I met with Tyler’s publicists to discuss his upcoming press conference for the Abrams movie “Peril.” It was a psychological thriller about a young but brilliant scientist who is murdered by the government, but his brain is transferred into the body of a cage fighter who is injured and deemed brain dead. He wakes up in his new body, thirsty for revenge. Certainly a high-concept Hollywood idea, and getting lots of buzz because the studio was planning a Bourne-esque franchise and Tyler was a hot new face on the scene. He would be starring opposite a Victoria’s Secret Angel as well, and was anxious but excited to play her romantic interest, given the very intimate scenes that were in the script. “OK, so the gay thing,” said Mary, one of his publicists. “We have to hide it. Deny it to the public and the studio. Eric, you’re his friend and his manager. You talk to him about it. Make it disappear.”
Bart had never been happier than he was with Tyler. And Tyler, as young and in demand as he was, had no romantic distractions; he was tunnel-vision in love with my beefcake friend. Bart was always quick to remind me how grateful he felt for my introducing the two of them: “It’s easy to fall into a negative rhythm in New York,” he said. “Where you just think that you’ll be better off loving people peripherally. Gathering them and discarding them and merely experiencing the surface level while only sharing that of yourself. Thanks for giving me something more, Eric. I think about him day in, day out. I want nothing else. Noone else. Only Tyler.” And Tyler, not to be outdone, would drop his broad shoulders and blush his Paul Newman face whenever Bart would enter a room. Nobody ever did that for Bart before.
“You can’t ask Tyler to keep that a secret,” Joanie told me. “He has been plenty public with his sexuality until now, and besides, there’s a hierarchy to your relationships: you are Bart and Tyler’s friend before you are Tyler’s manager.” I wasn’t totally convinced, though: “Yes, Joanie, but he isn’t even out to his parents yet, and Broadway is far more isolated than Hollywood. So it’s not like he’s going to just come out to Entertainment Weekly without first tending to his own family.” “Let him make that decision, then,” Joanie advised. “It’s not your job to interfere with people’s private lives. Well, maybe it is. But let that bitch publicist do it. Screw her for thinking she can pawn it off on you. And shame on you for not having the courage to point her in the direction of hell.”
Tyler and I met for lunch the day before the press conference. He could hardly eat because he was so nervous to be introduced to the media on such a high platform. His casting had been announced, and since the studio was planning a franchise, bloggers and journalists were at Tyler’s door already. “Are they going to ask about my love life?” he asked. “I can’t have people knowing I’m gay. They might not come see the movie. They’d never believe a supermodel would date me. And I’d never get cast in this kind of role again.” He looked to me for confirmation of this, and so I shrugged, unsure of whether or not I agreed. But I shared his concern. Tyler wanted a high profile, which I always knew. And it was my job to get him there—and to get myself more clients like him. With that in my mind, we agreed on a decision.
I kept waiting for a love-life question during the conference. Sure, reporters were asking about more legitimate things like his preparations for the part, or his current experiences on Broadway and his excitement to break into Hollywood and work with Abrams. I imagined what it must be like to own the room from Tyler’s perspective: every word is documented, all body language analyzed, everyone is focused on your looks, your words, your presentation. I didn’t envy him for having that at 22, with things still so formative. I worried that he might be forever preserved as a 22-year old, as if his experiences from this point forward would be less genuine and all for show, forever cementing him in his current state. Suddenly, a very direct question from a reporter: “Mr. Weiland, rumor has it you’re gay. Do you think this will affect the box office?” My heart sank. The room went silent except for the clicks of a dozen cameras, each pointed at the youngest person in the room.
“Wow, I didn’t think I’d learn something about myself at my own press conference,” Tyler said jokingly into the mic. Everyone laughed, though it was palpably uncomfortable. “When you work on Broadway, you naturally have lots of female and gay friends. Almost all my best friends are gay, and I think life would be pretty good if I was too. But, don’t get me wrong, life is really damn good, I mean, I’m up here talking about this picture with you guys, so, I’m on cloud nine. And, I guess to answer your question, sir, I’ve been told that my, uhh, sexuality, if you will, is going to play a big part in the box office for this film.” His co-star took the reigns: “We’ll do our best to spice things up for you.” More laughter as they turned to one another and blushed. And from me, one big sigh of relief. He was every bit the terrific actor I needed him to be.