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River Gallo on the Sundance Success of ‘Ponyboi’

Name: River Gallo

Sundance project: “Ponyboi,” written by and starring Gallo, follows an intersex sex worker named Ponyboi in New Jersey over the course of a rather eventful Valentine’s Day. The project was originally conceived by Gallo, who is intersex and from New Jersey, while at NYU (they graduated in 2013), first as a theater piece, then as a short film and then a feature film, directed by Esteban Arango.

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“For me, I still can’t really believe it. I’m just like, ‘OK, I guess this is my life now,’” Gallo says the day after the film had its world premiere at Sundance, which had the audience on its feet and cheering them on passionately. As they talk, the remaining members of a panel file out past them, each stopping to gush to Gallo.

“That’s something that I am reckoning with, the fact that before this I was a public figure to some people in some spheres, [and now] magazines and trades are labeling me a breakout star, and I am like ‘Star?’ And I’ve always known that about myself and this is what I’ve always wanted, but it’s happening now,” Gallo says. “And I can see these doors not just opening, but flinging open in one fell swoop. And on one hand I’m just so grateful and happy and excited, exhilarated. On the other hand, I’m questioning my own reality.”

When Gallo was at NYU, their focus was on theater, and they admit they’re surprised by their transition into screenwriting and screen acting, which initially came from an interest in playing with time more fluidly than stage work allows.

“So much of my experience as an artist has to do with memory and dream, and so it came out of a new desire that I had to express a deeper psychology that I experienced. I feel the world on a very deep emotional, psychic level, that cinema was the only language for that,” they say.

River Gallo
River Gallo

Now, they’re relishing the chance for people to finally see their acting and writing abilities on screen.

“It just makes me certain that my career ahead of me is going to be one marked by longevity and success,” Gallo says.

The movie features Dylan O’Brien as the boyfriend of Ponyboi’s best friend Angel (played by Victoria Pedretti), who is also Ponyboi’s pimp. Beloved by a certain younger demographic from his role in “Teen Wolf,” O’Brien drew some fans to the premiere, including a set of sisters (who were chaperoned by the mother, once she learned the subject matter).

“She was also Latina and she just spoke to me in Spanish and was like, ‘I was just so moved by the movie.’ All three of them loved the movie. And I was like, ‘What? It was crazy and intense and violent.’ And I was just like, whoa,” Gallo says. “That’s making me think that this film has an ability to transcend demographics, and it makes me hopeful that despite the uses of violence and sex and drugs, that there’s actually this core sweetness and heart and emotional resonance inside of the movie, that those things don’t become gratuitous or they’re just the reality of this character on this day, which I’m really proud of.”

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