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Queer as Folk Confidential
The Advocate - July 2004

In revealing answers to our questions about the first four seasons of Showtime’s hit series, QAF cast members and the show’s creators talk about whether they like their characters, what they’d change about the show, and how QAF has changed television forever.

Expanded versions of interviews from the July 6, 2004, issue of The Advocate.

 

Randy Harrison

1. What has been the biggest evolution in your character’s personality or life situation since he first appeared?
Finishing puberty, losing his virginity, and leaving home.

2. If your character was a real person, would you be his friend? Why or why not?
It’s difficult for me to imagine Justin as a real person. He’s so thoroughly a character created for serial television that his behavior, though dramatically justified on Queer as Folk, would register as childish, self-obsessed and absurd if it were displaced into the reality I’m familiar with. How could I be friends with someone who has nervous breakdowns at spilled marinara sauce, assaults high school enemies with small firearms, and has been systematically and repeatedly betrayed, lied to, condescended to, and humiliated by his boyfriend for four years? Were I placed into the TV wonderland of Queer as Folk, on the other hand, Justin and I would fuck once, realize we were twins separated at birth, and try to get our parents back together using elaborately quirky schemes. I’d most like to tell Justin to calm down. Maybe get him into a yoga class.

3. What’s the one challenge or blessing you hope your character faces in a future episode?
First off, I think Justin is old enough and financially stable enough at this point to have his own apartment. But, codependent as he is, I’m sure Justin would get a large dog right away, probably a pit bull named Harvey. Those would be two blessings. A challenge Justin might face would be dealing with the ramifications of having his cell phone stolen when he went out at 4 o’clock one morning to innocently walk Harvey and ended up giving a mugger a blow job in a public park lavatory.

4. What single scene or episode so far has been the most meaningful or memorable for you?
I’ll always remember having to fake jack-off at gunpoint, because it was so upsetting to me that I didn’t fake cum or even really fake ‘get it up,’ so we had to reshoot it.

5. What have you learned about yourself by playing Justin?
What I’ve learned most while working on Queer as Folk has come really indirectly, less from playing Justin Taylor than from dealing with press, corporations, advertisers, the gay community, and fans of the show. I’ve learned the necessity of constantly realigning your perspective and the importance of standing up for yourself and being constantly aware that people are going to skew and censor you in order to make the idea of you better represent whatever agenda they’ve decided you’ll promote. And it’s all done so matter-of-factly, its such the status quo, that it becomes very simple to accept even though it completely corrodes the soul.

6. What do you think is the biggest issue facing American gays and lesbians right now, and how well do you think Queer as Folk has done in addressing that issue?
I think the biggest issues facing Americans period, both queer and not, are the environment, the economy, and the war in Iraq. While I think Queer as Folk has done a remarkable job addressing gay-specific politics, most notably gay marriage, it seems to ignore the fact that we are part of a global community of human beings even before we are part of a local community of homosexuals.

7. Drawing from your contact with gay and lesbian fans and the other gay people in your life, in what ways do you think Queer as Folk has influenced the gay community?
The most significant feedback I get tends to be from queer teens, often closeted, who feel isolated in various ways and have found that watching Queer as Folk relieves some of that tension and loneliness. I view the gay community as something so large, fluid and diverse that it’s impossible to make a statement like “The show has affected this entire group in this one specific way,” but the letters I read from individuals are things that I know have happened, and they demonstrate to me the difference the show has made in at least a handful of gay lives.

8. In what ways do you think Queer as Folk has influenced the portrayals of gays and lesbians on other TV programs?
I really couldn’t say. I’m going to imagine not enough.

9. You’ve heard the complaints about the show from some viewers and critics. What one complaint bugs you the most and why?
I find it ridiculous when people talk about Queer as Folk like it’s supposed to carry some enormous humanitarian agenda. It’s a fucking TV show! No one expects The O.C. to change the world! It’s strange to me that because the show is predominately gay that characters and gay story lines are held to a completely different standard. The medium in itself is only capable of so much, and generally it only aspires to a specific level of artistry and entertainment.

