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'I Carry You With Me': Tells A Gay Couple's Love Story

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Fifteen years ago, the filmmaker Heidi Ewing struck up a conversation with two men in a wine bar in New York City. Ivan and Gerardo were their names. They were from Mexico. They came to the U.S. to find the American dream. They lived openly as gay men. Ivan became a restaurant owner. Ewing, the filmmaker, made a movie about them, "Te Llevo Conmigo" - or "I Carry You With Me." It's a love story and also the story of what they left behind, Ivan's best friend, who crossed the border with him and then went back to Mexico, and Ivan's son still in Mexico. Noel King spoke earlier with the director, Heidi Ewing, and also with actor Armando Espitia, who plays Ivan.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Armando, how did you learn about the role of Ivan? And what appealed to you about it?

ARMANDO ESPITIA: I think, in a way, our lives are kind of similar. First of all because we're both gay men growing up in Mexico. Being a kid from a community like mine and having a big dream, like being an actor, is not very realistic sometimes. But I had to work, like, hard, as I assume Ivan did. And in a way, I like to think that one day I'm going to be as successful as Ivan.

KING: In the film, you're playing a gay man in the 1990s in Puebla, Mexico, where there is very real and sometimes dangerous homophobia. As you played this role, did you find yourself thinking, wow, things have really changed here a lot? It's not dangerous to be a gay man anymore. We don't face this kind of discrimination anymore. Or did you find yourself thinking more, wow, not as much has changed as we would like?

ESPITIA: It hasn't been easy because I have to face kind of a lot of challenges to accept myself and to have the life that I have now. But even with it, I feel like I've been privileged. But there's some other people that are not because of the place that they live or their families. I bet it's the same in every country. So I don't like when people get the idea that Mexico is what we are portraying in the movie in the '90s because it's different. And just having this movie out in theaters in Mexico and making this movie in Mexico tells a lot about how Mexico is dealing with these issues.

HEIDI EWING: For me, there's a lot of nuance in the film because even though you see the conflict at times verging on violent between fathers and their gay sons, you also see tenderness, confusion and ignorance that's driving the anger of the fathers. So - you know, there really are no villains or heroes in this movie when it comes to the issue of homophobia. It's a very, very complicated subject matter. And we really tried to approach it with compassion and nuance.

KING: There was a scene that struck our team where Ivan and his friend Sandra are now in the United States. And they are reflecting on the things they have. And he says to her, my mom saw your mom driving around in a new car. So we assume that they are sending money back home. And that's very good for their families. And then Sandra says to him, my mother is miserable. And I am miserable because we're not together. And it's not even a new car. It's, like, a 12-year-old Camry.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Heidi, I would say that the relationship between those two friends in this film is as strong as the love story. I really felt that. Can you talk about what the two of them represent in this movie and what they say about the American dream, in your view?

EWING: The friendship between Sandra and Ivan is extremely profound. They've set out together on this - what they perceive is going to be a great adventure. They're leaving, you know, the past behind. As Ivan says in the movie, the American dream occurs in slow motion. I mean, he came in 2000. He opened his first restaurant in 2010 - so much sweat, so many hours. And so what they represent is the reality of so many people that come here. Many, many people do succeed like Ivan. But what Sandra - what that conversation that you're describing reflects is the high, high price that is paid to achieve that dream. For her, no vale la pena - it's now worth it. And for him, he's not so sure. Ivan is proud. And he's determined. And he's not going to go home until he succeeds. And then, of course, 20 years go by. And he has his success, but he's still here.

KING: Armando, can I ask for your thoughts on that scene and, more broadly, as a young man from Mexico, on this idea of the American dream and coming here to find something?

ESPITIA: First, I want to say something more about the relationship between them.

KING: Please, please.

ESPITIA: I was thinking that it's beautiful how they discover everything together since the beginning, since they were kids. Literally, they discover the world together and, like, the fear together of crossing the border. And everything that they do together, it's beautiful. And I like to say that as - almost every gay man has an ally in a girl friend. And then, growing up in Mexico - in Ixtapaluca (ph) more precisely (laughter) - you understand very early in your life that the people that has more opportunities or possibilities to get an education or other things in life are the people who has family in the U.S. and can send you money. Where I grew up, it is like that. The families that have money is because their father's living in America, probably undocumented. And I can clearly understand, like, why people dreams with the American dream.

KING: I want to ask lastly about the cost, because this film very poignantly depicts the cost. And that is, Heidi, the real Ivan spent 20 years in the United States without being able to see his child, his son. He couldn't risk going back to Mexico and not being allowed back in the United States. In real life, what is their relationship like now? Do they have one?

EWING: He still hasn't seen his son, who's now 26 years old.

KING: Oh.

EWING: And he thinks about it every day. They talk every day. There's texting. Sometimes there's FaceTiming (ph). He's helping him mount a small business now in Oaxaca. And he's living a little bit in a loop. The movie starts and ends the same way. And there's a reason for that. He's dreaming about going back to Mexico but realizes if he leaves here, he can't come back. And that's the dilemma. And it continues until this very moment.

KING: The film "I Carry You With Me" opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 25. And it opens in theaters across the country on July 2. Heidi and Armando, thank you so much for being with us. We really do appreciate your time.

EWING: What a pleasure. Thank you.

ESPITIA: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "MEGALOPOLIS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.