This article was first published in Attitude issue 298, July 2018.
We may live in a time of rainbow laces and out-and-proud Olympians, but there are still no openly gay footballers in the Premier League, and now new Swiss film Mario lifts the lid on homophobia in the beautiful game.
Attitude talks to German actor Aaron Altaras, who plays Leon, a confident, Grindr-using new addition to the football team who falls for shy country boy Mario. The pair settle into a life of sleepless sexy nights and muesli in the mornings.
But when their secret gets out, they have to deal with the close-minded attitudes of their club and teammates, and the pressure threatens to tear their relationship apart...
Why was it important to make a film about homophobia in football?
The first thing I asked after I read the script was, “Is there already anything like this?” And there wasn’t. That made it more exciting because the urgency has been there for 20 years, maybe longer. I played football for 12 years in youth teams, and people coming out as gay would just stop playing football because of the bad atmosphere around. There is a very homophobic way of speaking in football, which comes from a lack of awareness.
How did you establish a sense of intimacy with your co-star Max Hubacher, who plays Mario?
We knew that the love story had to be credible. It’s a coming-of-age story: the characters are 18 or 19 year olds developing their sexuality. In the casting we did a kissing scene. It was difficult because we wanted to avoid the typical masculine scene where fighting and aggressiveness leads to something sexual.
Were you comfortable being naked on screen?
Yeah. We’re never fully naked! But nearly. [Director] Marcel Gisler told us at the beginning that this is a gay love story, we were going to be naked and there would be sex scenes. I thought, 'Well, I wouldn’t have come to the casting if I’d had a problem with that'.
You have the best line in the film, in the changing room when you shout: “I suck dick, it’s contagious!” How did it feel to scream that?
Amazing. It’s my favourite line as well. We shot that scene with a lot of real footballers, and in the background you can see all their faces like, 'What the fuck?' But they came to me afterwards and said they thought it was really cool. I think the line is powerful because it’s so vulnerable. It’s like, 'I don’t give a fuck. I suck dick and you guys have no clue'.
You’re straight, but are you prepared for a lot of gay men to start fancying you after they see this movie?
Yeah! Before, the people who were following me on Instagram were 14-year-old girls, and now it’s Swiss men [laughs]. I live in Schöneberg, Berlin, which is the old-school gay quarter from the 1980s. My dream was always to be on a wall poster in a bar so I’d never have to pay for beer there. We’ll have to wait and see how the film does.
Do you hope that this film helps any closeted footballers to feel more comfortable with who they are?
That’s my romantic vision. We’ve been in contact with a few clubs, and I hope this film can be shown at stadiums. Obviously, the film is going to reach an art-house audience but it should reach football fans, too. We still have this idea of the macho, alpha cis male as a sportsman — which is fucking bullshit! Change has to come from the clubs because I think the majority of fans are willing to accept gay men in football, as long as they are good players.
Mario is released on DVD and video on-demand in the UK on Monday 10 September.
Words: Owen Myers