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Version Française

Sparks on Fire :
The Advocate - March 30, 2004
by  Anne Stockwell


He’s angry with the president. He’s tired of being misunderstood. And he’s ready for another season of making out with Robert Gant. Queer as Folk star Hal Sparks lets fly with an in-your-face interview.
Michael Novotny, the protagonist of Showtime’s Queer as Folk, is so convincingly mousy that you forget he’s fictional—until you meet the man who plays him. When I greet Hal Sparks, he’s carrying a Chinese sword. It’s his own, not some fake from a prop house. For his Advocate photo shoot, the 34-year-old star has just finished whipping the weapon through a dazzling set of the kung fu moves he began to master at age 8. That was before he posed naked with a rainbow flag.
This behavior would be way too cool for Michael. Sure, the mild-mannered Pittsburgh comic-store owner is the secret of down-and-dirty QAF’s success—the everyman has anchored the story through three seasons and into a fourth now shooting in Toronto. Amid a presidential campaign that’s whipping gay marriage around like a saber, Queer as Folk’s message of “us and them” has never seemed more relevant.
For all his virtues, Michael could never play Hal Sparks. The comedian-actor-musician, who was raised in Kentucky before moving to Chicago, is charismatic, decisive, irreverent, sexy, and scary-smart. He is also straight, and right off the bat, when the QAF cast did its first round of press, he ran into a rough patch: Asked in an interview what it was like to kiss another man, Sparks compared it to kissing a dog. Outrage ensued. The comment tapped into gay fears that the hetero ex-host of E!’s cheeky Talk Soup might not be sufficiently respectful of a role on TV’s boldest-ever series about gay life.
But Sparks hung in and paid his dues. For a time after QAF’s debut, the talk shows and game shows where Sparks formerly exercised his quick wit stopped calling. They didn’t want to mention the word “queer” on the air. He says the ostracism never shook him: “I live in such a fearless space in my life, I really don’t give a rat’s ass what most people think about me.”
Besides, he’s busy: Weekdays he’s shooting long hours on the QAF set; weekends he does stand-up. He’s now mixing the debut CD of his heavy metal group, the Hal Sparks Band, for a spring release through his own record label. “I decided a long time ago that I was the president of my own corporation,” Sparks says of his supersaturated schedule. “I’m a blue-collar actor. I’m in the med school phase of building a career.”
Now, with QAF’s third season newly available on DVD and its fourth season set to start airing in April, Sparks’s schedule and The Advocate have finally come together. Over a seared-tuna salad in a Venice, Calif., restaurant, he gives me a glimpse inside his energetic mind. On the page, Sparks may come across as abrasive; not in person. He radiates benevolent energy and higher purpose: For a comic, the man is disconcertingly spiritual. But his stand-up rhythm kicks right in as he starts riffing on homophobes, the Bible, Enron, his future mate, anal sex, and the coma that made him funny.

Let’s start with politics. What do you think about Bush’s backing a constitutional amendment against gay marriage?
I think George Bush is to Christianity what the Enron accountants are to capitalism. They use the laws to their advantage when they can, and when they don’t, they break them. Bush is using this to ignite his conservative base to get them to vote.
It is absolute posturing. But I think it’s going to turn on him.

How so?
The big case they’re always making is, “We’re protecting the sanctity of marriage, which has always been between one man and one woman.” Well, yeah, tell that to the Mormons, for one. Secondly, if gay marriage hasn’t been around till now and marriage is at a 50% divorce rate, obviously gay marriage isn’t the problem. Let’s say there are gay people who’ve forced themselves into straight marriages. They’re just now getting divorced because they’re awakening to who they truly are. You could cut down on the divorce rate by allowing them to be who they are from the start. You want to protect the sanctity of marriage? Allow gay people to marry gay people.

I know the show strives to reflect the news. Will Michael and Ben decide to get married?
I wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, I’m expecting it, in many ways.

After three seasons, Queer as Folk still seems to get people hot under the collar. Why?
There’s so much fear around this show—from both the gay and the straight side—that I feel like it’s a responsibility to back away from the fray and say, “Can we all settle down and look at this for what it is?” Those who are against it need to look at the import of the show, the genuine desire to do some good in the world [on the part of] myself, the rest of the cast, the execs. And then give everybody involved the benefit of the doubt.