10. What’s next for you? Where else can QAF fans see your work in the future?
I’m doing a Broadway show. I might be done with it by the time this comes out, I’m not sure.

Michelle Clunie

1. What has been the biggest evolution in your character’s personality or life situation since she first appeared?
The biggest evolution in my character’s life since the beginning would be the decision she made to carry her second child. Not only did this put her in a more vulnerable position, but it also forced her to rethink her priorities with regard to how hard she pushes herself. She was forced to slow down, and slow is not something Melanie understands.

2. If your character was a real person, would you be her friend? Why or why not? What’s the one thing you would most like to say to Melanie?
If Melanie were a real person, we would most likely be very good friends. I enjoy surrounding myself with people who tell it like it is. She also has a very true heart, which is rare to find. I have a very eclectic group of friends, but the one thing they all have in common is that they all have very big hearts. If she were my friend, I would tell her to be more gentle with herself.

3. What’s the one challenge or blessing you hope your character faces in a future episode?
I would love to see my character get a case that goes all the way to the Supreme Court.

4. What single scene or episode so far has been the most meaningful or memorable for you?
I still and always will love the scene from the first season when we are in the hospital, and they won’t let Melanie go back with Linz and the baby. It was raw and true and right.

5. What have you learned about yourself by playing Melanie?
I have learned through playing Melanie that people respond more to strength than weakness. We all are looking for heroes.

6. What do you think is the biggest issue facing American gays and lesbians right now, and how well do you think Queer as Folk has done in addressing that issue?
I think equal rights is the biggest issue facing gays and lesbians. We address this issue in almost every episode.

7. Drawing from your contact with gay and lesbian fans and the other gay people in your life, in what ways do you think Queer as Folk has influenced the gay community?
Queer as Folk has had a very big impact on the community. It has stirred up plenty of interesting conversations between various demographics, by which I mean people outside the community. Mothers and fathers have come together with their children and have begun to talk again and to understand them. It has forced people to think andhas encouraged talking and opening up the channels of communication. It has made room for other less intimidating gay programming to be readily accepted. To create that sort of an impact one cannot be timid or meek, but bold and in-your-face. Change does not happen easily, it takes balls, and that’s what Queer as Folk has. Both literally and figuratively: balls.

8. In what ways do you think Queer as Folk has influenced the portrayals of gays and lesbians on other TV programs?
Refer to number 7.

9. You’ve heard the complaints about the show from some viewers and critics. What one complaint bugs you the most and why?
Everyone is entitled to their opinions. It is still a free country. Well, sort of. I am not interested in doing bland, boring, conventional work or safe work. Safe is not something that interests me.

10. What’s next for you? Where else can QAF fans see your work in the future?
I am currently shooting a film this summer titled, “The Unseen.”

Thea Gill

1. What has been the biggest evolution in your character’s personality or life situation since she first appeared?
I think the biggest evolution in Lindsay’s life has been the fact that she’s been called upon to work more. Lindsay has had to learn to balance her family life with her work life. She has trouble with this at times. Lindsay has grown stronger and much more determined about fulfilling all her dreams in life as a gay woman, but this has caused conflicted feelings in her marriage with Melanie.

2. If your character was a real person, would you be her friend? Why or why not? What’s the one thing you would most like to say to that person?
Yes. I would like Lindsay to be my friend. I’d want to make sure I got to know her awhile before I started pouring my heart out to her, but I would eventually trust her as someone who, when push comes to shove, owns up to her true feelings and weaknesses. Right now, I’d want to say to her, “What the hell’s going on with you?!”

3. What’s the one challenge or blessing you hope your character faces in a future episode?
I would want Lindsay’s blessing to be the freedom to go back in time to the days when Melanie and Lindsay first fell in love and live those memories over and over again. A type of a “Run Lindsay Run Back” episode!

