His costar Portia de Rossi might be a higher-profile homosexual, but Jonathan Slavin has been working steadily as an out actor since the early '90s. Best known as a regular on Andy Richter Controls the Universe and for his recurring roles in Caroline in the City, Wings, and My Name Is Earl, Slavin currently plays Phil, a geeky research scientist, in Better Off Ted, an absurdist ABC sitcom about a morally questionable corporation. Revisiting his queer roles in other series such as Summerland and the short-lived Inconceivable, the 39-year-old animal rights activist tells us how his sexuality has been a hard pill for Hollywood's schlubby gays to swallow.
Advocate.com: The relationship between your character Phil and fellow research scientist Lem is really the heart of Better Off Ted. Tell me about that on-screen bromance.
Jonathan Slavin: We are an incredibly enmeshed couple. We fight, we bicker, and we've probably been together way too long, but neither one of us is going anywhere, because one of us would cease to exist without the other one. Malcolm Barrett, who plays Lem, is so funny and such a genius. Our favorite thing is when they just let "Lem and Phil" be "Lem and Phil."
In the third episode you even shared the same Hazmat suit.
After we shot the pilot, we came back a few months later to do the table read for the next episode, and that day they started fitting us for that suit. It was like, "OK, you guys are going to get to know each other really quickly. Start spooning."
You also have great chemistry with Portia de Rossi, who plays your boss. As an out actor, what's it like to work with gay royalty? Are there strict rules of etiquette like when you meet the queen?
Portia's so not like that. She's a little shy but so sweet that you just feel at ease with her. Portia's my girl, and I love her to death. When I found out that she would be on the show, it was like, "Are you kidding? Two gay vegans on one show? And both of us playing straight? How the hell did that happen? It must've slipped right under the radar." It's bananas because I've spent half my career being told people don't want to hire me because I'm gay. But it never occurs to [Better Off Ted creator, executive producer, writer, and director] Victor Fresco to think that I can't play a character who has a wife, or that Portia can't play a character who has sex with a guy. His mind just doesn't go there, but he's a weird anomaly in this town. People are usually very up-front about not hiring me because of my sexuality.
Have you been invited to Portia and Ellen's house?
Ellen's been amazingly supportive of the show, so we all got together and watched the premiere there. They have a beautiful home that's first and foremost a home; it feels very comfortable. There was lots of vegan pizzas, and vegan this, vegan that. I never go to a dinner party where I can eat everything on the table, so I was thrilled.