What in the world drew this heterosexual comedian, Hal Sparks, to a show called Queer as Folk?
The main reason I took the job was because nobody else would. That fall I could have—and this is not arrogance—gotten a sitcom and been on it for the last three years. But it would’ve been a seven-year contract, and at the end some people would’ve said, “Yeah, but can he act? Is he going to do anything important instead of just fluff?”

How did you hear about the show?
My manager said this script was floating around—had been for, like, seven weeks. I’d been on Talk Soup and I was fired, and then two weeks later I got Dude, Where’s My Car? and they were looking and looking again for Michael. They couldn’t find Michael, they couldn’t find Brian; they’d found a Ted and a couple of Emmetts. Apparently they weren’t having much trouble finding lesbians, so the girls really get the kudos for being chosen out of a large group, but for the rest of us it was fairly refined. And I was one of the few people who had any kind of a name who was willing to do it. The pilot script was very touching, very emotionally extraordinary. And my manager, to her credit, said, “This is important—it’s worth going up for.” She said something very interesting and, I think, true: “It’s either going to be a phenomenon or it’s going to disappear.” There was going to be no middle road with Queer as Folk.

What was it like meeting Dan Lipman and Ron Cowen, the American show’s creators and executive producers?
They were at the auditions. They were very sweet. But you have to think back to that time: I didn’t know these people from Adam. [If I agreed to do the series], they’d have power over my career for six years, because that’s how long our contracts were. As a businessperson and as a human being, you are taking an enormous leap of faith.

That must have been terrifying. What convinced you to do it?
I had a long phone call with Ron and Dan, and they were great and very reassuring. I was like, “We’re going to enter into a sort of gentlemen’s agreement that this show—and Michael, the character that I’m playing—will remain heart-oriented, as opposed to head or penis. Because the minute we shift to head or dick, you’re done. It’s a waste of time. You can rent better penis stuff, and nobody needs to be intellectualized about this.”

What do you mean?
You can’t argue on an intellectual level with a fanatic. But if you can touch their hearts, the armor falls away. We get letters from parents and children, like “I hated my son for being gay; my wife had me watch this; now I love him more than I did before I found out he was gay, and I miss the time I could have had with him.” That’s why you do this show.

When we met at the spring Television Critics Association press tour, I said you had made a negative comment about kissing another guy. And you said, “No, I didn’t.”
I said something that was construed as being negative when I was trying to be purely descriptive. Somebody asked me what it was like to kiss a guy. Keep in mind that at this point I had not kissed a gay man—I had kissed Gale Harold and another guy. Two straight guys. So if you think I’m referring to kissing gay men as like kissing a dog, then you’re wrong on that count, and let’s start there.

OK, go on.
Secondly, the point I was trying to make was, have you ever seen somebody who has a dog and they love their dog? They have so much emotional connection to that dog and they kiss it right on the face—right on the mouth. And they can conjure up all this emotion about how much they care about this animal, but they don’t want to fuck it. That’s what playing a gay man and kissing other men is like. As much as I can conjure up the emotion of caring and love and support, I don’t want to fuck them.

So you had good intentions.
It’s important that people know that, because a lot of people think gay is contagious. In most of the interviews I do in the straight press, they keep asking the same questions over and over again—“Are you straight, are you gay?”—even though they know I’ve answered it a hundred times. The reason, on a sociological level, is that they are answering the big fear that most of America has, which is “Are you gay yet? Have you caught it yet?” My point in answering those questions is “Don’t be afraid of it. They are who they are; you are who you are; it’s OK. It’s not the flu.”

Tell me about meeting Robert Gant and starting to work together.
They brought him up to Toronto because they really liked him. We read a scene together, and it was great—he was very good, very on. I liked him immediately. He’s a genuinely cool guy and really excited about the project.

I have to ask about the sex scenes.
Working with Bobby has been the easiest and best relationship stuff I’ve had to do on the show. Not just because he’s a really good actor, but we’re both very respectful of what the other needs in a scene. Shooting a sex scene is not sexual at all, especially—especially—if you want to convey emotion and you want people to feel that there’s some connection going on.

