Michael Ausiello is considered one of the best TV journalists working today as the Editor-in-Chief of TVLine. However, with the release of Spoiler Alert starring Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge and Sally Field, Ausiello moves from reviewing art to being depicted in it.
Directed by Michael Showalter, the film is based on the journalist’s book Spoiler Alert:The Hero Dies, which chronicled Ausiello’s relationship with late photographer Kit Cowan. Funny and heartbreaking, the adaptation lands the same beats being the tearjerker of the season.
I got to chat with Ausiello about Spoiler Alert, the differences between writing and collaborating on a film, and the classic film he’s never seen.
You wrote this book, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies about your partner Kit Cowen, about the evolution of your relationship and eventually his battle with cancer. After you wrote it, you asked Jim Parsons to host a Q and A for book tour. He and his partner then approached you that night to option it. Did you always feel that Jim Parsons was the right guy to play you? Or did that just kind of come from this business decision?
I never had any thoughts about who would play me, because I wasn’t thinking in terms of a movie, especially at that point. It was the week the book came out and I was just focused on, “Is anybody going to buy this? Is anyone going to like it? Did I reveal too much about myself?” But overall I think it was the best choice because having Jim and his husband Todd Spiewak produce the film, means they loved the book.
The thing I love about the film is that the relationship between Michael and Kit feels so real and lived in in a way that we haven’t seen onscreen before. Obviously everything seen onscreen is not 100% accurate, but did you ever give Parsons and Ben Aldridge little tidbits of information to add more to the scene?
Jim has said this before in interviews that he kind of kept his distance from me on set because he was always approaching this role not as an imitation. He wasn’t doing an imitation of me. Um, he wasn’t, He didn’t study me beforehand. He was always creating his own version of Michael. And Ben was doing the same with Kit. I was always there for them as a resource if they needed me. Jim rarely did, but Ben did come to me on several occasions asking questions. Most of it was about cancer. Most of it was about “!hat level of pain would Kit be in at this stage of his illness? Would he be sitting on his side? What would mitigate the pain for him?” He also had questions about Kit’s photography and questions about how Kit would hold his camera, what cameras he would use. [Aldridge] actually used and held Kit’s cameras in the movie, which added a layer of authenticity that I think was really beautiful.
That layer of authenticity I think also goes to Director Michael Showalter, what about him made you confident that he was the director to tell your story? Because we know him from things like The State and Wet Hot American Summer, but obviously more recently he is known for The Big Sick and The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
He’s someone who’s not an overly sort of sentimental, sappy person. I’m not either, and the book isn’t that either. I didn’t want any movie version of it to feel sappy or sentimental. Having seen his films and being a fan of his films, particularly the Big Sick, I knew he was someone who could really balance the comedy and the drama and thin that very tricky needle. And a lot of directors can’t do that. It’s tough to sometimes balance those tonal shifts. Also, not to make a movie like this feel overly sentimental. I believed that Michael could do all of that and I believe he has.
Is it a different emotional process like writing a book and then watching that play out into a movie?
Oh, God, yes. It could not be more different. The book was not a present experience to write. I started writing it a couple months after Kit had died, so I was still knee deep in grief and missing him and jumping right back into some of the darker, literal, and figurative chapters of our relationship, mostly because I was afraid I was going to forget the little details. I believed strongly that if I was going to do the story justice, I needed to remember little things. But it made for somewhat excruciating process writing the book. It was not fun. Making the movie was much more enjoyable also, because it was a collaborative experience. You know, writing a book is very isolating. You’re by yourself but a film, you’re with other people. You’re with other artists, which just inherently makes it more enjoyable, especially if those other people are people you like and people who are smart and people you enjoy working with. Also there had been some distance from Kit’s death. I wasn’t as raw and as vulnerable and emotionally fragile as I was when I was writing the book.
How are the real Bob and Marilyn doing? Do they like being portrayed by Sally Field and Bill Irwin?
Bob and Marilyn are extremely private people and they continue to sort of go through their own grieving process. This was their only son. Right. It was a devastating blow for them. All this movie stuff is happening outside of their orbit because they are so private. But I will say that they’re doing incredibly well. They’re living their life, they’re traveling. They continue to face each day with incredible bravery. Something like losing your only child, it’s just, it’s devastating and there are many ways that you can respond to that. In many ways they’ve responded by trying to live their best life. It’s inspiring to watch, but the movie is something that I sort of keep them updated on. It’s not something that they are excitedly embracing or are going be rushing out to see. I think this isn’t an experience that they want to relive anytime soon.
My first introduction to you and your career was actually watching you interview the cast of Bob’s Burgers at Comic-Con.
Oh my God. What, how much fun was that?
Not only was it fun, I just watched a few of them again last night and realized that like some of those interviews were during this time when you’re not only like processing Kit’s death, but then writing this book. So it’s a very interesting evolution just like through those interviews anyway. They’re so fun to watch. You and John Roberts have like such great banter.
Oh my god, John Roberts is the best. And you know, we’ve actually became friends as a result of those Comic Con interviews. We just hit it off so much. It brought me so much joy to do those interviews and that group is just so hilarious.
They’re such a good group. Did you ever end up watching The Godfather, because I know they gave you a lot of crap about that?
Good. Don’t do it. Don’t ever do it.
(Laughs) I mean, I’ll eventually get around to it. I mean, I’ve seen like bits and pieces of it here and there, but I’ve never watched any of the three all the way through.
I don’t think you need to. That should be like a personality trait. You’re good.
Totally. Yeah. I’ll wear it as a badge of honor.
Spoiler Alert is in theaters nationwide. Watch the trailer below.