Gay actor David Pevsner plays a queer Scrooge in new film

Gregg Shapiro, Staff writer

I first met out actor David Pevsner when we were both “theater jocks” at Niles East High School in Skokie, Ill. We didn’t have a gay-straight alliance back when, so the theater department served that purpose.

Since that time, it’s been a delight to watch Pevsner’s career take off. He’s appeared off-Broadway, on television and in movies. He wrote songs for “Naked Boys Singing,” including “Perky Little Porn Star.” He recently portrayed Elizabeth Taylor’s doctor in the Lifetime movie “Liz and Dick.”

For his first lead role in a feature film, Pevsner takes on one of the most reviled but redeemed characters in literature – Ebenezer Scrooge – in “Scrooge & Marley,” a contemporary gay retelling of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

What drew you to the role of Scrooge in “Scrooge & Marley”?

At first, I saw the opportunity to work in Chicago. My family’s still here, and I thought it would be great to spend time (with them). As far as the role, I never thought of myself as the guy to play a typical Ebenezer Scrooge, but I loved the take on the character. He’s built this whole world for himself that has no real connection to anyone or anything except business. Yet in his earlier incarnation, we see him so full of love and wonder. How he gets back to connecting on a human level is the story here, and I found it so relatable. I love him throughout, because even at his meanest, he’s still sort of witty.

How do you think people will react to this variation in the treatment of the Dickens’ classic?

I hope they take it to heart. It’s a “gay” film in that a lot of the stock Dickens characters are in a gay context, but the feelings of family and inclusion and self-esteem and love are so universal. It’s sort of the family Christmas film for the gays and their friends and family. There’s another fun gay Christmas film that was directed by my friend Rob Williams called “Make the Yuletide Gay.” “Scrooge & Marley” has an entirely different feel. Why can’t we have two perennials?  It would be so great if this could be a film that people revisit every year, like “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Shooting it, it certainly felt that way. It was shot with such heart and goodwill. Our directors Richard Knight Jr. and Peter Neville were terrific – supportive, funny, smart, direct, always with an eye to make us look good. A pleasure all the way around.

The cast of “Scrooge & Marley” includes out actors Bruce Vilanch and Madison, Wis., resident Richard Ganoung. What was it like to work with them on this project?

What a great group. I already knew Bruce from writing “Naked Boys Singing” and I see him in L.A. a lot. I didn’t know David Moretti or Ronnie Kroell from L.A., but we certainly are in the same circles and we had a ball together here. I only knew Richard based on his work and he is a total sweetheart and a wonderful scene partner – all the gays were!  That means you too, Megan Cavanaugh, and the honorary gay, Rusty Schwimmer! The whole cast was so wonderful, mostly great Chicago-based actors who really stepped up to the plate and made me keep up. 

“Scrooge & Marley” is a Christmas movie. Were you raised in a secular Jewish household with a tree at Christmas or in a more traditionally Jewish home?

I’m Jewish and was raised as such in Skokie – Hebrew school, bar mitzvah, all of it. We did go to (the) Sauganash (neighborhood) to look at the Christmas lights, but we never had a tree. Every year I campaigned for a “Chanukah Bush,” but that was NEVER gonna happen! Face it, Chanukah is menorahs, dreidels, potato pancakes, and dirge-like songs, while Christmas is lighted trees, sugar cookies, decorated houses, and caroling. We Jews got the short end of the celebratory stick (laughs).

Do you have a favorite holiday-themed movie?

I love “It’s a Wonderful Life” but as a little boy, my fave was Shirley Temple’s “Heidi.” I can imitate her calling for her grandfather, played by Jean Hersholt. “Grandfeather! Grandfeather!” (Laughs.)

You balance a film and television acting career with one on the stage. Do you have a preference?

I really enjoy playing a great role. Luckily, I’m getting more substantial stuff in films these days, and it’s so damn fun. They say there’s no such thing as small roles, only small actors, but girl, I’ve done the small roles and still do on TV, and I like the big roles better (laughs)!  I was shooting a short film recently that called on everything I have as an actor, including a fight scene, and I just thought, it doesn’t get better than this. It’s the role, not the medium.