And with Bobby you’re kissing a gay man.
Yes. It’s easier to work with Bobby, hands down, because the gay men are more at ease with the actual kissing and the actual contact. A lot of straight guys have that “dodge” reflex: If a guy leans in to kiss you, your first reaction is to twitch back—“What’re you doing, dude?” Bobby always spots it too. He’ll go to kiss me naturally in a moment, and if I’m not aware that we’re going to kiss, I have to watch that flinch reaction. A couple of times it has actually worked in the scene, where Michael is angry at Ben—so we kept it.

What do you say to people offended by two men kissing?
You know, wackos on both sides can go fuck themselves. I don’t live my life by caring what they think. Once you know that, then all the attacks, the Christian right people who are threatening to throw acid in your face—

Wait. Christians actually threatened to throw acid in your face?
Yeah. Then you’ve got gays who think all we do is promote promiscuous gay sex or that our characters are drugged up—just watch the show, for chrissake. My character’s been in an HIV-positive– HIV-negative relationship for two years. As for the promiscuous sex scenes, kiss my ass. It’s just annoying.

Is it hard for you to play the guy who’s being penetrated?
The bottom? Not necessarily. Sometimes when I play Michael, I’m not playing a gay man, I’m playing a woman. I’m playing the feminine in the relationship. A lot of the mannerisms and stuff that I built for Michael, I’ve gotten from my mom and my aunt Karen.

Some people do seem to think “playing the feminine” would be harder.
It’s just fear, that’s all. I think in the general populace more people are afraid of anal sex than death—of being on the receiving end of it. When people talk about going off to prison, they never talk about being killed in prison. [Anne laughs] Your chances of being killed in prison are pretty high. But that’s not what everybody’s worried about, are they? No. It’s always about being raped by some big guy in the showers.

I think people are appalled by the idea of doing something in the same canal that you defecate through.
Yeah, but we piss with the other one. I don’t know what the big deal is. Most people just live in fear of being discovered. That’s what the really hard-line Christians are afraid of: The only way they can divert attention away from their sins is to point at yours: “Look, I may have thought about cheating on my wife, but that guy’s a fag!” It is so funny that of all the things that God supposedly hates in the Bible, they manage to make that one of the top ones.

Isn’t it great?
It’s retarded. I was a born-again Christian, baptized when I was 11; I was a Bible scholar and the whole deal. Believe me, there is a lot more in the Bible that supports just being open and loving of people than the two verses that they rattle as a saber. The truth is, they’re dying off and they’re freaking out about it. The fundamentalist idea is a factor of old people watching their system die. The big rise in the religious right is the dying gasp of Jason Voorhees at the end of Friday the 13th—you think he’s dead, completely, and he’s got that one last lunge at you to scare you a little bit. [Anne laughs] Because he’s really got nothing left.

What was the first thing you wanted to do? Music? Comedy? Shooting film? Martial arts?
Hmm. I’ve been doing martial arts since I was 8 years old. It just makes my heart beat correctly. There’s no want in doing it, and I wouldn’t be so crass as to call it a need—it’s just part of who I am, and it was, probably, before I was born. Same thing with being funny. You know, I almost died when I was 5 years old.

How?
Drug overdose. My sister was on this medication. She’d take half a pill every three days. They tasted like mint, and I ate 12 of them. I was in a coma. It was like new Beatles/old Beatles: After the coma, my mom said, “You were funny after that.”

That’s hot. Tell me another formative experience.
When I was 13, maybe 12, I looked in the mirror and I said, “Well, you’re ugly. Get used to it. But you still want to get laid, find the girl that’s right for you, and all that. What are you going to use?”I thought, OK, I’m funny, I’ve got a decent personality, and I’m caring and honest and truthful.

You weren’t really ugly, right?
I was Hispanic-looking in Kentucky. Some people think I’m a New York Jew or part Italian. I get most of my looks, I think, from the Native American stuff in my family. But in an area of the South where there were a lot of redheads with freckles and blond people—you know, country-lookin’ folk—I was just naturally an outcast. [But] once I went, I’m OK with this; I just want to be who I really am inside—then literally within a year my face changed. I grew 2 1/2 inches. I think that that choice, to be an expression of myself, affected me physically. But also, on a metaphysical level, being OK with who you are [allows you to] become a better expression of who you are.

