Milk may be the first major gay-themed film since 2005's Brokeback Mountain, but their subjects couldn't be more different. Instead of closeted cowboys, director Van Sant's new movie follows out-and-proud activist Harvey Milk (Penn), the first openly gay man elected to a major political office before he was assassinated in 1978 by fellow former San Francisco city supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin).
"In the first script I read," says Franco, who plays Milk's lover, Scott Smith, "there was one love scene between Scott and Harvey. As soon as I signed on, there were three more love scenes. On page five, we're going at it!... Basically the reasoning is: People are going to go to the movie and be like, 'All right, is he going to kiss a guy?' So we might as well get it out of the way. Who am I to argue?"
Van Sant brought a similar let's-try-anything ethic to the shoot, especially during a scene depicting the night White allegedly gorged on junk food before killing Milk and Mayor George Moscone. "We did it probably 10 different ways," says Brolin. "At one point, I took off all my clothes and I was writhing, crying, my underwear on as the sun's coming up, with a cookie sticking out of my mouth."
OUR TWO CENTS Van Sant's last four films were avant-garde experiments (see: Elephant). But Oscar buzz for Penn could make Milk one of the year's must-see serious films. 11/26
Web Obsession The homegrown Uncle Donald's thecastro.net includes extensive photos and reminiscences about Milk