Dean O’Gorman in “When Love Comes” (1998), or: Truth, no matter what language you say it in

[The theme of this post is love and the self, and same-sex relationships are largely incidental to what I’m saying, but readers who are negative about same-sex pairings in fanfic or in film may want to skip it. I discuss my path through some slash fic, and the film in question has a gay relationship at its center.]


hobbitcastlego4[Right: Dean O’Gorman poses with his mini-Fili Lego figure on the last day of principal photography for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012). I’ve forgotten where I snaffled the photo.]

This post is a reaction to a scene in a film review, but I need to tell you how I got there.

Who could resist that face? Something about holding a Lego makes so many men into little boys again.

So, yeah, I’d seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at least two dozen times, maybe more, by the time this interest hit.

I didn’t have any negative or positive feelings about Dean O’Gorman’s performance, which was just fine. So this very minor detour from Armitagemania has not been about O’Gorman as Fili, one way or the other. Though Fili does have a spectacular beard. Servetus approves.

Screen shot 2013-06-04 at 8.57.03 PMOddly: It was about fanfic. Dean O’Gorman plays a regular role in the kind of slash fanfic at A03 that has me occupied at the moment. So, as I was enjoying O’Gorman written as a character by other fans, I started looking more closely at pictures of the actor when I saw them, in order to give a picture to my reading. While some slash pairs O’Gorman with Armitage, the most frequent slash pairing puts O’Gorman with Aidan Turner — and one of the things that’s been strange about this development for me is that I am no more interested in Aidan Turner than I ever was, which is to say, not at all.

Is it wrong that every time I see a picture of O’Gorman with Turner, I make a screenshot that crops Turner out? As I did in the one at above left, which I think was taken at Armageddon Wellington last weekend?

So yeah, I started reading fics and then I started looking at pictures. O’Gorman’s just ridiculously beautiful and youthful and his eyes broadcast the implicit promise of both hidden mischief and plausible deniability. He looks like the kid who sat next to me in Sunday School with a straight face, but who we all knew would toilet-paper the church steeple as soon as darkness fell — and still look totally innocent when he got called out. Even though I wonder whether Richard Armitage sorted out the Fili / Kili identification dilemma in light of Rob Kazinsky (it would apparently fit) before Kazinsky left the production, “f—–” is definitely an adjective I could associate with O’Gorman’s face, which manages to be sweet and haphazardly dangerous all at once. Fanfic + the face did it. I started to get a sexual thrill just glancing at the guy.

MV5BMTkwMDYwNjQ4NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTg4MTY0OA@@._V1._SX640_SY480_So, I thought, huh, he was okay as Fili. (Especially loved those little thingies attached to the ends of his mustache!) I could maybe look at something he’s done. Then I looked at the list and cringed. It’s a bit as if I’d seen Richard Armitage in Ultimate Force and thought, hmm, I could look at his more important work — and the only thing on offer was Robin Hood. All these superhero / Greek deity roles. Nothing wrong with them, but they’re not my thing.

So it wasn’t out of a fixation on the gay theme that I picked When Love Comes (1998) to watch. It was either that or McLeod’s Daughters, and I wasn’t up for a series.

$6.99 + postage and about a week later, I was in possession of the (used) disc.

Wow. I would recommend this film to anyone. Even people who aren’t entirely comfortable with the subject matter. Possibly even to people who are offended by  smoking on screen. Because it’s that good.

O’Gorman, who was twenty-two at the time, plays Mark, a young man of ambiguous sexuality, bohemian tendencies, and no apparent desire to live a bourgeois life. Mark is (gulp) gorgeous. Watching him — not just those curls, but the jerky, adolescent energy of his gait and the vying-for-(self)-control tilt of his chin — I can see why he’d be the object of desire of people of any gender.


vlcsnap-2013-06-05-19h09m58s141Mark (Dean O’Gorman) listens to Sally composing a song to his lyrics in When Love Comes. My cap — though it’s impossible to capture the sensuality of the way O’Gorman smokes in this film. My opinions on this are notorious.