So martial arts came first with you?
And then funny came second. I loved the fact that I could make my family and my friends laugh, because you know you’re making everybody feel better.

Did you know you wanted to be a comedian?
I didn’t realize till I moved to Chicago that you could make a living as a comedian. I was just a smart-mouth pain in the ass up until that point. I went to New Trier High School, and a woman named Suzanne Adams, whom I loved dearly, was my acting teacher. She recognized that I had some talent beyond just being funny. She was really focused on “Look, you already know what your natural talent is—grow the part of you that doesn’t come naturally or doesn’t feel like it does.” So I did True West and The Glass Menagerie, things that built up that other skill.

We still haven’t talked about how you started in music.
I used to give little concerts when I was 8 years old to the hill in front of our house. I would move the stereo speakers out and do Kiss concerts. My dad cut a flying-V guitar out of plywood and put a banjo neck on it and gave it to me. I would just dance around on the porch. Then in high school I became the singer in a band that did Kiss covers. I was terrible. But I got better over time.

What’s the experience of the Hal Sparks Band? It’s metal, right?
Some people think I’m opening doing comedy until they come in and see the band, see the black fingernails and the smoked eyeliner, and hear the riffs. And they’re amazed.

You seem incredibly motivated, even driven. What’s your motor?
I believe with all my heart that human beings have almost unlimited capabilities inside ourselves in so many different areas. But we have been crowbarred into this idea that you must pick your path and stick to it. Nothing could be further from the truth. My way of living is, if I do something, I will do it to the greatest extent of that ability.

Are you such an altruist that you’d have done this for gay people in the abstract, or was there someone in your life that motivated you?
It’s a combination. Two friends I had from when I was very young are both gay and came out among their friends but couldn’t come out to their parents. I didn’t know they were gay until after I’d moved away from Kentucky. Imagine [having] a friendship with someone for a long time and yet they still had to keep such a secret from you. You just wish you could’ve said, “Man, you could’ve told me, and it would’ve been OK.” When I worked with [spiritual author and lecturer] Marianne Williamson—

How did your friendship start?
I came to her lectures for the first time in ’92. I saw her and fell madly in love with her immediately, because any woman who can put “God” and “fuck” in the same sentence is OK in my book. At that point she was doing her work with AIDS Project Los Angeles and Project Angel Food. Marianne was sitting vigil at so many deathbeds. [At her lectures] we had to deal with [AIDS] every night, with a different person in a wheelchair having to come in. She helped facilitate the crossover for a lot of people.

You began to take an onstage role at her lectures, didn’t you?
Yeah. My role was just to be a goof and raise spirits. I was Mr. Bright Smiles, as best I could be, in the face of some really difficult stuff.

Does your message of support for gays ever get misinterpreted?
I really go out on a limb when I do it. I did this interview for DirecTV that I took a hit for, where they asked, “How do your parents feel about you being on the show?” I said, “Well, they live in the South—they probably deal with harder issues than cast members whose families live in New York or L.A. But my parents are the kinds of people who, if you were gay, would love you anyway.” People took the word “anyway” to mean “Oh, gay people are mentally retarded” or something.

Like “My parents would forgive me for being gay.”
Yeah. What I meant was “My parents are the kind of people who wouldn’t give a shit. They would love you. You’re their son, you’re their daughter—that’s who they are.” I give them a lot of credit for that. But it was immediately spun by some of the people who read it as being negative and me backing away. You have a group of people who have been marginalized their whole lives. And the minute I say something that could be read two ways, they’ll take it the harshest way as proof that “I’m always getting fucked by the system because of the nature of my life.”

We do look for conversational clues on whether somebody dislikes gays, it’s true, so that we can figure out if we’re safe.
Yes, absolutely. [But] what self-respecting homophobe would be on Queer as Folk for more than two days? Seriously. Granted, we have had people come on the show who peeled through for a couple of episodes here and there or whatever who were absolutely that way. They think a shot on Queer as Folk will give them a boost careerwise, and as long as they don’t have to do too much, they’ll do the “seven-day gay” in a movie, a miniseries, whatever. But to do a series like this—this is years. This is a multiyear commitment. There aren’t any Mormons out there who would sign up for “gay college,” and that’s what this is. This is four years of Homosexuality 101.

