud is when I knew we were really on to something. The characters were breathing and speaking. The other actors and I were standing behind our music stands watching people in the audience wipe their eyes. The response we received when the words came to life was something you can't forget."
Michael: "I come from being a playwright, from the theatre. When I'm working on something new, I always want to hear the play out loud at various points. That's part of the process. You can think in your head it works fine but ultimately you need to hear it in other people's voices with other people around you to see if they are responding the way you want them to. At the reading, it was late May. It was like ninety something degrees outside. We were in a too crowded rehearsal studio because so many people showed up. It was probably eighty five degrees in that room. We were sitting and sweating. People were standing because there weren't enough chairs yet nobody fidgeted. Nobody left. They laughed. They responded appropriately. When it was over nobody left. They stayed. Everybody wanted to talk to us. People came and shared stories with us. People we didn't necessarily know. They would tell us, 'I lost someone. You so get it.'"
Kevin: "The thing about that day that echoed very clearly that was also felt on set about a year later; was that people were drawn to this material and to this story. It was sort of a special club. We knew we were working on something special. It was something very tangible that I remember from on set and at the reading."
Michael: "It does. One of things that was clear from the beginning but became even more clear as our friendship and collaboration progressed is our natures complement each other. Kevin has great tenacity and great ability to go, 'Yeah we will make that happen.' I'm more of the I don't know how we will make that happen." Laughter.
Kevin: "Yeah and when I can't make it happen, I will toss it over to Allison and say, 'If I can't make it happen, Allison can make it happen.' Laughter. Seriously, there is a balance between us. I like to color outside the lines. Michael likes to color inside the lines." Laughter.
Team work makes the dream work. As long as it gets done. Laughter. All the team work is obviously paying off. Okay you meet for coffee, you two hit it off, you put your heads down and go to work. You get a great response from your reading. So, you put your heads down and work some more. The show is released, people love it and here comes all of these awards and accolades. We can only imagine how great it felt. But take us into those moments where you look back and go "Wow" look what we've done.
Michael: "When we started this, awards weren't even on the radar. You don't sit down and create something and say I want to win awards for this. But it just kind of took on its own life. The show was winning awards around the country and then the Emmy's, the crown jewel came along."
Kevin: "For me it was a wow. We had a cup of coffee years ago and now we are getting nominated for Emmy's. It was overwhelming when we were nominated for all these awards."
You know what's the next question. Where were you when you got word of the nomination? Laughter. Oh there must be a story there.
Michael: "The day that the nominations were announced we were on opposite coasts. I was in a lunch meeting about another project and I couldn't have my phone on. I knew the announcements were being made while I was in the middle of this meeting. I turned on my phone when I finished and had about a hundred and fifty messages. Most were from Kevin." Laughter.
Kevin: "He was in a meeting and I was swinging from the rafters." Laughter.
Michael: "And he knew I wasn't going to be able to answer the phone." Laughter.
Kevin: "Also, everything we submitted for nomination was nominated for."
Michael: "David Michaels from the Daytime Emmy's said to us, 'I don't think it has ever happened before that a show has had every single submission wind up with a nomination.'"
That's says so much about what you all were able to create together. What an amazing accomplishment.
Kevin: "We are grateful to everyone who watched it and who voted. We have to congratulate everyone who was nominated. We all had a dream. We all put our investment into it and it gets to this place of being nominated. After Forever is the most Emmy-awarded LGBTQ drama, not just in digital, that includes network and cable as well."
Michael: "We are so proud of that. And what's most exciting about this digital explosion, not just our show, we are telling stories about people we don't normally see stories about. It has made room so now there is a place these stories can be told. That's true for our show and other shows for instance, Giants. They had an incredible year also. Kevin and I have a good relationship with the show. We often talk about how great this has all been."
Kevin: "Yes and what that does is connect all of us in ways maybe we didn't realize we are connected. There have been people who are not gay who have watched the show and they say, "Oh I get it now where you may have had to watch something all these years from a heterosexual point of view and take the ride.' Hearing that was really the equalizer for me growing up in a world that wasn't favorable to being open and out. Another man wrote to us and said, 'I know now what my dad went through when he lost his wife.' It was very moving."