Mark writes song lyrics with his friends Fig (Nancy Brunning) and Sally (Sophia Hawthorne), aspiring musicians and apparently a lesbian couple, although Sally not only writes tunes to Mark’s lyrics but also has sex with him when they’re both stoned. (Everyone in this film drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney, and the younger characters do a lot of weed.) Mark appears to be supporting himself in part by turning tricks in the hallways of the club where Fig and Sally perform; a true Luftmensch, he lacks other visible means of support.

Mark’s also the reluctant love interest of Stephen (Simon Prast), an older restaurateur and romantic at heart who seems caught emotionally between the intensity of his desire for the much younger Mark and fear of embarrassment over the age difference and Mark’s seeming lack of sincere interest in him. At the beginning of the film, Mark signals strongly that an evening (and a projected sexual encounter) with Stephen is something that can only be managed with the aid of mood-altering substances.


vlcsnap-2013-06-05-21h42m40s118vlcsnap-2013-06-05-21h42m53s253Mark (Dean O’Gorman) sits down in strain before downing a whole glass of wine in one go, apparently at the prospect of having to spend an entire evening with Stephen, in When Love Comes. My cap.


The moving action of the plot is supplied by the arrival of Katie Keen (Rena Owen), a friend of Stephen’s who had a big singing career in the 1970s, on a visit home from the U.S., where her career seems at an end. Katie’s come home to take stock both of her career options (she’s trapped, having taken an advance on a television show about her career) and her love affair with the (ostensibly married) American producer, Eddie (Simon Westaway — an Australian who manages an eerily convincing U.S. accent that sounds like it’s drawn straight from classic 1940s film).

I know this plot setup — May / December romance, wannabe ambiguous sexual orientation girlband, aging diva and similarly aging male friend who can only love her because he can’t be her lover — make it sounds like the script will be horrible. When you see that Dean O’Gorman looks a lot like one imagines a young Katie Keen might have looked had she been a boy, twenty years earlier, it all gets a bit hard to swallow. Also, the film incorporates some unnecessarily theatrical and campy moments. I don’t care for the way that Fig and Sally narrate straight at the viewer, for instance, and although Prast declared his intent not to play Stephen as a queen, his performance moves a bit too far in that direction for my taste. The film also implies a happy ending, which troubles me slightly given the nature of the revelations made by the characters in its last ten minutes.

Given my reservations you might be forgiven that it’s just O’Gorman who makes me like the film. Not so. However: compare the expressions:


vlcsnap-2013-06-05-19h11m16s176Mark (Dean O’Gorman) claims to Fig with a convincingly confused adolescent bravado that he doesn’t really understand love or what he’s gotten into with Stephen, in When Love Calls. My cap.


vlcsnap-2013-06-05-19h16m51s192Mark (Dean O’Gorman) looks after Stephen in simultaneous sleepiness and a quite mature lover’s anger at the beach house in When Love Comes. My cap.


Rather — I liked it because, at its base, When Love Comes is a heartwarming and startlingly truthful film. It punches well above its weight emotionally because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Instead, its moments of playfulness means that when it gets serious, it takes the viewer by surprise — not least because of an amazing performance by O’Gorman. O’Gorman manages to play both the half expressive, half cut-off, clueless adolescent, and the still half-uncertain, willful adult lover. He switches registers expertly and apparently unconsciously between the mating displays of a brash young man with performance anxiety and something to prove to his contemporaries and the child who doesn’t know quite where he finds himself. His performance is strong throughout, but simply amazing at one point.

Dean O’Gorman can act. Oh, yes.

I have to pause here to say something brief about O’Gorman’s performance of crying, because this scene convinced me of the truth of that assertion. It also reminded me of something excellent Didion said recently about the wildly aestheticized performance of tears in film as an indicator of gender:

[…] be warned that real men cry with the same sloppy, ugly abandon that women do. What I can’t understand is how we can see male actors express the ugliest, most terrifying rage and violence onscreen, but never have I seen men crying with abandon as actual men sometimes do. And this hurts both men and women.


vlcsnap-2013-06-05-19h19m20s138Mark (Dean O’Gorman) tells Stephen (Simon Prast) that he can’t be what Stephen needs him to be in When Love Calls. My cap.