4. What single scene or episode so far has been the most meaningful or memorable for you?
I have to say the prom dance scene in the finale episode of season 1 is one that is extremely memorable to me. I was never a part of the filming of that scene, but whenever I think about it and how it played out so powerfully, I get goose bumps. Many people feel this way about that scene, so goose bumps probably aren’t all that impressive. But I suppose what makes that scene more meaningful to me is the fact that on our final day of shooting, the last scene that was being shot was the one in which Randy’s character, Justin, is being bashed in the head. Everyone in the cast and crew were there and while we all witnessed the scene being performed, there was such a silence that pervaded the room that I’ll never forget it. I remember that silence when I think of that prom dance scene.

5. What have you learned about yourself by playing Lindsay?
I’ve learned to be in my body more. I’ve learned to be more physically confident, to be proud of my body, to express myself more with it. I don’t know why Lindsay has done this more to me than any other character I’ve played. I suppose it’s because at times I have to show my body in a sexually intimate way, which can sometimes be a self-conscious thing, but also very liberating and empowering. I feel the most empowered I’ve ever felt, and I owe a lot of that to Lindsay, QAF, and all the go-go dancers!

6. What do you think is the biggest issue facing American gays and lesbians right now, and how well do you think Queer as Folk has done in addressing that issue?
I think the biggest issue facing American gays and lesbians right now is the absolute recognition of gays and lesbians to be equal members of contemporary society with equal rights. I believe QAF has done extremely well in addressing this issue by providing a group of gay and lesbian characters in real life situations. Based on the success of the show and the feedback I’ve received, I feel QAF has helped mainstream America develop a broader understanding of the gay community.

Peter Paige

1. What has been the biggest evolution in your character’s personality or life situation since he first appeared?
God, that’s hard to say. There was the whole going straight thing, and the whole porn star thing, and the whole Mrs. Millionaire thing, but I’m going to have to stick with the relationship and breakup with Teddy. Nothing has caused Emmett to risk more, nor impacted him so deeply.

2. If your character was a real person, would you be his friend? Why or why not? What’s the one thing you would most like to say to that person?
Are you kidding? I already feel like Emmett is my friend. I’ve spent more time with him over the last four years than all my previous boyfriends combined. Not that I’ve minded. He’s smart, funny, open, kind--what else exactly would you want in a friend?

3. What’s the one challenge or blessing you hope your character faces in a future episode?
I’d like to see Emmett address his family issues. And buy a car. Seriously, how is this guy getting around?

4. What single scene or episode so far has been the most meaningful or memorable for you?
Do I have to pick one? There are several that really stick with me. Emmett’s HIV scare. George’s high-flying farewell, which is truly a scene you will never see anywhere but on QAF, because it goes from funny and naughty to full-on terrifying in .02 seconds. Asking Brian to help Ted and the Lana Turner speech. And finally, confronting Ted about his addiction.

5. What have you learned about yourself by playing this character?
I’ve learned where I am open and where I hold my shame. I’ve learned that being partially awake is never good enough.I’ve learned that kindness and truth are worth more than a million bucks any day. I’ve learned that in order to love someone else you have to love yourself first.And I’ve learned that tangerine is not an easy color to pull off.

6. What do you think is the biggest issue facing American gays and lesbians right now, and how well do you think Queer as Folk has done in addressing that issue?
We are alive at an incredible moment in the history of the world--complete civil rights lie just ahead; the tide has turned, and it is only a matter of time before we find ourselves first-class citizens of the world. Imagine how wonderful it will be for the next generation of gay youths, coming out and coming of age in a world that denies them nothing, that demands for them the same rights, same privileges, that everyone else receives. But, as with every swing of the pendulum, there will be backlash. We must remain calm, true to ourselves, committed to our own possibilities. No apologies, no regrets--only quiet, steady, loving forward progress, until there is no longer room to hate. And we have to get that bastard out of the White House.

7. Drawing from your contact with gay and lesbian fans and the other gay people in your life, in what ways do you think Queer as Folk has influenced the gay community?
I honestly think QAF has had less of an influence on the gay community specifically than on the world at large. Gay people already know these people and these stories. And while I’m sure many of us feel validated and represented for the first time by the world’s most powerful medium--television--it’s straight people who seem to be most powerfully impacted by the show. I can’t tell you the number of straight men who casually slip into conversation how much they love the show. What started as a freak show for them has so normalized the idea of same-sex relationships, whether it be emotional, physical, or sexual, that the ‘issue’ has essentially disappeared.

