Twins Gary and Larry Lane share a lifelong passion for the big songs and bold personality of country music legend Dolly Parton. This month they visited Glasgay with Hollywood To Dollywood, the documentary about their quest to meet her in person, and they revealed the personal story behind it.
In person, Gary and Larry are almost completely identical. It takes a little while to learn to tell them apart, and the clues come mostly from their personalities - Larry is the shy one, smart but self-effacing, whilst Gary is the extrovert who looked up Dolly Parton fandom on the internet and submitted their documentary to local festivals wherever he found a cluster. They're clearly very close and very pleased to be able to promote their film as a family venture, yet family matters haven't always been easy for them.
Growing up gay in the American South, in a deeply religious community, they were afraid to come out even to each other. "I always hid it most of all from him because I was so afraid that he'd reject me," says Larry of his brother. In that climate, it was Dolly Parton who gave them hope.
"When we were younger our parents loved Dolly and she was always on the television in our house," Gary explains. "When we saw her in interviews she was always asked about her gay fans and she always said that she loved everyone. That acceptance meant a lot."
At first their film, which follows their journey to present Dolly with a script they have written for her, wasn't going to touch on these personal matters. They were worried about the effect that openness might have on their family and community. "Our turning point came when a couple at a truck stop said a prayer for us," says Gary. "Afterwards I felt like I'd deceived them because we hadn't told them that Mike was my partner. That changed things. Up until then we were just going to give Dolly the script and we weren't going to talk about our own lives. I don't think I would've been comfortable kissing my boyfriend on camera because we didn't know how things were going to go when our parents saw it."
The incident at the truck stop, which appears in the final film, prompted reflection about the bigger picture. "This happens all over the world," says Larry. "People get thrown out of their houses and rejected by their parents and if our film and our message can change that, well, that's what we want to do."
Gary agrees. "One thing we had to do early on was tell our parents about the film and our lives and being gay. Our mom was upfront and said she didn't want anything to do with the film because she couldn't support us. Our dad wanted to see it so we offered him a copy but said that we thought it would be really hard for mom."
"People were coming up to us and thanking us for the movie, saying 'We're supporting our gay child but the community has turned its back on us as a result," Larry adds.
At US festivals they have encountered different challenges. "People show up not knowing and thinking it's just about Dolly," Larry explains. This can lead to trouble, but it has also resulted in some nice surprises. He recalls screening where a boy sat next to him in the front row, crying throughout. "Afterwards his mother came up to us and said 'This is my son; he just came out to me two days ago on his 15th birthday."
Recalling his own formative experiences, Gary explains "Our dad would always sneak us into movies we weren't really supposed to watch. There was this one movie called The Blue Lagoon. He said 'This is Brooke Shields,' and I said 'Who?' I had no idea who she was! So, I was about 11, and I started to wonder then."
Despite the recent furore over there being 'too many gays' in Coronation Street, the reality is that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are vastly under-represented on television and especially in films. What do the twins think could be done to change this? Thinking about it makes them grin.
"We live in Hollywood," says Gary, "and I'm not going to name names but there are a lot of actors and actresses there who could come out, and that would really help."
"A lot!" echoes Larry.
Aside from that, their hope is that more people will turn up to support LGBT film festivals around the world. "That really helps to get the message out there," says Gary. "It lets people know they're not alone."