Forgive me, but there’s one way in which the show seems dated. It still feels very “us and them.”
Oh, yeah. We don’t have any straight friends. It drives us crazy as a cast.

So what’s up with that?
That’s something you’d have to address with Ron and Dan. I decided when I chose to do the show that I would not affect the story. I broke it once, in that I wanted Michael to stay in the closet longer because there are a lot of people who are represented by that story line. But it blows my mind that we don’t have straight friends. Daphne is pretty much the only straight person, and the parents. That’s one of the uncomfortable spaces to be a straight performer on the show, when you hear Brian saying, “There are only two types of straight people: those that hate you to your face and those that hate you to your back”—you’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute.”

Exactly. I don’t really get it.
I think the main reason for it is the lack of time, and to create a relationship with a straight person doesn’t necessarily tell us one more story inside the gay world. This is a dramatic series. It’s meant to be the most difficult, provocative, and harsh moments in their lives. If you start showing acceptance, it undercuts the drama. If you are realistic—

Then they’ll want to leave Pittsburgh!
Yeah. Well, I think they should.

Is there somebody special in your life right now?
No. I broke up with my girlfriend a couple of months ago, mostly because of time constraints—I live in L.A. half the time and Toronto the other half. It’s really hard to maintain a relationship. At some point, I will be what I consider a white-collar comedian, a guy who can do three movies a year and some TV appearances. But if you want to get to that point, something’s got to give, and in my case it’s been my love life. But the work I’m doing now is creating a career that will carry me for the rest of my life. It will put my kid through college; it will bring my wife and me a home when that time comes.

What is your martial arts practice?
Right now I study wu shu, a Chinese martial art that comes from Shaolin kung fu. Specifically, it’s Shaolin in a northern long-fist style. It’s what Jet Li does—the pretty, kind of flamboyant, big arm movements, big leg movements stuff. The art that I study as my fighting art is called kung fu sansu, which is a street-fighting art. It’s very brutal.

You’re about to start being Michael again. What does he need in this fourth season, and what challenges does he face?
Well, Michael ran off at the end of last season with Hunter—he’s running from the law. He’s a gay man who’s taken an underage gay youth away from his mother and the police. The danger of having his entire life ruined is so high. Michael is one of those guys—this has been since the beginning—who will die for you. But he’s always been that way in a service-oriented space: “I will do this for someone else.” Now he’s using who he is and what matters in his life and his own strength.

Michael’s learning.
Yeah. I want Michael to be a man in and of himself at the end of this show so that the guy he was in the pilot, who was kind of annoying and sheepish, has blossomed into a human being, an actualized gay man who is comfortable. He’s not picking a fight about being gay, he just is. And that’s it.

What has playing Michael taught you about Hal?
I used to have this doormatty, altruistic, “do nice things for other people at the expense of myself” [nature], and playing Michael has taught me not to do that. The other thing is that I’ve never felt as at home in my heterosexuality. I’m a little more aggressive physically with women, which is nice because it’s a more honest expression of who I am. And certainly healthier, instead of being in a doting, fearing, “I hope she likes me” situation. And I’ve had better relationships because of it.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you want to say?
You cannot try to win everybody to your side. Don’t bother, because they’re not the cool guys and this is not high school. The fundamentalist Christians and the Catholic Church and the Republicans and the Bob Jones University assholes and the Fox media guys, they’re no fun to hang around with. They’re mean, and you can’t have a normal conversation with them. So why bother?