8. In what ways do you think Queer as Folk has influenced the portrayals of gays and lesbians on other TV programs?
I’d like to think that it has increased the media’s willingness to portray gay people as full, complicated, flawed, and sexualized people. But to be honest, I still think there are a lot of eunuchs and clowns out there.

9. You’ve heard the complaints about the show from some viewers and critics. What one complaint bugs you the most and why?
The whole ‘It’s only sex and drugs’ thing. It’s not. Watch the show. Most of the major characters are either in or recently came out of a major relationship. Stop responding to the hype.

10. What’s next for you? Where else can QAF fans see your work in the future?
I’m actually right now on the set of Donut Hole, my feature directorial debut--a little movie I wrote and star in opposite Kathy Najimy, Anthony Clark, Melanie Lynskey, and Gabrielle Union. Look for it next year. Oh, and I also have a great role in the ensemble comedy “Childstar,” written and directed by Don McKellar, which should be out late this year. After that, you can find me in a mental institution, where I’ll be recovering from my nervous breakdown.

Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman

1. What has been the biggest evolution in the characters’ personalities or life situations since they first appeared?
Oddly enough, we feel the biggest evolution has been on the part of the audience. At first, they were startled by the boldness of the show and the sexualized characters. But eventually, many seem to have accepted and even embraced it, investing themselves in the characters as people--no matter what their sexual preference may be.

2. If these characters were real people, would you be their friends? Why or why not? What’s the one thing you would most like to say to them?
First off, all the characters are real--to us. They truly speak to us, tell us what words to put in their mouths, dictate their behavior--as any good character does. We love every one of them--warts and all. Just as one accepts their closest and dearest friends.

3. What’s the one challenge you hope the character faces in a future episode?
The characters are challenged every season. That’s the nature of drama. Although we haven’t begun to formulate season 5, we’re certain they’ll be challenged yet again. And since the theme of the series is ‘Boys Becoming Men’ or ‘Girls Becoming Women’ for the lesbian characters, we’ll also see who becomes a man and who stays a boy.

4. What single scene or episode so far has been the most meaningful or memorable for you?
We have our favorite moments: Brian showing up at Justin’s prom. That dance was so romantic--and such a heartbreaking prelude to Justin’s tragic bashing. Ted’s speech when Emmett joined ‘See the Light’ about God loving every one of his creations, including every faggot. What we call ‘The Covenant Creations’ scene, where Brian and Justin outline their very open relationship. Of course, the very seminal scene in the pilot when Brian first has sex with Justin, though Justin would call it lovemaking. The very tender scene between Lindsay and Brian in that same episode after Lindsay gives birth to their son. And the rooftop scene between Michael and Brian after learning of Brian’s fatherhood. Brian’s father’s funeral, with that unexpected, gorgeous snowfall that everyone thought was a planned special effect. Michael’s 30th birthday party where all the stories intertwined. If you want more, we’ll give you more.

5. What have you learned about yourselves from these characters?
These characters represent aspects of both of us. The reality. The fantasy. What we wish we could be. What we’re glad we’re not. They act out behaviors for us. And suffer the consequences for us. In fact, it’s impossible to even imagine writing characters, especially in a long-running series, that don’t reflect you personally.

6. What do you think is the biggest issue facing American gays and lesbians right now, and how well do you think Queer as Folk has done in addressing that issue?
Gays and lesbians are now, more than at any other time in our history, assimilating into the cultural mainstream of maintaining gay culture. Like any minority group, the challenge is not to lose your identity, your individuality. We try to reflect this tug-of-war on QAF. Michael and Ben, Melanie and Lindsay are coupled. Raising children. On the outside appearing very much like their “straight” counterparts. Then there’s Brian, who doesn’t believe in any of that. He and Justin aren’t straight. They’re queer. And queers live a queer life--which means not playing according to the rules of heterosexual society. There will probably always be this dichotomy in the gay community.

