Gale force

Queer as Folk’s feisty Gale Harold takes aim against homophobia, fame, and critics of his character, Brian

BY Michael Rowe

January 23 2001 12:00 AM ET

Harold’s initial take was that the character would best be played as “a cross between Lou Reed and Oscar Wilde, with a gold tooth, and go completely over the top with it. Now we know that I can’t do that,” he says mischievously, “though I still think that’s how it should be done. It would be a lot dirtier. But he’s not allowed to be that.” Nor does he buy into the notion that Brian is a pure predator. “You have to like your character, because if you don’t, no one else will either. And if the point of the show is to create a character that nobody likes and everybody hates, that would be the way to go. Make him a predator. But I liked Stuart [the character on whom Brian is based]! I liked the guy.” The thought that he might be typecast playing a gay man never occurred to him when he considered whether or not to take the role. He had asked a gay actor friend whether he should accept the part, not because of Brian’s sexual orientation but because of the show’s merit. “If you want to be an actor,” his friend told him, “then act.” “There was the creative impulse and the chance to do something,” Harold says honestly, “but there was also $1,400 worth of parking tickets and back registration on my truck.” As he owed money to friends and back rent to landlords, the pragmatist in Harold knew it was time to grow up. “I’d been through the ‘hangdog barely making it’ thing over and over again. Your options run out.” Looking back, he says, he realizes that “the only difference between me now and me then, aside from the experience I’ve gained working on the show, is that I have money. That I’m able to support myself and pay off my student loans. And the ability to make things right with people over time. That becomes a really important thing as you turn 30.” This brings up one of those boilerplate questions Harold dislikes: Is he at all worried that his role in Queer as Folk might negatively affect his professional future? His answer is swift. “If someone doesn’t want to work with me because I’m playing a gay character, I don’t want to work with them,” he says calmly. “They can fuck off.” Even that succinct statement is more than Harold made to the press when Queer as Folk began. As speculation swirled about which of the actors were actually queer folk, Peter Paige and Randy Harrison identified as gay, Scott Lowell talked about his wife, and Hal Sparks discussed his instinctive discomfort during man-on-man sex scenes. Gale Harold said…nothing. Friends still fax him items pulled off the Net, comments that he allegedly made in interviews, “basically putting me in line with other heterosexual actors and their comments.” But Harold continues as he started. He doesn’t want to make what he calls “pretentious” comments on gay life, heterosexual life, or his own love life. “Gale is totally cool and secure enough not to be threatened by anything,” adds Ron Cowen. “He knows who he is. That makes him more than an actor; it makes him a very fine human being.” Another question that comes up constantly involves the nudity and the sex with other men. But the question people never manage to ask, though they want to, is “How on earth do you manage it?”—the implication being “Doesn’t it disgust you as a straight man?” Rather than addressing that homophobic question, the man who rocked Middle America in the first episode of Queer as Folk (when his character boldly instructed Randy Harrison’s character on rimming) is matter-of-fact about the mechanics of on-screen sex. “We have a really good crew,” he says casually. “Between the actors and the cooperation of the producers, we’ve been able to establish a protocol for the show, where every sex scene has a ‘sex meeting.’ The director has a shot list of what he wants. It not only demystifies it, but it’s like a rehearsal for scenes that aren’t rehearsed. If you know what you’re going to do and why, when you’re actually there doing it, you can. You’re not thinking, What the fuck is going on? Where’s the camera? Why are we rolling again? Why am I doing this again? You don’t have to deal with it. You understand the scene.” Harold is amused by the responses he gets in public. Heterosexual women beg him to tell them he’s straight. As for heterosexual men, he says, “The responses range from ‘My wife loves the show!’ to ‘I loved the show; it’s funny as hell!’” Gay men love or loathe Brian Kinney, and Harold sometimes gets the runoff. Example? At a Toronto Film Festival party, he heard an expletive fired his way as he passed a group of men he didn’t know. “But you can’t even acknowledge that as a negative response, really,” Harold says philosophically. His family, for their part, seem to have taken his newfound high profile and growing fame in stride. “Some of them were shocked,” Harold muses, “just by the fact that I had a job. I just let the information come out [bit by bit], so that by the time they actually realized I was on a television show with a budget and that I was getting paid and flying first class in airplanes, they were, like, ‘Jesus, that’s beyond anything we’ve ever considered.’” The key to understanding Gale Harold is likely not going to be found in this interview, or in any of the other interviews he’s sat for since he became “Brian on Queer as Folk.” It might instead be found by examining where he went while on summer hiatus, before the new season began shooting. Instead of heading off to Los Angeles to capitalize on his Brian Kinney status, Harold packed up and headed to the tiny SoHo Playhouse in New York to appear with George Morfogen in a low-budget production of Austin Pendleton’s AIDS drama, Uncle Bob. The stage was his first love, and he had arranged a summer tryst. His personal publicity from Queer as Folk followed him to New York as he tried to prepare for his stage role. “It was very distracting,” he says. “It was a blessing and curse. I wish it had just been the director and I.” Has he ever woken up and asked himself what he thought he was doing when he took on a role as potentially defining as Brian Kinney? “I haven’t, no,” he answers. “I’ve woken up after seeing this,” he adds, brandishing a page from a high-fashion magazine featuring him sulking elegantly for the camera, “and asked myself what I thought I was doing. Or seeing my cover for MetroSource, which was such a cheese dish, and said ‘What the fuck am I doing? I’m supposed to be working on a play!’” A publicist knocks on the door to see how the interview is going thus far. Harold smiles with genuine courtesy, but at that moment, it’s clear there’s one place he wants to be—back at work on the set, acting. He’s right: Interviews can be an enormous cheese dish. “If anyone can crack the publicity nut and figure out how to not come across hammy and contrived,” he says, sighing, “I’d love to talk to them.”

Tags: television

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