Down and Out in Brooklyn

A new dark-comedy explores a different side of New York's upcoming borough

‘The club is the last place you would expect to find two homeless gentlemen,’ says MA Gonzales who plays Felix, alongside Tom Watts (Lenny) in Down and Out – a dark-comedy, based and filmed in Brooklyn, New York, that follows the story of two mischievous individuals, while also facing up to the issues facing gentrification in the area. Directed by John Morgan the series is inspired by author George Orwell's namesake novel, the actors own experience of growing-up in the surrounding area, and the characters they met in that time.

The latest episode uses a nightclub location to talk about people's attitude toward homelessness – tolerating people on the streets, but not when they rub shoulders. It's also a homage to all the time Gonzales and Watts wasted going to clubs. In their own words: ‘Places that offer no substance and where everyone wears their egos as if they were swords.’ Though they admit: ‘We do love dancing.’

What made you make a series about the area you grew up in?
MAG: I was very adamant about using mostly Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsburg settings because of how rapidly things are changing with new developments. I felt it was imperative to capture what was going on albeit indirectly. Also, homelessness in New York City has reached it highest levels in recent years since the Great Depression. It’s something we come across countless times every single day. There’s no escaping it.

Are the characters inspired by people you've seen or met?
TW: Yes. Growing up in a housing projects in the Bronx, where a majority of the people are either down, out or both, was definitely an inspiration. I find myself constantly reaching back into my past experiences and those of friends and associates as well to bring new colours to Lenny and the series.

Have you ever been down and out?
TW: For me down and out means to be dejected mentally and financially. So yes I’ve experienced this several times throughout my life. Nothing that would rival the experiences of Lenny and Felix though.
MAG: I’ve reached levels close to down and out tendencies and states of being both here in New York and Los Angeles due to money issues and just not working at all in this industry, I certainly have hit rock bottom. It really tests your character and it forces you to make decisions about who you want to be in this world. That in itself can be empowering or completely debilitating. I’ve certainly see-sawed between the two.

Are you worried about how Brooklyn is changing?
MAG: Brooklyn is constantly changing, and here in Bushwick, I can say it’s a wonderful thing to witness all the bustling cafes/restaurants/bars and artist spaces open up. But at the same time is it going to become infested like Williamsburg? And eventually become a corporate black hole like Soho? Probably. The real issue we have is that we aren't benefiting from these changes. We're being pushed out, whilst others make money out of the very places we put all our love and culture into for generations.
TW: It's beautiful to see children playing in the same street where 15 or 20 years ago they wouldn’t be allowed outside because there was so much violence. But at the same time it’s alarming because I know somewhere someone’s grandmother who’s lived there for 30 or 40 years is being displaced because she can no longer afford the rent with her fixed income. That bothers me.

Text by Maksymilian Fus Mickiewicz