7. Drawing from your contact with gay and lesbian fans and the other gay people in your lives, in what ways do you think Queer as Folk has influenced the gay community?
We are constantly getting letters from younger gay viewers telling us they’ve come out to their family and friends due to the show. And we are constantly getting letters from older gay viewers telling us that they never thought they’d live long enough to see a show like QAF and how much they wish it existed in their youth. It would’ve made such a difference in their lives. People either love the show or hate it, but they can’t deny that for one moment at least, gay people have been put front and center. That spotlight can be warm and inviting--yet, also harsh at times. As one viewer wrote and told us: “My entire life I thought of myself as a sideshow. But now I’m the main attraction.”

8. In what ways do you think Queer as Folk has influenced the portrayals of gays and lesbians on other TV programs?
QAF threw down the gauntlet and set a standard for all portrayals of gay characters in its wake. Sure, there were and will continue to be gay characters who have no discernable sex life and who are just there for laughs. But the fact that QAF exists makes that kind of two-dimensional portrayal feel exactly like what it is: incomplete. We hope that audiences in the future will demand that gay characters be rendered as realistically and completely as straight ones.

9. You’ve heard the complaints about the show from some viewers and critics. What one complaint bugs you the most and why?
People are very possessive of the show. That’s understandable. There aren’t many shows like QAF. Sure, there are shows with gay characters--but none that have mostly gay characters in a gay world. So, everyone wants to see themselves portrayed on the screen. Of course, that isn’t possible. QAF is universal. We made a decision early on never to judge our world. We try to cover every aspect of the gay community. Our job is to tell the truth. And the truth isn’t always politically correct. People want to see gay judges and gay brain surgeons and monogamous relationships. All well and good. We like that too. But that’s not all gay people either. We received an angry letter once that said, “There’s no room for sex, drugs, and pornography in a show about the gay community.” Really. Well, certainly that’s not what the gay community is all about--but if you live on this planet, you know those are certainly elements. Along with marriage and having children and moving to the suburbs. It’s a rich, varied world. And we try to incorporate it all. It still truly amazes us that the sex on the show is criticized--mostly by the gay community. But it’s too late, folks. That cat’s out of the bag. Gay people have sex too. And something tells us that it’s not going to stop.

Scott Lowell

1. What has been the biggest evolution in your character’s personality or life situation since he first appeared?
From nebbishy accountant to porn king to crystal meth addict to singing waiter to nebbishy accountant. Hmmm.

2. If your character was a real person, would you be his or her friend? Why or why not? What’s the one thing you would most like to say to that person?
I would absolutely be friends with Ted. He wears his heart on his sleeve and is a very caring friend. What Ted needs most to hear can’t come from his friends, though.It has to come from himself.

3. What’s the one challenge or blessing you hope your character faces in a future episode?
To learn to love himself. But not in the same way as when he was a chronic masturbator. And then to find someone to love. And to get a job running a bed and breakfast in Hawaii.

4. What single scene or episode so far has been the most meaningful or memorable for you?
The whole crystal meth story line was the most rewarding. But the single scene and speech that I will always remember is the ‘God speech’ that Ted gives to Emmett back in season 1.

5. What have you learned about yourself by playing Ted?
That I’ve got nowhere near the level of self-loathing that Ted does.

6. What do you think is the biggest issue facing American gays and lesbians right now, and how well do you think Queer as Folk has done in addressing that issue?
Hands down the issue of gay marriage is the biggest civil rights issue the country is facing. The fact that religious beliefs are blinding people to the civil issue at hand is infuriating to me.I think our show does a good job showing both sides of the issue from the gay perspective.

7. Drawing from your contact with gay and lesbian fans and the other gay people in your life, in what ways do you think Queer as Folk has influenced the gay community?
I think QAF has helped the gay community feel represented in a more realistic way than it ever has.

8. In what ways do you think Queer as Folk has influenced the portrayals of gays and lesbians on other TV programs?
I think it’s raised the bar in terms of portraying gay characters, as Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman have already said, as only clowns or eunuchs. Hopefully the community won’t stand for just that anymore.QAF was the first to show gay characters as three-dimensional, flawed, sexualized people.



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