Sean Maher: Family Man
BY Jeremy Kinser
November 15 2011 5:00 AM ET
"My life is now an open book," says Sean Maher. The actor, best known from the Emmy Award-winning cult series Firefly and its big screen spin-off, Serenity, has a smile beaming across his boyishly handsome face before he takes a sip from a double latte at a French bistro near his home on the east side of Los Angeles. "For years I was petrified of an interview like this, being asked personal questions and trying to avoid revealing too much." It's a well-earned smile.
In September, just after the premiere of his NBC series The Playboy Club, the 36-year-old actor came clean. Maher ended more than a decade of being closeted and revealed not only that he's gay but also that he's been happily partnered for the past nine years with Paul, an advertising agency president whose last name Maher prefers to not divulge. The men are also fathers to two young children, Sophia Rose, 4, and Liam Xavier, 16 months.
The actor says he and Paul had long discussions about the potential impact his coming out publicly would have on their family and decided it was time. "We looked back at all the games I had been forced to play and decided that I could turn it all around and somehow help others," he says. Maher says his role as a closeted man, by coincidence named Sean, on the early 1960s-era Playboy Club factored into the decision as well.
Maher came out to his close-knit Irish Catholic family during his freshman year at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. He recalls that everyone offered unconditional love, and his younger brother even thought it was cool to have a gay sibling. A few days later, though, his father expressed his concern, unable to equate being gay with ever being happy and having a family. "My dad slipped me the number of a priest and said, "This is for people like you so you can be happy again,'" Maher recalls. "I said, 'Dad, what don't you understand? I'm finally happy.'"
Maher's happiness would be compromised in 1999 when he moved to Los Angeles after being cast as the title character in Ryan Caulfield: Year One, a short-lived Fox series about a rookie cop. With the weight of his first lead role on his shoulders, Maher buckled to pressure from his then-manager to keep a lid on his homosexuality.