That would have moved me to tears. There is always a higher purpose at play.
Michael: "One of the things that has been so gratifying to us is that our fans have been from every demographic; it's men, it's women, it's gay people, it's straight people, it's trans people, it's young people, it's ninety something year old people. That so speaks to where we have come to as a society. Sometimes it might not seem that way. But the reality is people across America are responding to this show that at its heart is about two gay men. They are not judging it. They are just getting involved and letting their emotions ride with it."
As it should be. The themes of the show are universal and can be felt by everyone. From just talking to you, I can tell how great it must have been to be on set and for others who are involved in the project.
Kevin: "Thank you. Michael and I started this and have so many people to thank for our show's success. We have such a wonderful cast and crew. They like everything else just fell into place. We had asked people to be in it. But then they got a Broadway show or got an out of town thing and other people stepped in and did such a wonderful job. And our crew members, for the most part were young right out of film school. They stepped up. They cared. They were passionate about it. Everybody involved was great."
Michael: "We must mention our producer Allison Vanore. She is a force to be reckoned with. She knows her stuff. Allison was able to take what we had artistically and say this is how we are going to make it happen. She's a master. She makes things happen."
Kevin: "And I must also mention my co-star Mitchell Anderson (Jason). I've known him for thirty something years. He had moved to Atlanta and left acting behind. When Michael and I talked about casting, I thought of him. I called Mitchell and I told him I have this script I have worked on with my partner. I want you to come be my husband. Laughter. Within two days he called after reading the script and said, 'I'm in.' We had this great energy. We had this great chemistry which is evident because we had known each other for such a long time.We didn't have to worry about anything. I told Michael I have to find someone I can just jump into this relationship with because that is the center of the story. I didn't have to worry about holding onto him or getting physical or any of that. I just wanted it to be us. And I think it worked beautifully. That is why I shared my award with him because I couldn't have done it without him."
We have just a couple more questions. The first one, what can you tell us about season two.
Michael: "It's already written and we will start shooting in September. It's too soon for an exact release date but we think it's safe to say in 2020. One of the things we were really proud of in season one that we will do more of in season two, is the diversity of our cast. It was really important that the canvas of our show looks like what our lives look like. And it's not because there is a storyline about that person it's because that person is a part of our life."
Yes! We love shows that look like and represent the real world. That's part of the reason why we are doing this #DontSleepOnDigital Series. There are so many great shows representing the real world that not enough people know about. So what nugget can you give us for people who have never seen or maybe even heard of After Forever to peak their interest?
Kevin: "I've always been a firm believer that when a relationship ends through someone dying the relationship isn't over. Love never dies. You still have this relationship. Michael is still going through his mourning process. Love lasts even after forever. We are just beginning to show people that relationships don't end.
Michael: "I'm going to answer your question but I want to say something about what you said about shows representing the real world. I must say on this show we have a woman producer, woman director, woman director of photography, woman first camera person and a woman editor. It was significant for us having both energies present in an equal way."
Kevin: "Oh Michael is correct! It has given us great symmetry. It looks like it looks, it is what it is in its heart and everything else is in large part of having all those women there as well as the men. Thanks for letting me jump in Michael. Go ahead with your nugget." Laughter.
Michael: "Everybody suffers loss at some point in life whether it is a spouse, partner, parent, child (hopefully not) or friend. After Forever opens a window through not only the path but the humor that one can experience through it that can show you there is life on the other side. Love never dies. It's still there After Forever."
After Forever is about the sanctity, fragility (which can be scary) and fleeting gift of life. God forbid if the worse or unthinkable happens there is the strength of the human spirit to rise and move on. And also, there is the love of the human spirit we can receive from others to help us do it.
Watch the official trailer below!
Family, Check out After Forever here & on Amazon Prime Video!
Keep an eye out for Season 2!
Michael & Kevin, I had a blast talking with you! Let's do this again right before the release of Season 2!
I AM KP Smith