“I think melodrama is my kind of thing,” Leon Lopez says with a laugh. The soap opera star, singer, songwriter, and producer recently added “director” to his long list of credits with his first feature film, Soft Lad. The film tells the story of a Liverpudlian family who finds themselves swept up in a twisted knot of love affairs, closeted homosexuality, and HIV.
Starring Jonny Labey, Daniel Brocklebank, Suzanne Collins, and Craig Stein, Soft Lad is an intriguing tale of lust and betrayal that grabs the audience from the opening scenes. David (Labey) is having an affair with his sister’s husband, Jules (Brocklebank). Meanwhile, David’s sister Jane (Collins) is blissfully unaware of the betrayal crafted by her brother and husband – a betrayal that has life-altering consequences for everyone involved. A mixture of secrets, lies, and serious illness puts each of these characters to the test, leading each onto their own path at film’s end.
“I was doing a show while I was writing the script as a play,” Lopez says. “I wanted to write about HIV, but in a much wider context. Instead, it developed into a story about our interactions surrounding the disease.”
He goes on to explain, “Soft Lad started out with only one shot. I was inspired by things I heard of, specifically with marriage and affairs but with the backdrop of HIV. I wanted this story to dispel the stigma. In a way, it’s like diabetes, you know? It’s not so bad as it once was, but I still don’t want to catch it. People are less afraid of HIV, and people are more sloppy now. We still need to be careful and we still need to be discussing it. As a gay man sex is just more risky for your health.”
Though HIV is at the center of his story, Lopez was careful to craft a story that would appeal to a much wider audience.
“For me it was about sexual health awareness,” explains the director. “There’s such a lack of education about it anymore. It’s not the life sentence it once was. I created characters who represent the positive attitudes towards disease, but without the stereotypes. You can substitute characters. [Lead character] David could have been female and the story would have been the same.”
With a budget of less than £18,000 to work with, Lopez was met with the sort of production challenges many young filmmakers face, from ultra fast timelines to calling in a lot of favours from friends and colleagues in the industry.
“It was tough, but luckily everyone was very passionate about it,” Lopez says. “Above all I absolutely wanted to be sure all of my actors were paid. We had 7 days to shoot everything so we got creative in some instances. One home was dressed as two entirely separate locations in the film!”
“I cast the film as I wrote it and the only one I had in mind beforehand was I wanted Craig Stein to play Sam,” explains the director. “Suzanne Collins was a friend of mine from soap operas, and I knew I wanted her to be Jane. It was also a treat to have her real-life daughter Mya play Jane and Jules’ daughter Steph in the film.”
Following Soft Lad, Lopez has continued work on a variety of new projects, both as an actor and writer/director.
“Plenty going on,” Lopez says with a happy sigh. “I’m trying to get funding for two new features I’ve written, including one about a gay couple who moves from London to Cornwall and opens a B&B to save their relationship. I’ve also got a pilot shooting next year – it’s a unique story. One about models and male escorts.”
“Directing films has always been a passion for me. I’ve always wanted to do something big and mainstream. But I have stopped writing briefly,” states Lopez. “I stopped writing because my characters all are gay!”