I don’t know if O’Gorman used any props to achieve his look here — but with or without teardrops, he sobs unbelievably convincingly, in a combination of fear and rage and discomfort and broken self-esteem and physical need to flee that is unabashedly messy — right down to the snot that appears on his upper lip. I think that if she saw it, Dear Friend might have something to say about the gender / power dynamics in this scene — the ways in which O’Gorman, who’s insisted on his status as the tough, masculine teenager over against Stephen’s more effeminate behavior throughout the film, suddenly turns the tables violently on both Stephen and the viewer with this wild, almost girlish crying — by himself becoming more conventionally feminine, forcing Stephen at least partially into a more compelling performance of conventional masculinity than he has exhibited throughout the film. That reversal is really effective — and appears unconscious. Kudos, Mr. O’Gorman, that you could manage all this when you were twenty-two.

More importantly for me, however, O’Gorman convinced me that Mark was really crying — and because he was saying something I’ve said so often, to at least two men, and to various other people — we can finally come to the real reason I’m writing this post.

The crying — and for me the climax of the film’s action — comes after all three couples end up together at the beach near the town where Katie grew up and had her first talent show performances. (Parenthetically — the beach scenes explain entirely why the New Zealand film subsidy people paid for this production. OMG New Zealand,  you really are tempting. Too bad you’re so far away from me. Also: people in New Zealand have fabulous lips. And crazy, abbreviated diphthongs.) Katie wants to look back at where she came from as she writes her television show; after a throwing-things-at-each-other fight and apparent breakup between Stephen and Mark, Katie convinces Stephen to reconsider and Stephen convinces Mark to come along for the ride; and Fig and Sally end up there as well, after Eddie shows up unannounced looking for Katie at Stephen’s, where they seem to be house-sitting or breaking in.


vlcsnap-2013-06-05-23h23m10s11Mark (Dean O’Gorman) tells Stephen (Simon Prast) that the mood is “puke-making,” in When Love Comes. My cap. It’s a bit hard to cap O’Gorman as Mark — he’s alternately very restless and completely motionless but tense. Exactly in the way of unhappy young men.


O’Gorman even freights Mark’s attempts to relax with tension.



The couples atmosphere’s too much for the uncertain Mark, who, with barely restrained physical frustration, accuses Stephen of orchestrating a fake. Sally and Fig plan a beach bonfire for the evening — where startling revelations eventually occur — but Mark doesn’t make it even that far before the urge to run becomes too severe for him to withstand.

Here’s the scene that killed me — that will make me remember O’Gorman forever — that made him my “technician of the human condition” when I saw this film. It opens with Simon, who’s walked away from the frustrated Mark, watching Fig and Sally building the bonfire down on the beach.

As Mark enters the scene, O’Gorman’s face is so concentrated, so inwardly focused, so introspective, that I feel his physical pain and unwillingness to accept Stephen’s declaration of love — right down to the almost invisible, but nonetheless pained clench in his jaw at 0:56.

The script is right on target in explaining Mark’s problems (so I’ll give it a pass on the improbability that such a young man could articulate so coherently exactly why he’s incapable not just of loving Stephen, but of loving anyone). Mark states his reasons at first defensively, almost cutely — he can’t love anyone because he’s not there, and he’s not there because he doesn’t want to be. But as Stephen won’t let it go, after 1:24, we see the kind of self-soul-gouging on Mark’s face that does nothing but hurt, hurt, hurt both him and us — the fleeting moment of hopefulness on his face at 1:42 as much a sort of desire on Mark’s face that Stephen will stop insisting that Mark’s personality has a “there” as it is a consideration that he might have to believe what Stephen says is true. Mark moves even further into punishment after 1:46 — in which he makes the self-damaging admission that he only really knew how to respond to Stephen when Stephen was his john. “You wanted someone,” he says through tears that signal extreme anger not only at Stephen, for pushing the issue, but at himself, for his own incapacity, “and I could be that. But now,” Mark continues, “there’s …” and doesn’t know what to say — and turns his drowning at that second into a self-recrimination: “There’s not as much in me as you think.”

