In honor of the 2014 Winter Olympics commencement, we decided to hit up an Olympic superstar for his Five Favorite Films. We all know Greg Louganis swept the diving events of the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, winning gold medals in both (even after he tragically hit his head on the board during one unfortunate dive). But diving isn’t Greg’s only competitive aptitude. He’s been strongly active in dog agility competitions and will be acting as commentator this Saturday, February 8, for the The Masters Agility Championship at Westminster live on FOX Sports (7-9pm ET / 4-6pm PT). Greg tells us this will be the first year that mixed breeds will be competing. Many don’t realize, though, that Greg also has an acting background, and has been in films such as Watercolors, Touch Me, It’s My Party and an episode of Portlandia. Greg’s autobiographical book, Breaking the Surface (New York Times #1 Best Seller for five weeks) was turned into a film of the same name, and he was the diving coach on last year’s celebrity competition show, Splash. Most importantly, though, Greg has been a role-model and coach to young athletes and artists, and those struggling with sexual identity and bullying. A new documentary film about Greg called Back on Board: Greg Louganis is currently hitting the festival circuit. We were thrilled to have him dive into his Five Favorite Films for us.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuarón, 2004; 91% Tomatometer)
Generally, if any of the Harry Potter movies comes up, it’s like, I drop everything and I watch (laughing). But that’s, what, that’s eight movies.
Do you have a favorite of them?
I’d have to say that my favorite one of them… You know, I like the first two Dumbledores, Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. I like that Dumbledore. The other Dumbledore, I mean, later on he was much better, in the later ones. But Prisoner of Azkaban was a little over the top for me, for the Dumbledore. He was a little kooky. Which was disappointing because, I would have to say, that Prisoner of Azkaban was my favorite story of the series.
So would you claim that as your favorite one, or did Dumbledore ruin it for you?
Yeah kind of… It didn’t ruin it completely. But I still use Prisoner of Azkaban as an example in teaching kids how to deal with fear. I use that as an example in teaching, you know, young divers, young athletes or young kids how to address their fears. You know, I ask them, OK what’s a Boggart? “Well a Boggart is a shape-shifter that turns into your greatest fear.” How do you transform a Boggart? “The spell is Riddikulus, you change it into something really, really ridiculous.” Well, how do you banish a Boggart? “You laugh at it.” And so that’s the same way you deal with your fear. You turn it into something really, really ridiculous, so ridiculous that you laugh at it, so it takes the power out of the fear.
Very powerful. And these are kids that you’re training?
Uh-huh, yeah. I do that for, you know, dive camps. Because kids will be learning new dives, they’ll smack and they’ll get scared. And then the fear inhibits their ability to be successful. It’s a little exercise that I give them in order to try and overcome those fears. Because those are some of the things that I did kind of naturally as a kid through my diving career, but I didn’t realize I was doing it. I mean, I didn’t call it a Boggart, I didn’t call it a spell Riddikulous. I didn’t call it those things. But I knew that if I could make it something ridiculous and I could laugh at it, I was able to relax and be more successful. That [film] kind of stands out for that reason since I use it so much. I was just up at Tualatin Hills, you know the dive club there. And somebody asked, “How do you address fear, how do you deal with fear?” And I always use that. It’s getting so the younger kids are, like, scratching their heads, “What is he talking about?” But some of the older kids are like right on it.
Breaking the Surface (Steven Hilliard Stern, 1997; No Tomatometer Score)
[Laughs] You know, why not? Breaking the Surface. Because it was just sort of revisiting… coming full circle with my dad. It was a real powerful time in my life. A powerful time of healing. And to have it, you know, to have it in a movie? That’s kind of weird, you know?
And you were sort of distanced from it a bit, right? I mean, you wrote the book, and you were a consultant and you did the dives.
I did the dives, I narrated it, yeah.
But did you have much control over it?
No, I didn’t have much say-so in the creative end. Although, because I was friends with the director, after the fact when I was up there preparing to do the diving sequences, I saw the dailies and I made a comment about what I saw in the dailies. Like, the Tom character, you know, they show him drinking and lighting up a cigarette. That was totally not Tom — well his real name’s Jim — that was so not Jim at all. Because he was so into control, and was raised Catholic and then Morman. He would not light up a cigarette, would not imbibe in alcohol, would not do any of that stuff. Because he was all about the control.
