When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is: “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaroon towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we’ve decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.
Here, we talked to two actors, Will Seefried and Hannes Otto, who were married on a rooftop farm in the Brooklyn Navy Yard last August, with a ceremony (almost) officiated by Laura Linney.
Hannes: We both went to grad school for acting; I went to Julliard, Will went to NYU. The two schools have a mixer for their graduating classes, and we met there in 2015 and immediately started dating. Two years later, Will was in the show Sleep No More — his character had a ring that he would wear in the show every night, so our apartment was full of these bronze rings. I thought, I’m going to propose with this ring that he wears in the show, just as a symbol to put something on. I had no idea that he was going to do the exact same thing.
Will: After he proposed, I got down on my knee, and took another Sleep No More ring out of my pocket, and proposed back.
Hannes: We could have gotten married in South Africa, which is where I’m from; it would’ve been exquisitely beautiful and a tenth of the price. But most of our friends are actors or artists, and flying there is not that easy. We explored upstate because it’s our favorite place, but a similar thing: If my family and friends come after a 17-hour flight, are we going to have them drive up another three hours? We decided this is where we met, this is where we live. Let’s look at what’s available here.
Will: When we saw the Brooklyn Grange, we were like, Oh, yeah, this is it. The energy just feels so inviting.
Hannes: This is really ridiculous but … we were really obsessed with Call Me by Your Name when it came out. That was an important style influence for us. Our wedding invites had peaches on them. Like, it’s height of summer and everything’s overflowing with ripeness.
Will: We wanted it to feel like an Italian summer alfresco meal, everyone at a table family style. Really sensual.
Hannes: I wore a suit from Acne Studios. I wanted something very light, since it was August. Will wanted to do a more natural light-tan linen, and I felt like it would be too much if we both did it. Blue-grays are the colors I’m drawn to.
Will: When I told my sister I got my suit from Arjé, she thought I meant Tar-jay, like the fancy way of saying Target. The fabric sort of glowed. I felt so comfortable, like I could dance all night, like I could promise my life to someone in that suit.
Hannes: We got ready together, and then we rode together to the venue. This wasn’t a conscious thing, but … Most of the guests there, they’d never been to a same-sex marriage or anything but a very traditional hetero wedding. So I felt a responsibility to be like, This is an alternative way to do it. And look how wonderful it is!
Our really good friend Chelsea Blakemore did the flowers as a wedding gift [Cosmia Flowers]. We didn’t have a massive budget for it. We wanted to do really natural pastel colors that would go well with what the venue already offers. Three days before the wedding, we went to the Flower District and picked out the flowers, and she arranged them. And we wanted raw linen on the tables.
Will: Budget was a big part of planning, because we’re cursed with specific taste and limited budget. The advice my dad gave when we were planning, that we really stuck to, was to identify what the most important things are to you first and make up the difference in other spaces. For us, it was the venue, the food, and the photographer as the most important things, so then we were able to turn to friends for things like the florals and the music. During the ceremony, Hannes’s brother and two sisters performed a song that his brother wrote for us in Afrikaans, his first language.
One of the blessings of a same-sex wedding is you’re forced to sort of question all the gendered roles that are traditionally in place. We both ultimately err toward the traditional, so we still had flower children in the opening. But instead of having a father walk us down the aisle, we decided to have our moms walk us down one at a time.
Hannes: We asked a very good friend of ours, Laura Linney — she’s an actress and my mentor — to officiate, because we felt very strongly about asking someone we admire. She has an amazing marriage, and we love her husband and her kid. She was going to do it, but two days before the wedding she was shooting a show and it ran over and she wasn’t going to be there in time. She arrived around the reception. One of our best friends, Gwendolyn Ellis, wrote the most beautiful ceremony instead. One of Will’s best friends, Leslie, read a Hafiz poem, then a grad-school friend of mine, Francesca, wrote this little short story.
Will: We wrote our vows separately, then there were shared vows we wrote and we recited together, promises. For example, instead of “in sickness and in health,” we said, “in wrinkles and in love handles.” And then at the end we did the classic “You may kiss your spouse” moment and had this jovial South African pata pata song for our exit.
Hannes: Right after the ceremony, there was a cocktail hour with Champagne and two specialty cocktails, a Jasmine Paloma and a Rose 75. The band was playing as the sun was setting. We did a few photos during the cocktail hour, but we wanted to limit it so that we could actually hang out with our friends.
Will: I hardly ate because I was so wired from the whole thing. Our friend Vuyo Sotashe, who is an incredible jazz musician from South Africa — he performed during the cocktail hour and before the ceremony with a couple of other musicians: Gabe Schnider on guitar, Russell Hall on bass, Michela Lerman on taps.
Hannes: Dinner was all vegetarian. At the time, we decided we were vegetarian; although we’re a little less vegetarian now. Our catering company, Fig and Pig, was really amazing. It was sit-down, family style, just an overflow of goodness.
Will: I personally made all the menus myself; I went through this whole process of melting this wax stuff on there to give it a raised glossy look. The watermelon-peach salad we had stands out in my mind. There was burrata, a delicious pasta. And a lot of the produce came from the farm, which is another amazing part of the Brooklyn Grange. The tomatoes in the tomato salad were picked that day. Dessert was by our friend Kira [Kira Lepine Williams], who owns two restaurants in Cape Town. There were three cakes: a Momofoku-inspired birthday cake, a carrot cake, and a flourless chocolate cake.
Hannes: Both our dads spoke, then Will’s best friend Rosa spoke, then my best friend Katie spoke, then Laura Linney read a poem that had been read at her wedding. Then my dad, completely unasked for, decided to sing “Forever Young.” Which was really special but also just … dads.
Will: After the meal, there was insane incredible dancing courtesy of Chances With Wolves, our DJ. We had a fakeout first dance, which started out with some classic saccharine first-wedding-dance song, but then we broke into “Dancing Queen,” by ABBA, which we had choreographed a whole dance to.
Hannes: The DJ, he was just unreal. We danced the entire reception.
Will: There was definitely some Beyoncé in there, some Miriam Makeba, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” It was cheesy wedding stuff and then some good stuff we heard and were like, Oh, this is awesome, we would never have thought of this, and that’s why you hire a really brilliant DJ whose artistry is through the roof.
Hannes: Afterward, we went to the bar where we had our first date — Walter’s in Fort Greene.
Will: It was a total love-at-first-sight situation with us. Hannes has this innate warmth. I describe it as “the sun behind the eyes effect.” He just beams it out, and people in his presence can’t really help but do the same. On our first date, I felt like, Oh, wow, what an amazing way to live and spend your life. And then the night of our wedding everyone came there and drank more and ate hamburgers and french fries — and stressed out the wait staff, who had probably been thinking the night was almost over.