For Avy Kaufman, Casting the All-Queer ‘Fellow Travelers’ Is a Full-Circle Moment From ‘Brokeback Mountain’

TheWrap magazine: “That wouldn’t have happened even 10 years ago. It just wouldn’t,” she says

Fellow Travelers
"Fellow Travelers" (Credit: Showtime)

“Fellow Travelers” is not just one of the year’s best limited series—it’s one of the year’s casting miracles.

The fact that all four leads—Matt Bomer, Jonathan Bailey, Jelani Alladin and Noah J. Ricketts—are openly gay actors who portray vibrant, historically attuned LGBTQ+ men in America isn’t the main point of the Showtime series. But it certainly feels significant.

The inclusivity was very much intentional. “That wouldn’t have happened even 10 years ago. It wouldn’t,” three-time Emmy-winning casting director Avy Kaufman said. And she would know. She cast Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Ang Lee’s 2005 drama “Brokeback Mountain,” after all.

“It just makes me happy, I don’t know how else to say it,” she continued. “It’s not that I know everybody’s background and I know who’s gay and who’s not, who’s queer and who’s not. But I wanted to [cast ‘Fellow Travelers’ that way] because it had to be told in the proper way.”

A decades-spanning love story centered on four queer men beginning at the height of 1950s McCarthyism in Washington, D.C., “Fellow Travelers” is as emotionally brutal as it is beautiful. And we’re not just talking about the much discussed sex scenes between State Department official Hawkins Fuller (Bomer, who also executive produces) and congressional staffer Timothy Laughlin (Bailey, of “Bridgerton” fame).

Rounding out the cast are Alladin as Marcus Gaines, a Black political journalist combating racial prejudices in his field, and Ricketts as Frankie Hines, a drag lounge singer-turned-activist and Marcus’ lover. Both are New York stage vets: Alladin starred in “Frozen” as Kristoff on Broadway and led Public Works’ “Hercules;” Ricketts is currently starring as Nick Carraway in “The Great Gatsby.” Kaufman, who is based in Manhattan and always keeps an eye on the theater, knew their stage work.

Thinking back on how she pieced together the cast after Bomer expressed interest and creator and showrunner Ron Nyswaner had his heart set on Allison Williams for Hawkins’ wife, Kaufman remembered Bailey as being top of her list.

“To play opposite Matt, I couldn’t wait to bring in Jonathan Bailey, who I just think the world of,” she said. “I had met Jonathan a couple of months before for a film that fell apart. It’s one of those things where you’re going, ‘Oh, my God, I’m so glad that fell apart! So now this can work.’ I just wanted to be part of this important story.”

The significance of the cast being largely LGBTQ+ was not lost on Nyswaner. Speaking onstage at the 35th annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles earlier this year, the Oscar-nominated “Philadelphia” screenwriter was overcome with gratitude while accepting an award.

“When I was pitching ‘Fellow Travelers,’ I began by saying that when I was growing up in Pennsylvania in the ’60s and ’70s, I did not hear the word homosexual spoken aloud,” he said, standing with Bomer, Bailey and Alladin, among others. “I never heard it until I went away to college, and that told me that what I was at that time was not only bad, it was unspeakable. I was the unspeakable thing.

“Standing here tonight on this stage with these brilliant artists behind me, having made a show that has four queer executive producers, has gay main characters who are played by out and proud gay actors… If you’re out there and you’re somewhere in this country where you’re surrounded by people that tell you you are unspeakable, that you are not worth loving, I want you to find your queer uncles and aunts and your brothers and sisters, and we will love you until you can love yourself.”

This story first appeared in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from our issue here.

Hoa Xuande The Sympathizer cover
Hoa Xuande photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg for TheWrap

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