Street talked to Hal Sparks, Penn alum Robert Gant and Harris Allan, the stars of Showtime's provocative series Queer as Folk, at the TLA Video Store. Appearing on the show as Michael, Ben and Hunter respectively, the trio is a part of a different sort of American family.
Street: What did you like about 34th Street Magazine when you went to Penn?
Robert Gant: What I liked about 34th was that it was a little irreverent. I liked that it [was] a little edgy. I like that it takes risks, is less conformist .... It's a local rebel, it thinks outside the lines .... That's what our show's doing. We're taking a lot of heat in the gay community for portraying things in a way that necessarily wasn't pretty, as the truth often isn't. We're willing to talk about sexuality, drugs and all the things that really are a reality particularly when you've been suppressing who you really are.
Street: You took a very unorthodox approach to your current career, as a lawyer, then an actor. So how did you feel when you were offered this role?
RG: It was a bit scary from the standpoint that most of my life was in the closet. And even to the extent that I hadn't professionally, I still had been and certainly at Penn. It's amazing. I got a couple of e-mails from kids in Israel who said that they love the show [and that] it's a really welcome relief from all the bombing. It's fascinating to discover the extent of the show's reach.
Street: Of course gay marriage is going to be incorporated into the show, but what else do you see from Queer as Folk in the future?
RG: This season is a big turning point for the show. What distinguishes gay people is the sex factor, and that is what has always been invisible in the portrayals. The show has become much more inclusive. One of the things that was very difficult about the show was having to represent a huge community. With black television for example, there are enough shows now where you can represent a lot of the different points of view that exist. With [the gay community], that hasn't been the case. So there is a lot of pressure on the show to be the one voice.
Street: What distinguishes Queer as Folk from other shows besides the homosexuality?
Hal Sparks: I think it's the only show that can take on certain issues and survive them. Like gay bashing, and those kind of things. You'll have a storyline in a movie or a miniseries, but it's really only three episodes or one movie, and it's over and usually the character dies and it's just about repercussion. Whereas, we have characters that deal with the emotional impact afterwards. They live through these moments of bigotry and moments of hatred and [they] have to deal with it and keep walking and keep living. I think that makes it unique.
Street: Has playing a gay character made you more or less comfortable in your heterosexuality?
HS: Most people are afraid that in the back of their mind if they kiss someone of the same sex they might like it, and that throws their whole world into a jumble. But once you do it and [realize] that's not for me, it not only cements who you are, but you also understand gay people more because you understand they're not gonna change if they kiss a woman. I would say that every guy should kiss another guy at some point. You can either go, 'I'm not interested in this, or this is my thing. Now I can start dressing better.'
Street: What attracted you to the show?
Harris Allan: I actually read the breakdown, and I hadn't seen the show. But I was really intrigued by the character. Then when I got the role, I saw the show and I was like, 'oh my God, this is so awesome [that] I'm a part of this.' After I got hired, I was watching it and I was like 'this is such a great thing to be a part of,' and I got really excited. This is a great show. It deals with good issues, makes a lot of good statements. I like it a lot.
Street: Your character deals with a lot of sensitive issues. How hard is it to represent that accurately?
HA: It's some pressure for sure, because I just want to do the greatest job I can. I don't know about a lot of these issues from personal experience, so [I'm] just trying to gather stuff I can to make it as real as possible and do the stories justice.
Street: What has your character taught you?
HA: My character is really complex, because he has been hurt throughout his life and had to deal with all of that stuff at such a young age. So overall, it has made me more grateful for the way my life is and how things are working out for me. It's definitely stretched my acting ability, and I value my work a lot more having such a good role to do, of such great importance.