A provocative new documentary tackles the thorniest of romantic issues: Can a man truly accept his more successful partner? In the recently released Guest of Cindy Sherman, small-time arts reporter Paul Hasegawa-Overacker (known as H-O) documents his failed five-year relationship with iconic pop photog Cindy Sherman. Set against the backdrop of New York's flush '90s art scene, the film explores the oh-so-fragile male ego when confronted with a renowned alpha gal. For generations, women have dealt with being eclipsed by a more successful partner. So what happens when the proverbial shoe is on the other foot? We couldn't resist asking.
Marie Claire: The title of the film came from an actual moment when your seating assignment at a party read "Guest of Cindy Sherman." Was this your tipping point?
Paul Hasegawa-Overacker: After it happened, I was all pissed off and wild and stuff like that, but I ended up with a really funny story to tell.
MC: Did your friends razz you for being Cindy's sidekick?
PHO: It was the number one topic of discussion. The whole dialectic ends up revolving around the relationship between men and women, and how men are having to accommodate their partnerships with women who are the breadwinners.
MC: So is that what made you resentful of Cindy's success?
PHO: I didn't have a problem being as totally supportive as I could because I recognized Cindy's position and accomplishments. I never did compare myself at all. I always deferred — she's a great artist, and I totally believe in the great artist. That said, you know, Meryl Streep is married to an artist, his name is Don Gummer. He's a very good artist and, you know, you wouldn't even know the guy existed.
MC: Well, you seem to have a good sense of humor about it in the film.
PHO: I think in some ways I'm able to project a persona of confidence, but underneath that confidence is a guy who wasn't that confident. He was threatened.
MC: What's the take-away here?
PHO: In relationships, somebody's always the girl. I realized what that's like. I said, "Now I know what it's like to be a girl."
MC: Should we assume you don't date successful women anymore?
PHO: I didn't adjust as well as I could have. I don't think I would get involved with someone where there's such a gap between who we are.