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Hunter Cope on His Breakout Gay Role Opposite Dakota Johnson in ‘Date and Switch’

”I don’t play the character as ‘gay’ — he’s just a regular guy who happens to like other guys. I’m proud of the movie’s message,“ the actor tells TheWrap

dateandswitchfull_size-1“Date and Switch” star Hunter Cope grew up around the entertainment industry thanks to his voice-over manager mother and film editor father, but when he told his extended family that he booked his first lead role in a low-budget studio comedy titled “Gay Dude,” some scoffed and suggested a title change.

“I know I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, but it’s not a porn film! It was a Black List script written by Alan Yang,” Cope told TheWrap with a laugh Thursday, just hours before Lionsgate released “Date and Switch” day-and-date in 11 theatrical markets as well as VOD.

Chris Nelson (“Ass Backwards”) directed “Date and Switch,” which stars Cope and Nicholas Braun (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) as best friends and high school seniors who make a pact to lose their virginity before prom. Their mission takes an unexpected turn when one of them (Cope) announces that he’s gay.

Also read: Dakota Johnson Caught Between Straight Guy, Gay Dude in ‘Date and Switch’ Trailer (Video)

The film co-stars Dakota Johnson (“Fifty Shades of Grey”), Zach Cregger (“The Whitest Kids U’Know”), Sarah Hyland (“Modern Family”) Wendi McLendon-Covey (“The Goldbergs”), Gary Cole (“Office Space”) and Brian Geraghty (“The Hurt Locker”), as well as the husband-and-wife team of Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally.

“Date and Switch” was filmed “very fast and cheap,” according to Cope. “That was the model — take a high-risk script that maybe the studio wouldn’t make for $30 million and make it for $2 million or $3 million. That way, you’re able to do whatever you want with very little studio involvement. It’s sort of an indie movie made within the studio system,” explained the up-and-coming actor, who also elaborated on the title change.

“When I told my parents [about the movie], they were stoked that I was pursuing my dreams, but it was people like my uncles and aunts who aren’t in the industry who would all scoff at it. They’d say ‘that title’s gotta change.’ And we did end up changing the title because we were afraid of people feeling that way. As we were shooting it, the movie became more about this love triangle and friendship. It became a little bit of a different film that just happened to have a gay dude in it,” Cope said, justifying the switcheroo.

Cope did a lot of theater and comedy improv in high school and began making Internet videos with friends after graduation. The videos earned an audience online and helped get him a manager at Principato-Young Entertainment at 20 years old. But Cope wasn’t living the dream as he imagined it.

“I wasn’t going out on a lot of auditions. I was writing my own scripts and shooting my own stuff, just plugging away at every avenue I had.” Fortunately, Cope had a friend in his high school classmate Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who caught his own big break when he was cast as McLovin in Sony’s teen comedy “Superbad.”

Mintz-Plasse was going in to audition for one of the lead roles in “Gay Dude” and the studio asked if he wanted to bring a friend to chemistry-read with. While Lionsgate ended up going in a different direction with the protagonist and casting Nicholas Braun (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), Cope caught the eye of producers and wound up auditioning six or seven times for the titular role.

“Chris had an established career and it was sort of weird because he told me, ‘I don’t think they’re going with me, but I think they’re going with you. I was hearing from my manager that the studio wasn’t sure what it was going to do. I wasn’t answering Chris’ calls because I didn’t know if he was going to take it personally, but he was stoked for me and has been so supportive.”

Also read: ‘Neighbors’ Stars Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse Road Trip for Your Amusement (Video)

Just as Mintz-Plasse has been supportive of Cope, the “Date and Switch” actor was effusive in his praise for co-star Johnson, who will have a very different movie opening next Valentine’s Day.

“I’m not surprised she took that [highly coveted] ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ job, I’m just surprised they didn’t audition me,” joked Cope. “Dakota is the epitome of cool. She’s just so chill and laid back. I think she’s going to be great in it. I’m not too familiar with the novels but I know they’re risqué. I think she’s a great, versatile actress who’s very willing and open to the challenge … I’ll definitely go see the movie,” said Cope.

Cope, who’s also repped by UTA, has been taking it upon himself to create his own opportunities by writing his own material. “I do a lot of screenwriting, so I’ve been pushing on that side. I want to develop my own material for me as an actor or friends who are actors that I’m in contact with.”

Also read: Aubrey Plaza, Oliver Platt, Jeff Goldblum Join Johnny Depp in ‘Mortdecai’

Cope and writing partner Adam Aseraf have a script, the relationship comedy “The Let Go,” in development at Ivan Reitman‘s Montecito Picture Company, and the duo also just wrote a pilot on spec about Jeff Goldblum, which is appropriate titled “Goldblum.” “I’m a huge fan of his, so it’s a tongue-in-cheek multi-cam about Jeff living as Jeff. We’ll see how people respond to it. It’s kind of cast contingent, so we’re hoping our agents can get it to him and go from there.”

“Date and Switch” debuts the same week that a highly-regarded college football player, Michael Sam Jr., announced that he is gay in advance of the NFL draft, where he had been projected as a mid-round pick.

“I hope the NFL will embrace him and I think they will. If he’s a great player, that’s all that matters. Your sexual orientation shouldn’t matter. The NFL said it was a brave choice for him to come out and showed him some support, which was cool. Frank Ocean is another example. Obama said gay people and straight people should have same rights. You see the change and it’s really exciting to move things forward. The fact that ‘Date and Switch’ has a gay protagonist but its not queer cinema is part of the change, and all of that is very exciting.”

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