“All I’ve got,” Mark says, “is my stupid songs.” Everything I have — he says — is nothing — and as he denies the most valuable thing about himself in order to protect himself emotionally from his lover praise and to hide himself from the potential of being loved, something he knows he cannot do, he closes his eyes at a level of pain that borders on self-annihilation. At 3:00, O’Gorman begins to close off Mark’s introspection of the beginning of the scene — the conversation is just too painful, the eyes are narrower, moving towards a death of openness and evasive resignation. By 3:06, Mark is playing with his bag; the restless young man is reemerging. When we see him again, he’s closed off; looking to the side, he’s calculating his next move: Away from Stephen.



There’s been a lot of fluff here lately and if you know me well, you’re seeing Servetus’ classic avoidance pattern. A fantasy about Richard Armitage pushes something loose; I get distracted and can’t continue it in words. When I try to continue it in my thoughts, the fantasy turns so sour that I can’t write about it for weeks. When I pursue it, and write it down, what I have to say is so disturbing to myself that I’m afraid to publish it. I pick up the strand of my own story via a humorous post in which I make people laugh but also realize that I’m pointing fingers at my failures without mercy. I end up feeling worse for not having been honest. And then I say nothing of substance while I try to figure out what to do about all of this mess.

O’Gorman feels a tad bit young for me as a crush — he’s five years younger than Richard Armitage and two years younger than my brother. Though apparently some people derive a lot of meaning and enjoyment from superhero / Greek god films, I’m not one of them. But he can act. I can’t figure out why he hasn’t been cast as a romantic lead. He has the looks and the chops. I hope for him that he gets a chance at the sort of roles he wishes to perform, and is it terrible to say I’d love to see him again in some serious drama?

So — in case you were worried, no “me + dean o’gorman.” He seems to have plenty of fans microblogging about him, anyway, as well as a promising career in photography. But for tonight, I just want to say thanks, Mr. O’Gorman. Your truthfulness in this role said something to me that I’ve been afraid to say to myself lately, and for years. I hope your courage here (fifteen years ago — you played this role as I was finishing my Ph.D.!) can inspire mine.

When I saw Mark, Mr. O’Gorman, I saw myself. I’m going to try to talk about that shortly. If I can.

[Discussion guidelines: I’m aware O’Gorman is not gay; let me reiterate that this post is not about same-sex love but about love, period, and an actor’s depiction of it. NO HOMOPHOBIA. NO HATING ON SMOKING / SMOKERS. And as always, no ad hominem :). In case it needs repeating: Servetus is heterosexual and an ally.]

~ by Servetus on June 6, 2013.

28 Responses to “Dean O’Gorman in “When Love Comes” (1998), or: Truth, no matter what language you say it in”

  1. Well, now I certainly want to see this film. I haven’t seen Dean in anything else, but I have been drawn to that dimpled smile and the teasing gleam in his eyes. My gosh, he was quite beautiful in this film. Yes, definitely too young for me to crush on, as I am a decade or more your elder (and RA’s, but NEVER MIND). I can be an O’Gorman admirer, too, I reckon (although I also like Aidan Turner–loved him in Being Human and Desperate Romantics).
    And thanks for taking my mind off my missing dog for a little while. That’s not been easy.


    • Definitely put it on your list.

      re: age + crushes — I can’t put my finger on this exactly but part of the issue is my ambiguously negative feelings about men who inspire in me the desire to mother. There’s a bit of that with O’Gorman precisely because of that tinge of mischief. Of course, here, O’Gorman’s only 22 but that also seems to be part of Mark’s relationship with Stephen — the implication that Stephen is going to have to help him become a person in a quasi-parental way. That was my biggest quibble about the film — that given the depth of this confession, the cheery denoument of the film seems improbable to me.

