Interview: Michael Ausiello on the Real-Life Romance Behind the New Film Spoiler Alert

Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge star in the cinematic adaptation of Ausiello’s memoir about loving and losing his husband to cancer.

The cinematic tearjerker of the holiday season is Spoiler Alert. Based on the memoir by television journalist Michael Ausiello, the film, like the book, chronicles the author's 13-year relationship with his husband, photographer Kit Cowan, as well as Cowan's diagnosis, illness, and passing from neuroendocrine cancer. On screen, Jim Parsons plays Ausiello, with Ben Aldridge as Kit, and Sally Field and Bill Irwin as Kit's parents.

It is no spoiler to say that this was an extremely emotional process for Ausiello, but slightly less emotional than the writing of the book, which took place almost immediately after Cowan's death in 2015. With time comes hindsight and the ability to take everything in, and here, Ausiello discusses his surreal journey of watching this tribute to his late husband come to life on the big screen.

Ben Aldridge, Michael Ausiello, and Jim Parsons
Ben Aldridge, Michael Ausiello, and Jim Parsons
(© Linda Källérus/Focus Features)

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What is it like for you to experience your life in this manner, to see Jim and Ben and Sally and Bill play you and your family, and to have to go on Kit's journey once again?
It's incredibly rewarding and healing, in a way. The book journey was hard because it came so close after Kit had died, but now I've had some real distance from it. I've had time to mourn and grieve. I'm able now to appreciate and take in how lucky I am to be working with these incredible people. I was on set every day and most of the time, I was picking my jaw up off the floor and marveling at their amazing artistry.

Having worked with Jim in the past in this capacity, as journalist and interview subject, what is it like to watch him play the fictionalized version of you?
It's absolutely surreal. You sort of hit the nail on the head because he is not really playing me; this is a version of me, and I knew going in that Jim would not be doing an impersonation of me. We're not making a documentary, you know? That said, even just a version of me is weird. Hearing Jim introduce himself in the movie as "Michael Ausiello," especially in the professional settings of the TVLine and TV Guide offices…And it's a trip as someone who is a huge fan of Jim Parsons, was a huge fan of Big Bang Theory, and interviewed him professionally so many times. I don't want to curse, but it's a mindfuck. I still can't wrap my head around it.

Bill Irwin, Sally Field, Ben Aldridge, and Jim Parsons in Spoiler Alert
Bill Irwin, Sally Field, Ben Aldridge, and Jim Parsons in Spoiler Alert
(© Linda Källérus/Focus Features)

And Ben is a real find. I don't think I'd seen him in anything.
I wasn't that familiar with his work, either, beyond Fleabag. I never really watched Pennyworth. He did a lot of London theater, but I don't live in London and didn't see any of it, so that was a bit of a leap of faith. But Michael Showalter and Jim Zoomed with him and felt strong Kit vibes from him, so I trusted them. Once we were shooting, it was remarkable how much of Kit's essence Ben was able to capture. There were several times throughout the shoot where I was like "He's gonna be a big star."

What was it like for you to be on set every day and have to be hands off and respectful of the fact that this story is your life, in someone else's hands?
I think that was one of the bigger challenges for me, navigating when to speak up and when to shut up. Most of that was just being inside my own head. I was the new kid in this environment. I'd never been on a film set before. Yes, it was my story, but in many ways, I was a student and I was learning and I didn't want to overstep. Michael Showalter is the director; he's the boss, and I was always aware and respectful of that. Luckily, Michael runs a very collaborative set and environment. He's not a "my way or the highway" kind of director. He was open and receptive to the ideas I had, which made me speaking up much easier. I felt heard and respected and that my opinion was valued, regardless of whether the things I asked for or wanted actually ended up happening.

The book has touched so many people. What is the most rewarding part of this whole experience for you, and now watching the movie come to life?
Hearing from people who say it has helped them overcome their own loss, or deal with their own loss, and hearing from people who say that they hold their loved ones a little tighter and don't take their relationships for granted anymore. That means a lot.