A MARTINEZ, HOST:
Frankie is a soft-spoken 19-year-old from Brooklyn. He spends his days and nights getting high with friends, hanging out at the beach and the boardwalk. He seems carefree, but his father is dying from cancer. And Frankie's trying to understand his evolving sexuality.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BEACH RATS")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) So you're not out.
HARRIS DICKINSON: (As Frankie) I don't really think of myself as gay. I'm...
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) But you have sex with men.
DICKINSON: (As Frankie) Yeah.
MARTINEZ: Eliza Hittman wrote and directed the new film "Beach Rats." Eliza Hittman, welcome to the show.
ELIZA HITTMAN: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
MARTINEZ: All right. Now, I can totally see viewers of "Beach Rats" interpreting what is going through as someone maybe struggling with sexual identity. But I'm wondering if he is really. I mean, when he's online talking to guys and then meeting them, all I saw was someone talking with a lot of confidence.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BEACH RATS")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) So you like older men, huh?
DICKINSON: (As Frankie) I don't really know what I like.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You seem really unsure.
DICKINSON: (As Frankie) So what if I am?
MARTINEZ: It's that part right there, Eliza, that - what if I am? It just seemed like there's a lot of cockiness there.
HITTMAN: Yeah, I think that there's a fearfulness in the character about saying what he knows about himself because saying it would mean it's true. And, you know, the film explores on a lot of levels a person getting over their own fear about their sexuality and sexual identity. He's sort of his own worst enemy.
MARTINEZ: In what way is Frankie his own worst enemy?
HITTMAN: I think that for me, so much about you is about sort of self-destruction, I would say, and self-destructive behavior. And it's really about a character who is incredibly self-destructive. And part of what is fueling that is that he doesn't totally know his value in the world. And he's driving himself to a place of having to kind of confront who he is. And the film culminates in a violent event. He is simultaneously the victim and the perpetrator.
MARTINEZ: Now, the young star of "Beach Rats" is Harris Dickinson. Where did you find Harris Dickinson?
HITTMAN: Harris Dickinson came to us through his LA casting office in the first batch of general kind of auditions that we did. And his tape was really intimate, I would say. And he just sat very close to the camera. And he has these, you know, incredible, blue eyes and this incredibly deep voice. And he's sort of half-man, half-teenager. And he wasn't trying very hard, you know, whereas a lot of other people who auditioned were trying to rev up and ramp up their masculinity and their sort of macho-ness through their behavior. And it all felt very forced. And I don't know. It all worked out. Like, all of those characteristics that shined in that one audition came through in the film. And he is a real leading man in the traditional sense of it. And, you know, I know he will have a long and bright future.
MARTINEZ: Going to the film, you know, I've watched movies my whole life. And I think when women are nude or naked in films, I think people don't care anymore. It doesn't seem like they bat an eye that much anymore. But when men do it - when men go full-on naked, I think it raises an eyebrow, at the very least. And you didn't shy away from that in "Beach Rats." What was your approach to some of those scenes?
HITTMAN: I think it was always very important to me even at a script level, you know, that the film not hide the male anatomy.
MARTINEZ: You didn't.
HITTMAN: I think that - I didn't. You know, I think that the film - you know, the strategy for staging scenes like that is to always be very honest. And I wasn't hiding anything from the actors about how I was going to approach the scene. For me, I felt it was essential to the storytelling.
MARTINEZ: You know, I think back to what a commercial and critical success "Brokeback Mountain" was. And then I think about "Moonlight," which won best picture. How do you think your film "Beach Rats" fits in to the evolution of cinema that has a focus on an LGBT character?
HITTMAN: I think the film is a bit more subversive, maybe, than those narratives. I think the character is cocky. You know, he's not particularly likeable. You know, not everybody is going to identify with him in a universal sense. Like I said, I think, you know, it's its own beast. And I think that there's room on the spectrum in all these narratives for different types of characters and different types of experiences.
MARTINEZ: Eliza Hittman wrote and directed "Beach Rats." Thank you very much for your time.
HITTMAN: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE UNDERACHIEVERS' "RAIN DANCE (PHASE 1 INTRO)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.