      Still hoping for a safe return.


      • I will. I enjoy a lot of the films that tend to fly under the radar. Yeah, I would feel a bit odd crushing on someone I felt an inclination to mother (which I’ve never felt for Mr. A). Protective at times, perhaps, but I definitely don’t want to mother the guy, whereas Dean does remind me of some of my former students.

        And thank you. I am almost as worried for Leigh and her cat as I am for Jack. I know how very much Lucky means to her, and it breaks my heart that this happened.


  2. I haven’t seen this particular film (what a glorious mane of hair, though), but did watch season 1 of The Almighty Johnsons which Dean has a major role in. There’s a wonderfully offbeat tv series for you- a modern day family of brothers who are reincarnations of Norse gods! You might call it dramatic comedy, with a great laid back Antipodean sense of humour.

    I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Dean O’Gorman as a person- very sweet and kind to nervous young fans, and generally surprised by the level of fan interest. He’s not afraid to poke fun at himself either- if you’ve seen the video from Hobbitcon where he acts out the story of getting stuck in a letter box slot then you’ll know what I mean. He’s funny, cheeky and down to earth.
    Kiwis tend to be pretty laid back sort of people anyway, but I remember reading somewhere that the NZ tv and film industry is such a small community that all the actors know each other and would soon come down hard on anyone who started showing signs of a swelled head. It’s a refreshing and grounding attitude, and part of he reason I think NZ must be a great place to make a movie.


    • He very much gives the impression of someone who’s in this for the art and the work, not for the fame and attention. I still don’t have the impulse to dig into every corner of the web looking for him, but what I’ve seen / read has been very *not*-Hollywood. I don’t know if he has aspirations beyond NZ, but it would certainly not make sense to alienate the people you’re likely to spend the rest of your life working with.


      • I’ve seen clips of him at some of the various fan events and he seems really down-to-earth and very approachable, another journeyman actor not worried about becoming a big celeb. I wish him all the best, because I do like to see people with actual talent get breaks.


        • One thing that’s charming to me, frankly, is his relative irreverence regarding Tolkien / TH. He feels like he knows enough to play the role and hasn’t turned himself into Stephen Colbert against his own inclination. Understand I’m not criticizing those who do — I just appreciated his expression of his feeling that he knows enough. He said something similar about this role when asked about playing a bisexual character — he said, essentially, that at the end of the day it’s not about your identity, it’s about whether you can deliver the lines convincingly / effectively. He seems like someone who’s resistant to being put in a box.


  3. I know Dean went to LA for a couple of years and wasn’t too successful, so came back home. Prior to that he spent a year or two in an Australian series (Mcleod’s Daughters). I guess the problem is that the NZ industry isn’t big enough to sustain all its actors, so they inevitably have to seek work elsewhere. I think I read that he sold some paintings while he was in LA, so at least he has his art as a backup career.

    Karl Urban is probably NZ’s most internationally well known actor (other than Russell Crowe, but he tends to be identified as Australian for the most part), and he has said how hard it is to be considered for parts when you live so far away from LA and can’t just pop in for an audition at the drop of a hat. He nevertheless prefers to live in NZ and bring up his family there, so I admire him for that.


    • NZ *is* a long way away from things (sorry to say that again — it looks beautiful but I doubt I’ll ever go just because of that problem). I can imagine an LA casting agent wants to cast someone he can see. And I don’t know that necessarily the LA lifestyle is something to aspire to. There’s an argument for doing what you do effectively and living acceptably well in a less stressful setting. I wouldn’t want to live in LA and I’m not even in that profession …