You have to at least try to portray real people correctly.
Yeah. So when I made that comment, the director, Steven, he said, “Oh my God, I wish I had known; we don’t have the money to re-shoot everything.” I was like, “No, it’s fine.” Oh, and it was funny because Jeff [Meek], who played Tom in the movie, we went to school together at UC Irvine. I was like, oh my God, whoa. It was really… Because, like, I showed up to the set and I said, “What the hell are you doing here?” “Oh, I’m playing your boyfriend.” I’m like, “Oh, great. OK.”
Yeah. It was funny. I haven’t seen him since, I don’t know what the hell he’s doing.
And you were happy? You were pleased with the end product?
Yeah. I really was, for what it was. I thought it was really good.
Probably the other movie is Touch Me. And that was the one with Amanda Peet and Michael Vartan, that I was in. And that shows up every, like, World AIDS Day, or something, on the Family Channel. It’s a sweet story. You know, it’s a sweet love story. Basically what happens is, Amanda’s character, her college boyfriend, unbeknownst to her, kind of swung both ways and actually was exposed to HIV and he is basically on his death bed, years later. On his death bed, wants to come clean. And I play the boyfriend’s lover. So I reach out to her, say her ex boyfriend was in a car accident to get her to the hospital, so she’ll come and see him. And then he tells her he has AIDS and now he’s dying and asked her if she’s been tested. He wanted to make sure that she was OK. It’s a sweet story.
So what did they do right? What made it a touching film for you?
Well, I think it’s that journey through, you know, some of the realities of HIV. And those being diagnosed and the insecurities of, “Oh God, nobody will touch me, I’m damaged goods” and that whole emotional roller coaster. Self-destruction, and all of that stuff.
I mean this is like total, total nostalgia; the last two would be total nostalgia. That would be Old Yeller. It just, you know… Break out the tissues, have a good cry. I can watch people die left and right, but seeing a dog die, oh my God, it just tears me apart (laughing). It’s like, “Ah yeah, kill the bastard,” you know? “But you hurt that dog, I’ll come after you!” So yeah, Old Yeller is good for a good cry.
And of course, being the good homo that I am, The Wizard of Oz. It’s gotta be Wizard of Oz. Yeah, because [ex-boyfriend and E! News personality] Steve Kmetko, he had that movie memorized. He could do all of the numbers, you know, from when she lands in Oz and all the little Munchkins… Yeah. I’m not that bad. I’m not that bad.
Do you remember the first time you saw it?
First time I remember seeing it? They used to air it, was it, Thanksgiving? I know it was around a holiday that they would always play it. I wanna’ say it was Thanksgiving? I was always looking forward to that. Probably my earliest memory would have been when I was, like, 5 or 6, I think. Oh it was fun. It was, it was magic. I loved the magic and, you know, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion…
Did you ever do the play?
Hmm… did I ever do the play? You know what, I must have. I’m trying to think. I probably was the Tin Man. Yeah.
Because he can dance.
I guess they all had to dance. But is that who you are in life, you think? The Tin Man?
Or are you Dorothy?
Yeah, I’m probably Dorothy. Kinda clueless you know. Meandering around, but having a little bit of direction.
A little bit of direction… but having a positive attitude and helping people.
RT: Now, about Back on Board: Greg Louganis, did you produce this?
Greg Louganis: : No, no. This is a documentary of my, uh… the twenty years that I disappeared from the public. [laughs] I disappeared for, like, twenty years, and all of a sudden I came back in time for the London Olympics, to work with the divers. It’s kind of what happened all in between there and what I was up to. And there was a lot there. They were planning on ending it at the Olympic Games in London, that was supposed to be the end of it. But things started happening after, like Splash, and then I got married…
Congratulations, by the way.
So when do we get to see it?
We’re making the rounds at the film festivals. We didn’t make it into Sundance, unfortunately, but we’re shooting for Tribeca. From there, I’m not certain where else they’re aiming for. I’m going to see it for the first time this Thursday.
Back on Board: Greg Louganis is currently entering the festival circuit, so be on the lookout for it soon.