Interview: Fionn Whitehead on Port Authority’s Script, Working With Leyna Bloom

(L-R) Leyna Bloom as Wye and Fionn Whitehead as Paul in the drama Port Authority, a Momentum Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures

Port Authority starring Fionn Whitehead and Leyna Bloom, is now available on demand and digitally everywhere you rent movies. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, the romantic drama focuses on the budding relationship between Paul (Whitehead) and Wye (Bloom). It also explores the experience of being an outsider in a major city and the difficulty and stigma attached to dating a trans woman.

RELATED: Port Authority Trailer: Trans Romance Drama Stars Model Leyna Bloom

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Whitehead about the role. The talented actor discussed working with Bloom, their on-set chemistry, and why Port Authority is one of his favorite scripts.

Tyler Treese: As a love story, Port Authority does a great job of just being very human. What really attracted you to both the role of Paul and Port Authority as a project?

Fionn Whitehead: Kind of like you said, at its core is a very simple love story in a lot of ways. It’s about two people who really just love each other and then feel for each other. What really attracted me to [the film], for me, it was one of the best scripts I’ve ever read and I found it incredibly moving and very, very honest, which is something that I try and look for in everything that I do. So it was that kind of emotional honesty and ruinous [that] attracted me to it really.

Your performance alongside Leyna Bloom really makes the film. Can you discuss your on-set chemistry and what it was really like working together?

It was great working together. We’re two very, very different people and come from totally different places. Obviously, I’m from London, she’s from Chicago. We met in New York and did this film together, but she was very welcoming from the get-go. She took me around New York and showed me her favorite spots and we just sort of got to know each other over the course of the film. I developed a real kind of respect and a real fondness and love for Leyna. She’s a really wonderful person. She massively took me in with open arms, which was what the film needed.

When I spoke with her, she said that since she lived in New York and had been homeless in the city before, she was able to even help inform how you played your character. Can you talk a little bit about just those conversations and how she helped you as well?

Yeah, totally. That was a massive help, was having that to draw from lLeyna and speak to her about that. There’s obviously also a lot of aspects of Paul’s character, which I can really relate to. So it was kind of combining all of that different information and just sort of stripping back. I’m a big believer in that whatever role you play, you can only really play yourself just in varying degrees of whatever character’s personality has. You have to sort of like strip yourself down and build yourself back as his character or whatever else, but you’re always really bringing your own soul to the performance and your own sense of self. So for me, it was really just a case of thinking about Paul, a lot of Leyna and [director] Danielle [Lessovitz], talking to various people, and then sort of building it from there and thinking about the different situations you find themselves in. [Thinking about] his thought process and how he kind of navigate this new world that he’s in.

I would’ve never guessed that that was one of Leyna’s first acting roles and she was so calm. She was quite complimentary about the advice you gave her and said you were very helpful. Can you talk about her performance?

She did an incredible job, like you said, you would never have guessed [it was her] first role. I would like to say that I gave her advice, but she didn’t really need it. She’s totally herself and totally confident and really pure. She brought something to the role, which wasn’t even on the page. Like I said, it was one of my favorite scripts, so it was just really brilliant to work with her and to have her there and really sort of refreshing to meet someone that was so talented.

The film is very much all about New York City and it takes place there. You said Leyna showed you around. What really did you take away from the city? It’s a very different place for many people. A lot of people go there for a new start like Paul did, and there are so many dreams of opportunity, but it’s not always easy. So what did you take away from New York City?

There is a lot of parallels between New York and London. They are very different places, but there are a lot of similarities as well. That kind of big city thing, people moving from all around the country to sort of come and make a new start. Before I was born, when my dad was in his early twenties, he moved from up north in Liverpool to London to make a new start, and had very little money and lived in squats for a lot of his time. So, I kind of grew up with him telling me stories about how he felt being in London for the first time, and all of the overwhelming things that come alongside the incredible things that come with that and the freedom.

I think that shows in the script and in the film is that Paul feels all of this stuff at once. He’s excited and this stuff that he sees and he gets involved in, which is thrilling to him and really incredible. And then there’s this stuff, which is completely overwhelming and he obviously misses his home. So it was just kind of trying to think about a time in your life when you felt simultaneously excited and terrified, which I think everyone has been in that situation at some point, and then just dialing up by degrees.

Yeah. I love the parallel between London and New York City. It kind of goes to one of the themes of the film that no matter where people are from, their upbringing, or their location, we all have something in common. It’s a great message of the film about how you can choose your family and the togetherness within that ballroom scene. What did you get to learn about the ballroom scene? I’m not sure if you were familiar with it before, I wasn’t, but it was really cool to get a glimpse throughout the film.

I knew very little about the ballroom scene before I read the script and then obviously as we filmed and prepped and I got to chat with everyone, I kind of got to know more and more. I think the main thing that struck me is how loving the people within the ballroom scene. Like you said they are their family and they really take each other in. They’re super protective and super loyal and super welcoming once you are kind of in. The expressiveness of voguing and the whole scene is just something which I think that people can really look up to and aspire to because it’s so beautiful and freeing, and it goes against so much of what we get hit with every day [and] all this sort of repressive stuff that is in the mainstream media.

We’re encouraged to feel from a very young age to repress our feelings, our emotions, and a true kind of sense of self. I was just felt incredibly lucky to be able to get a glimpse into that community and to talk with people. It was like looking through a window and to be welcomed by all those people who are super talented and super lovely.

I really liked the relationship between Paul and Wye because it feels so real. It’s not romanticized. It’s not perfect. It’s flawed. It’s very human. Can you talk about the romance depicted in the film?

I mean, like you said, there’s an old Shakespeare quote like, “never did the course of true love runs smooth,” or whatever it is, but no relationship is ever simple. The best relationships in the world aren’t simple. People fight and break up and make up. If it’s really good then it is complex, and everyone brings their own baggage to the relationship. It’s just about whether you’re willing to put up with that and work through that together. What I’ve found so moving about Paul and Wye’s relationship throughout is that particularly Wye really sees Paul for who he is and takes all of this stuff, and even though he’s not entirely honest with her, she can kind of see where he’s coming from and the kind of person he is. She just takes it all and kind of sees him with it and just still loves him for it and takes him in.

It’s that kind of unconditional love, which is so moving and beautiful, and it’s something that everyone aspires to in a relationship. So that was really amazing to me. I think that him being shown that love opens him up and opens things in him, which have never been opened before and then kind of makes him stop and take stock and think about his life. Think about other people he hangs out with and think about who he really is and what he wants to do. What the reality is of life and what it could be. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful script. So hopefully it turns out that way in the [finished product].