Inside Jesse :: In Treatment’s troubled teen (but not because he’s gay)

by Jim Halterman

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday December 6, 2010

As the third season of HBO's addictive therapy drama In Treatment wraps up this week, each of the four stories are reaching their dramatic peak. While all the stories this season have been captivating in their own way, the story of troubled, gay teen Jesse (played by Dane DeHaan) is not only relevant for our present times when gay teen suicide and bullying are making headlines but also because the story shows what In Treatment has done beautifully since it's first season - tell great stories in unexpected, yet very realistic ways.

In the 'Jesse' story, the primary issue is surprisingly not anything having to do with issues of sexuality but with Jesse's identity in terms of his finding out who his adoptive parents are and, in doing so, who he truly is. Being a hard, aggressive teen with a history of promiscuity and selling drugs on school grounds, Jesse is in many ways a lost soul who turns to his therapist, Dr. Paul Weston (played by Emmy winner Gabriel Byrne) for guidance and also to be a surrogate father figure. What has transpired has been some of the best television on the drama landscape.

EDGE's Jim Halterman talked to DeHaan as well as In Treatment Executive Producer/Director Paris Barclay and Supervising Producer/Writer Sarah Treem about how they worked together to construct this intriguing and relevant story line.

Jesse :: comfortable being gay

EDGE: It was refreshing in a way that out of all of Jesse's problems, he didn't have a problem with being gay. How did you feel about that going in?

Dane DeHaan: It's something that always attracted me to the role. Especially on TV and in entertainment today gay issues are so prominent that the main issue of a gay character is almost always that he is gay when in fact it's not really something that has to be addressed or has to be an issue. A lot of the things that are great about Jesse is that the one thing he's very comfortable with is who he is as a gay person. He has a lot more to deal with than the fact that the people he happens to be attracted to are males. He has a whole slew of problems. In this day and age, I think it's very important for people who have a problem with homosexuality or think it's this or think it's that, to realize that it's just a natural part of somebody and whether you're gay or straight or bisexual or whatever your main issue is really the same problems that everyone deals with in every day life.

Paris Barclay: I just loved the idea of having a gay character who isn't exactly altogether, a difficult patient of Paul's but the fact that he's gay isn't his main issue. It's an issue for other people and that bothers him but it's not so much an issue for him. It's not like 'Oh my God, I have to decide what to do about my little gay life.' It's more about his family and his parents and finding a place for himself in this world, which I think anybody can identify with.

A perfect combination

EDGE: Was there any trepidation about talking about Jesse, as a teenager, being promiscuous and dealing drugs?

Sarah Treem: We talked a lot about that. We read about that, we went to a lot of websites; we saw a lot of videos. I got a lot of corrections because at one point I didn't know how much people would pay for a blow job [laughs] so I had to do my research. His identity is not kind of locked into his sexuality so when we kind of thought of that then we said 'Let's really push his sexuality and let's make him really comfortable with it.'

EDGE: Dane does some pretty amazing work in his episodes. Did you know he was going to play the role before you wrote the story?

Sarah Treem: We cast Dane pretty early on. I think I had only written the first episode after he was cast so then a lot of Jesse became tailored to him - the voice and what we knew he was capable of and he's amazing. What I love about Dane is that he's so subtle so you didn't have to start to pull back on the characterization. We didn't want to make him too anything. We just wanted to make him a deeply feeling person because we needed to take that and just elevate it to this extraordinary level.

Paris Barclay: I think from the first time we saw him...he had the perfect combination of this brittle exterior and just enough to sense that beneath that was marshmallow. This whole shield that he had built up over the years was effective but would not be impenetrable for Paul and I could see that from his very first audition. He's attractive but not dreamboat kind of over-the-top Fox television version of a gay boy. I think he's realistic. He is so intelligent. Of all the actors we had this season he was the most prepared. He knew his lines. He came in and rehearsed once or twice before every episode but he wanted to do it on his own.

EDGE: It's ironic that this story about a troubled gay teen comes at a time when we're seeing so much going on with gay teens and suicides and bullying.

Dane DeHaan: I think that it helps that Jesse's grown up in Brooklyn. It's the saddest thing in the world to hear about the bullying and the suicides but I hope that through my portrayal of the character I help show some people that we're all just human beings and when you get wrapped up in someone's sexual identity it's all just a huge waste of time. The gay movement is similar in the way we look back at the civil rights' movement. It's a sad thing that anybody can be denied certain kinds of rights because of who they are as a person.

Paris Barclay: I think [the timing] has to do with Sarah's instincts. Sarah knew that there was a story to be told and we had never told a story of a person who was openly gay. When she wanted to do that, I said 'That's fantastic!' Not just because my friends will watch it but also because we haven't seen that person. And what she managed to do - and I'm not sure how she did it - she went in there and created a kid who is like kids that I know! Not queenie but there's also a certain irony that he puts on every once in awhile that is so gay.

Next stop :: True Blood

EDGE: One thing I thought that Sarah got so right is that gay people who have had to lie about who they really are before they come out become really great liars and Jesse lies all the time!

Paris Barclay: [laughs] That is so true! It's funny because you can't always get away with that kind of character on network television and I've created shows where I've tried to put someone who is a little bit closer to the real gay people I know and that is one of the techniques that we use vehemently, which is to pose and to lie and to change our stories for any situation but HBO was like, 'Yeah, yeah, that's it!'

EDGE: Were you concerned that if you made Jesse too hard or too unlikable that the audience wouldn't connect with him?

Sarah Treem: It's funny seeing the reaction that people have to him. There are definitely things about him that make him unlikable. I find that a lot of times most of the young people don't but the best feedback we've been getting are from people who are under 30 and they identify with Jesse. 'I know that kid.' But I was surprised to find that people found him to be an unlikable character because I don't think that and we certainly were not trying to make him unlikable. We were just trying to make him true.

EDGE: How was it playing Jesse while sitting across from Gabriel Byrne?

Dane DeHaan: We got along really well. He's a totally cool guy and a total gentleman and so supportive of me. I just loved working with him. I would pick his brain and ask some question or a recommendation from him and in the acting of it, to be sitting across from him is such a treat because he's so talented, such a great actor and he knows exactly what he's doing. He's just very receptive and generous to everything you give. He'd play hardball right back, which is a lot of fun.

EDGE: What's this news about you being on True Blood next season, Dane, and what can you tell about it?

Dane DeHaan: I am going to be on True Blood! I think it's hush-hush. I'm terrified to say anything. I didn't know my little tweet would cause such a stir and I'm very excited of the reaction it's gotten but I fear that they'll kick me off the show if I say anything more.

In Treatment airs Monday and Tuesday at 9pm ET/PT on HBO. The final "Jesse" episode airs on Tuesday at 9pm ET/PT on HBO. For past episodes, check your HBO On-Demand channels.

Jim Halterman lives in Los Angeles and also covers the TV/Film/Theater scene for, AfterElton, Vulture, CBS Watch magazine and, of course, He is also a regular Tweeter and has a group site on Facebook.