BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Movie and TV actor Michael J. Willett launched his career at 13 singing My Girl in a Little Debbie commercial.
"When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was find an excuse to be in front of people," says Willett, star of G.B.F. (Gay Best Friend), which on Thursday opens the Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.
Willett, now 24, will attend the G.B.F. screening and mix with filmgoers at a party afterward.
Performing has made Willett a more extroverted person.
"When I was younger I was more uncomfortable with that side of myself, being outgoing and talkative," he says. "I realized along the way that was how you get people to know you. I've grown to be a more open person."
Willett, who grew up in Fresno, Calif., did commercials and theater until his mid teens, then took time off from acting to concentrate on his education.
"How could I play high school characters if I didn't go to high school?" says Willett, who studied graphic design and film editing.
After graduation at 18, Willett returned to acting. He began his TV career in 2004 with a role in CBS' Joan of Arcadia. Six years later, he became known as bleached-blond Lionel in the Showtime series United States of Tara.
The actor recently wrapped a debut music album, Diapason. "It?s a musical term for a full, rich, melodious outpouring of sound," he says. "That is exactly how I describe what I do."
Willett says he's never been in the closet, that since childhood everyone "always just knew" he is gay.
In G.B.F. he plays Tanner, "somebody I could relate to in high school."
The premise: Tanner comes out to friends and family, sparking a female frenzy among trendy classmates who want him for their G.B.F. First, however, the girls decide to give Tanner a fashion makeover.
Willett likes this twist.
"Not every gay person has an affinity for fashion or hairstyle or musical theater," says Willett, who believes that Tanner "is a kind of person who is not being represented" in films and television. "We can't all be Bravo stereotypes."
IF YOU GO
The FLGLFF runs Thursday- Sunday at the Gateway Theatre, 1820 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Visit the film festival website for the complete schedule.