The Surprising Way Paul Bettany Related To Uncle Frank’s Story

Writer/director Alan Ball’s Uncle Frank is set in 1973, but the conflicts it deals in are very much contemporary. While it’s structured as a coming of age story centering on Sophia Lillis’ Beth Bledsoe, the story is primarily driven by the fact that Paul Bettany’s titular Frank Bledsoe is a gay man who has never had the courage required to come out to his family. Following a death in the family, he, Beth, and his boyfriend (Peter Macdissi) road trip from New York down to the Bledsoe homestead, forcing Frank to confront serious demons from his past.

While this specific film takes place nearly 50 years ago, there are still many gay people today who are afraid to reveal their sexual preference to their relatives – and as I learned during an interview earlier this month, Paul Bettany actually knows somebody personally who is presently dealing with that exact state of affairs.

As seen in the video at the top of this page, I spoke with Alan Ball and Paul Bettany during the virtual press day for Uncle Frank a couple weeks ago, and it was after I asked about the then-and-now aspect of the film as a period piece that Bettany opened up about his friend. Said the actor,

I have a friend who is a first assistant director, who will remain nameless, who is still closeted to his family. And in America, and found himself in an industry where that is entirely acceptable, and he has still hidden that aspect of his life to protect his mother.

It’s a sad reality that this circumstance is still a thing today, but it really is just that: a reality. In fact, strangely enough, Uncle Frank is one of two new releases hitting streaming services this week that cover the subject, as it is also a massively important part of the plot in writer/director Clea DuVall’s Happiest Season (though that film is set today instead of in the past).

As for why Alan Ball chose to make Uncle Frank as a period piece, his explanation was simple. Born in 1957, he was about Beth Bledsoe’s age in 1973, and he tapped into his personal experiences to inform the story he wanted to do tell – though the movie is also not strictly autobiographical.

Uncle Frank boasts an absolutely outstanding collection of character actors in its ensemble, with the aforementioned Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, and Peter Macdissi joined by Margot Martindale, Steve Zahn, Stephen Root, Judy Greer, and Lois Smith, and it is now available for your viewing pleasure. Subscribers can check it out exclusively on Amazon Prime, and be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for information about all of the new releases arriving in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.