More Sparks
You’ve read Hal Sparks’s exclusive interview in the pages of The Advocate. Well, he was just getting started.
By Anne Stockwell
Outtakes from an interview that appeared in the The Advocate, March 30, 2004
Michael Novotny, a protagonist of Showtime’s Queer as Folk, is so convincingly mousy that you forget he’s fictional—until you meet the man who plays him. A mild-mannered Pittsburgh comic-store owner who happens to be gay, Michael is the secret of down-and-dirty QAF’s success—the everyman has anchored the story through three seasons and into a fourth now shooting in Toronto. Still, for all his virtues, Michael could never play Hal Sparks. The comedian-actor-musician, who was raised in Kentucky before moving to Chicago, is charismatic, decisive, irreverent, sexy, and scary-smart. He is straight but—as he confirmed in his no-holds-barred interview with The Advocate—by no means narrow. We spoke about politics, love, sex, martial arts (Sparks is a lifelong devotee), Marianne Williamson, HIV, and fundamentalism, plus any number of fascinating side excursions. Actually, as you’ll see in the following outtakes, Hal’s the one who really spoke. We just listened, and boy, are we glad.

What has playing Michael taught you about Hal?
It taught me…I don’t know. On a psychological and physical level, it’s had a great effect on me. I’ll explain it as best I can: Let’s say you have a lot of anger in yourself, and you get a role on a TV show because you’re that kind of a guy and you play an angry character. And every day, 12 hours a day, you’re pushing anger chemicals through your body and just using up all this anger inside you to carry this character. When the weekends come, you’re a giggling mess. You just turn so happy, because you’ve used up this storehouse of anger that you’ve been carrying around in yourself. And guys who play villains often are the nicest guys you’ve ever met, because all their villainous stuff has been used up. They’ve been able to experience it, while the rest of us keep it hidden someplace and try to suppress it. They’ve burned it out; they don’t care anymore, so they’re just back to being good-natured.
And in sort of a similar way, playing Michael, I used to have this kind of doormat-y, altruistic, do-nice-things-for-other-people-at-the-expense-of-myself [nature], and playing Michael has taught me not to do that, to burn it out, to use that. It’s not healthy, it’s not helpful, and it makes you feel sick. So I’ve really grown more into myself by getting rid of some of the traits that we all find annoying in Michael. I never had as much as he did, but what I did have, I had to use all of it to portray him. So that’s gone.
The other thing is that I’ve never felt as at home in my heterosexuality. There’re guys out there, I think, their homophobia is based on the fact that if they kiss a guy, what if they like it? Well, I’ve done it and I don’t, so what’s the big deal? I know who I am, and I have no expectations that a gay man would kiss a woman and suddenly be straight, ’cause I get it. So I don’t have that fear anymore. I’m a little more aggressive physically with women, which is nice because it’s a more honest expression of who I am. And I think certainly healthier, instead of being kind of a doting, fearing, I-hope-she-likes-me situation, I’m just being myself more honestly, which is great. And the response has been better, from whom I’ve been with—I’ve had better relationships because of it.
I’ve learned a lot of what not to do from Michael. I’ve also learned that a lot of people live under this veil—it’s that Thoreau idea of quiet desperation. That is so alien to me in my life. I get asked the question a lot, “What’s one of your guilty pleasures? Do you have any guilty pleasures?”—because I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs—“You must do something, what’s your thing?” I’m like, “Well, I’ll tell you what some of my pleasures are, but I don’t have a whole lot of guilt ’cause I don’t subscribe to the same mores that say I’m wrong that a lot of people do. If I did, I couldn’t do this show. Just because I do stuff that you may not agree with doesn’t mean that I have shame or guilt about it. Don’t project your feelings onto me.”

Your publicist told me you had trouble getting talk shows at first.
Oh, yeah. Oh, man.

And she said, “God bless Jay Leno.”
Yeah. Well, they were pretty cool about it, although you could tell, man, he was nervous about the subject matter and the idea of it, but they really were bold in that respect. And that’s NBC—arguably, CBS is part of the Viacom family, which owns Showtime, so you’d think we could get on Letterman. Uh-uh. But I got back on Hollywood Squares recently, for the first time since I got Queer as Folk—I was on there a couple of times doing Talk Soup—and a lot of stuff just dried up as soon as I was on Queer as Folk because people didn’t want to put the word queer on their TV show. ’Cause they put “Hal Sparks, Queer as Folk” when they promo what show you’re on, and the word queer was just such a bad word for a long time. And then two things happened: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and I Love the ’80s on VH1. And suddenly I was much more acceptable to a broader audience again, and they were like, “Oh, yeah, he’s a comedian too, and he just happens to be on Queer as Folk and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy…”