  4. That was very interesting, Serv! I am curious about the whole film now. I just love listening to the Kiwi accent… And Dean is certainly not hard to look at. Plus, I have a weak spot for anyone with an Irish name *ggg*. – I discovered only last week that he dabbles in photography, too. Of course I had to dig through that. Not bad, that Vietnam veterans/soldiers project. Certainly very well photographed. My niggle is, however, that there does not seem to be a rhyme or reason to the project other than “it seemed like a fun thing to do”. Usually that is not good enough for an art photography project – and as much as I hated writing my own artist’s statements: they serve an important purpose and set the serious “artists” (lahdidah) apart from the dabbling amateur. Not meant as a criticism, merely expressing my confusion about his intentions. Anyway, he strikes me as a laid-back, “normal” sort of guy – which makes him worthy of attention, even though he does not inspire the intensity of interest in me that RA does. Neither does Aidan Turner, btw, even though he’s a local man. Can’t say that I noticed him in the home-grown doctors’ drama, either… But the two of them together are sweet.


    • I intentionally did not raise the topic of the Vietnam photography “project” in the post for all kinds of reasons, but I was not a fan of what I saw on his webpage, and certainly agree with everything you say about it here. In a way it’s not fair for me to criticize it given what I’ve said about the war elsewhere. Representation of trauma is a tricky business and I imagine it’s easier to float over some of the implications of your work if you’re his age and not an American.

      I don’t know why the Aidan Turner switch hasn’t flipped on. But yes, you should definitely see this movie sometime.


      • Whooops, sorry, I didn’t mean to raise a controversial topic here and bomb the discussion (no pun intended). Certainly too meaningful as to generalise about it in passing! We’ll put it at rest for the moment. Suffice to say I would *love* to talk to him about photography, and about his intentions with that project. He seems a bit like a renaissance man – actor, painter, photographer. He comes from an artistic family, no wonder.


        • Oh, not at all. I just thought some of his fans might show up here eventually. I could have written pages about the stuff I think is wrong with that project, but that wouldn’t be fair and the point was for me that the way he cries in this film is so moving that I sobbed while watching it and was crying off and on for an hour later. If he can do that to me he can take all the pictures he wants.

          I agree he clearly wants to be an artist — and he’s young. He may still find a more definitive vision.


          • The man can certainly act. And he IS an artist. I haven’t seen any of his paintings – I am giving him preliminary credit because of his painter father, I guess.


            • yeah — fair enough. I’ve been militating for calling myself a writer despite certain niggling problems in that regard.

              I think if you grow up in an atmosphere like that you get additional impetus to see things in particular ways.


              • Yes. I see that in my in-law family who have a couple of big-name painters in their ranks of ancestors. (Well, of the “world-famous in Ireland” kind *haha*) My hubs and his brothers grew up with paintings, sculptures and art around them. While only one of them has proper painterly talent, all of them are extremely open-minded and appreciative of art. That doesn’t mean they are hyper-critical of art, however, but that they allow others to consider themselves artists, if that’s what they think they are. I suppose that is the advantage that people from artistic families have. They are given the courage and the encouragement to create and to be artistic. It’s a great gift to be given, and it seems to me that O’Gorman may have had that kind of stimulation as well.


  5. talented cupid 🙂


  6. Dean is in “Kawa ” 2010 available for streaming on netflix and amazon. Also a gay themed flick.


  7. Sounds like a cool film. If it’s good enough for Servetus-ation, it must be worth a viewing or two. I’ll have to track it down.


    • It won’t change your life. Or maybe it will. It seems to be having a big effect on me. It’s worth seeing, I’d say, but not a “must see.”


  8. […] But lately I think what Mark said of himself in When Love Comes. There isn’t much in me. The little girl makes a loud, screaming fuss to distract from the fact that there’s nothing there. All I’ve got is my stupid songs. I can’t be what anyone needs me to be, I can’t even be what I need me to be. […]


  9. […] a bit of this with regard to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, as I’ve noted, for example, with Dean O’Gorman. Still, my dwarf desire is still basically Thorin-centric, and I there are a few dwarves that […]


  10. […] a point I found substantiated in my reaction to Dean O’Gorman’s sloppy crying in “When Love Comes”. […]


  11. […] Here’s the trailer. Full interviews are usually available on Friday. I used to think Dean O’Gorman was mainly a cute face, until I saw this movie. […]


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