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Michael Ausiello (Jim Parsons) was an entertainment journalist at TV Guide when he first came face-to-face with photographer Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge) in a New York City bar over a heatwave of neon-clad partygoers in 2001. In an intimate — and sometimes whimsical, way – Retelling their real love story, Michael and Kit spend 14 years living out their rom-com romance. As viewers, we witness from their first kiss (over cocktails on a kaleidoscopic dance floor) to the first time Michael meets Kit’s parents, Marilyn Cowan (Sally Field) and Bob Cowan (Bill Irwin).
The film is based on Ausiello’s own 2017 memoir, “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies” which, spoiler alert, describes the 11-month span from Kit’s terminal cancer diagnosis to his death. “[This role] allowed me to work in a way I had never had before. And I think that has to do with tapping into something authentic and emotional,” Aldridge tells POPSUGAR.
The film is a tribute to the couple’s entire relationship. The moment Michael reveals his near-dating obsession with the Smurfs, we get a comprehensive snapshot of the duo’s dynamic, from their flirtatious banter to painful silences. And that insight makes it all the harder to digest when their relationship unravels.
Slowly, the nights spent together under the Christmas tree admiring the lights turn into passive-aggressive arguments about infidelity and loyalty. While Michael initially fears that “Smurfgate” will end them, their undefined “pause” only becomes clear when the couple – over cocktails at a holiday dinner party – announce that their “picturesque” relationship has gone cold.
“Everyone did their best to unlock some of the most difficult parts of being human, which are also the most magical parts of being human, and it was powerful.”
From heartfelt conversations about Michael’s struggles with body image to Kit’s initial hesitance to come out to his parents, the film is a profound exploration of intimacy. “That…you…that scares me,” Kit says to Michael as their relationship begins to veer into more serious territory. Michael adds, “It scares me too…I worry that I’m going to fall in love with you and you’re going to break my heart.”
The next time the couple tells each other they’re scared is when Kit is diagnosed with terminal cancer, pausing their relationship struggles — and ultimately bringing them closer together. “It was just really tough terrain,” says Parsons of the on-screen performance. “It was a little painful, but it was also a fascinating and joyful, incredible place… Everyone was doing their best to tap into some of the most difficult parts of being human, which are also the most magical parts of being human, and that was powerful.”
At the end of the film, when Kit dies, their love story comes full circle: Michael says, “I was always afraid that Kit would break my heart, and he did, but not in the way I imagined.”
When it came to casting Kit, Parsons, who also produced the film, and director Michael Showalter led the way and immediately targeted Aldridge. “I just felt a huge responsibility to play him and to appreciate his story and to know that he was half of that couple that was no longer with us,” says Aldridge. Ausiello, who was on set every day of shooting, adds that the actor considered every detail in portraying his late husband – including the way Cowan held his camera.
“I was 21 when I started acting professionally, and I really couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that these stories would exist in a way that people could see, let alone be a part of.” , says Aldridge, adding that the film breaks with the formulaic media portrayal of LGBTQ+ couples as victims of discrimination. Instead, it focuses on everyday love. “These are very important stories,” he says.
“It’s weird, but it’s like we found the humor in it in some of the darkest moments, and it certainly helped me get through this year.”
Long before their love turned into a memoir, Ausiello and Cowan owned a cat named Mister Scooch. Though the beloved pet didn’t make it into the film, he’s an integral part of Ausiello’s memories with Cowan – like the scene where Kit blows bubbles on the beach, which captured the real-life moment frame by frame. Alongside Mister Scooch, the couple also shared a dark sense of humor, something Ausiello says helped carry her through the darkest times of their relationship. “We fought our way through the whole thing with gallows humor [cancer] experience,” he says. “And god, I think I was so thankful for that. It’s weird, but it’s like we found the humor in it in some of the darkest moments, and it certainly helped me get through this year.
Today, Ausiello remains close to his late husband’s parents and travels to Millersburg, OH once a year to visit Cowan’s ashes. He also hopes to find love again, he says. “I’m hoping to find someone to connect with,” he explains. “Probably not on the same level as a kit, but close would be amazing. I think we all want that. We are all looking for love. I do that too. And beyond that, I hope to tell more stories.”
Sharing her story wasn’t easy, but Ausiello hopes the film will help couples in similar situations. “I felt like we went through something special, and I think I felt like maybe our story could help other people,” he says. “People going through difficult times in a relationship, people struggling with illness, people struggling with grief. If this story can help someone, then that’s a beautiful legacy for Kit to leave behind.” Adds Ausiello, “In the end, I hope [Kit] would see it for what it was intended for, and that’s a nice tribute.”
On screen, Kit and Michael’s journey “isn’t clean, it’s not easy,” says Ausiello. But the sincerity of their “intense, deep, complicated love” shines through in moments of spontaneous joy and moments of crippling pain, and it never feels like anyone is taking action.
“Spoiler Alert” hits theaters nationwide on December 9th. Watch the trailer ahead.