Maybe they all think it’s the same show!
Exactly. Everybody’s suddenly OK with parts of it. But for two, two and a half years, there were just a lot of shows where they’d say, “Well, if we can, we’ll get you in here” or whatever, but on the sly, they’d say, “No way. No way.” And there’s a lot of jobs you lose because of it—you’re not going to do a family Disney movie anytime soon. And I understand that—not just because of the homosexual aspect, but because you’re on a highly sexual show. I’m not gonna be in the next Santa Claus movie, because little kids see you and they’re like, “I like him!” and then they’re flipping around and a 10-year-old TiVo’s you, and suddenly it’s like, “Eep! What is he watching?!” [Anne laughs] And we have a lot of really young fans, which is really disturbing—that a 13-year-old can describe my butt to the police. I’m going to be like Michael Jackson; I’m going to be on TV going, “I absolutely did nothing…” [Anne laughs] It’s one of my big fears—it’s like, “That’s his butt!” and picking it out of a lineup. “It’s on the Web! It’s on the Web!” “Come with me, sir.” [Chuckles]

Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you want to say?
I’m sure there is, ’cause I can talk forever. We almost didn’t address it before, that idea that if people think a guy is gay, they can’t see him in a romantic way. Well, I got the same thing from the gay community on Queer as Folk.

I’m sure you did.
And to some degree, I still do. So it’s less about people’s attitudes toward homosexuality and more about sexuality.

That’s so interesting—of course you did. Of course you did.
There’s a lot of double standards, and that’s completely understandable. But I absolutely got the same thing: “You can totally tell he’s faking. You can totally tell.”

Well, listen, my neighbor told me, “Oh, Hal is not straight! There’s no way he’s straight!” So you certainly went over with him.
Well, yeah—that’s my job.

And a lot of other people.
Well, the whole point is…everybody used to ask me, “Aren’t you afraid”—big word—“Aren’t you afraid that people will think you’re gay?” And I go, “Well, first of all, no, I’m not afraid—I’m not afraid of you, I’m not afraid of much at all. I’m not afraid of people thinking I’m gay, because the people who would think that I’m gay just because I’m on Queer as Folk playing a gay character are mentally the same people who think that mimes are actually trapped in boxes.” You have to understand who you’re appealing to. You cannot try to win everybody to your side—it’s just not gonna happen. Gay Catholics blow my mind—why the fuck are you going to them? They hate you. It’s like black Republicans—what are you thinking? Don’t try to convert them—there are way more people who love you and respect you than you even know. You really don’t know how many people are out there who are totally cool with who you are. Stop beating on the closed doors trying to get in. Fuck ’em. Their party is boring anyway. Don’t go. Find like-minded people and grow the genuine crowd. Don’t try to convert old systems to your way of being. It’s not gonna happen. Let it die.

Let it die.
This nonsense with the Episcopalians splitting off and these people acting like it’s a big deal. Churches have been splitting off into sectors for years. Hello—Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, evangelical fundamentalists, Church of Christ…none of these people like each other, and they supposedly follow the same guy. Fuck ’em. Step away. If you respect the teachings of Christ, just learn them on your own. There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to pay some guy in a big hat to let you be in heaven. It doesn’t work that way. It amazes me that people want to be liked by people who hate them. Don’t care. Don’t bother, because it’s a small group and they’re not the cool guys. This is not high school. The fundamentalist Christians and the Catholic Church and the Republicans and the Bob Jones University assholes and the Fox media guys, they’re no fun to hang around with. A lot of them are drunks and drug addicts and wife beaters and assholes. They pretend to be family men, and they scream at their kids. They’re mean, and you can’t have a normal conversation with them. They’re morally vacuous; they do things that are horrible and then totally cover it up and point at somebody else’s. So why bother? Why follow the extremity into hell? Why go down with that Titanic? Just go to the guy in your office who smiles at you and is cool, who’s straight and is totally OK with you. Well, don’t go, “Hey, wanna go to a gay bar with me sometime?” any more than you go up to the sports guys in the office and go, “Hey, I wanna go watch the game with you guys just to prove I’m not as gay as you think I am” or some bullshit like that.
Stop going to extremes and just look at the people around you who love and support you on a boring level, on a normal level. Because they’re voluminous—they’re everywhere. Queer as Folk has a huge audience, and the majority of our audience is straight. I find that the truth is inspiring. Lies are frightening, but they’re also frail, they’re also flimsy. The lies of the Christian right and the Republicans are so frail. That’s why they have to repeat them so hard, because they don’t have any scaffolding. It’s like an old Western facade in an old cowboy movie. It’s the front of a general store, so you gotta buttress that motherfucker or it won’t stand up to anything because there’s no real building there. And they know it, and that’s why they have to scream so loud.
You don’t have to scream loud when you know you have an argument. Just look at them for the fool that they are and dismiss them, and go with the people who respect you and speak with them on an honest, factual level. I love that you guys had Wesley Clark on the cover. I love that guy. Whether Kerry just runs away with it because the Democrats are too stupid to run anybody with real change in their blood, I’ll vote for him, it doesn’t matter. Everybody’s going to vote for the Democrat this year, it’s gonna be a landslide.

