Jonathan Scarfe: Open Bar

Raising the Bar's Jonathan Scarfe dishes about what's next for his newly out character — and why he seems destined to play gay opposite Saved by the Bell alums.

BY Brandon Voss

June 04 2009 11:00 PM ET

Led by Saved by the Bell alum Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Steven Bochco's legal drama Raising the Bar is back in session June 8 for its sophomore season on TNT. Jonathan Scarfe steals his share of courtroom scenes as conflicted law clerk Charlie Sagansky, who came out of the closet at the end of season 1 after an affair with his female boss. Best known in America for his appearances on ER and in the miniseries Into the West, the Toronto-born "Canadian Emmy" winner defends the still-closeted friend who inspires his role.

Advocate.com: For the benefit of those who missed season 1, why did Charlie stay in the closet for so long?
Jonathan Scarfe: Charlie's career aspirations are to become a judge, and he was concerned that being out would slow down the process of getting on the bench. He got some encouragement from Mark-Paul's character, who basically helped him see that he was lying to his friends and that he had to be true to himself. And he told him that there are gay judges out there, so being gay is not going to make it impossible for him to go down that path. When Charlie did come out, his peers were completely fine with it.

What's new for Charlie in season 2 now that he's out? A gay relationship?
I would love that, but where we've gone with the scripts so far — I've only seen up to episode 8 — we haven't seen that. That's something I keep fighting for. But they have introduced another character, an older gay judge [Judge Albert Farnsworth, played by John Michael Higgins]. He's sworn off romantic relationships, but he's become a sort of mentor for Charlie professionally.

Eight episodes and no action?
No action, man, and I gotta say that I'm kind of disappointed. At the end of the day, it's a big ensemble cast with a lot of characters to write for, so you have to be patient. But I hope that's down the road.

As a straight actor, did you have any hesitations in taking the role for fear of getting typecast?
Oh, that doesn't occur to me at all. I look pretty much like a leading man, but I play characters all the time. I've always struggled with the fact that I get brought in for the lead guy, but then I'm always a little too offbeat for them, so they want me to play the psycho, the weirdo, or Jesus — something outside the box. And I'm a second-generation actor, so it never occurred to me that playing a gay character would ever be a bad thing.

Did you ever have any conversations with series creators Steven Bochco and David Feige about how your character's sexuality should inform your performance?
We haven't had those discussions at all. Those decisions were left up to me, but I suppose if I were doing something outside of what they wanted, they would've told me. I have a very close friend who is essentially this character, except instead of an aspiring judge, he's an actor. He's in his mid-late 30s and he's very much a leading man kind of guy, so he's been very cautious about being out because he feels like it's going to get in the way of his career. He's also in a long-term relationship that he's always trying to hide, and I've always felt that it wasn't really fair to his partner. I've spent my whole life saying to him, "You've got to be out, you've got to be true to yourself." His response was always, "You just don't know, man. You're a straight guy, so you have no idea about certain realities of being gay." But early on in playing this character, I was amazed at how often you hear gay jokes on a film set in Los Angeles. Not that the crew really has a problem with it, because they're lovely people, but every day there's some reference to the gay thing. Constantly. It was the first time I got a sense of what my friend was talking about. Even in L.A., where you think the gay thing would be a nonissue, it has enough of an effect on people that their immediate go-to response is to marginalize it in a "hee hee, ha ha" way. I was shocked.

Would you be comfortable coming out as an actor if you were gay?
With my personality type, I would be completely out. I'd just feel like, "Fuck you for making me feel like I can't be." I have more of a combative edge in my personality than my friend does. But he refuses to be not considered for certain roles because of someone else's prejudices.

Tags: television

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