I sincerely hope so.
It will. Believe me. There are Republicans who aren’t gonna vote for Bush. Lots of them. And lots of nice Republicans who are just fiscal conservatives, but these people are liberals. George Bush is a fiscal liberal. Don’t kid yourself. The guy spends money willy-nilly, throws it down the drain, he’s never had a business that worked in his life, and he’s always lived in the red and that’s how he runs the government. All of his oil companies have failed; all of his little baseball team bullshit, that’s all failed. So he’s doing the exact same system. If you can’t balance your checkbook when you’re in college, you’re not going to be able to do it when you’re president. There’re not enough people to help you. It’s obvious.

I love what he called his oil company: “Arbusto.” It even sounds like “we’re going bust.”
Oh, yeah. Totally. But the point being, I think there are more and more emboldened, strong people who make a genuine argument out there, people like Michael Moore, people like Al Franken. People like Wesley Clark, who are just stating their truth without being shrill like Ross Perot, and that temperament is growing. In many ways, America lapsed back for the last few years into the England that the Puritans left: one church, one idea, one monarchy, all for the wealthy and none for the serfs, that kind of idea. And it doesn’t last very long before you get your Thomas Jeffersons popping up and going, “This is fucked. I’m not listening to you anymore, and for every one stupid lie you tell, I’ve got 10,000 honest reasons why it won’t work, why what you’re saying is wrong.” And I think that’s happening more and more.
In 1995, I remember very distinctly going, “What is it gonna take to get people to vote? What the fuck is the matter with people? Aren’t gay people and black people and Hispanic people and agnostics and Wiccans and the metaphysical people and the yoga people and all these people who care about the environment and the world and closeness and camaraderie…why the fuck are they sitting at home while all these old religious right nut cases in their walkers roll down there and keep Strom Thurmond in office until he’s nearly dead? What is it gonna take?” I’ll tell you what it’s gonna take: It took George Bush. He is the answer to our prayers on a liberal level, because he is a motivating factor.
In a superhero story, the hero is defined by his villain. If you have a weak villain, you will never use all your powers. And the minute the real villain shows up, you’re tested your mettle. He was necessary, because we were lazy. And that’s the truth, whether people like it or not. We made him. The left not wanting to get along and wanting to give the finger to anybody with any kind of religious beliefs because they viewed everybody as fanatical, eliminated anybody with a spiritual side, and allowed them to take the word “family values” when they definitely have family values: They value a white family that has a lot of money, and they value black families and gay families and Hispanic families that have a lot less money. Value is a sliding-scale word. It is a nondescriptive word. It’s generic.

“Pro-rated” must come in there somewhere.
Yeah, absolutely. You can tell by their tax code who they value.

I hope you’re right.
I’m absolutely right. It doesn’t matter. And if not, when I’m president…

Well?
I’ll run for office at some point.

Will you? Good!
I’ll be the first guy to run whose butt is available on the Internet. [Anne laughs] Well, maybe not the first, but the first whose is on there too much to buy back.



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