BY Michael Fairman
September 24 2009 5:35 AM ET
How did you finally come into playing Opal?
They called me up and I [had] just moved to L.A.! I had just done OLTL. I played bomb-loving Ursula Blackwell. She is now in the home of the criminally insane, and I would love to play that character again. The executive producer at the time, Paul Rauch, said, “You must go to L.A.” So he gave me a bunch of people to contact. So I said, "OK, I guess it’s time." I was there for two weeks when they called and said, “There is an offer out for you to come and play Opal.” My first thought was, Well, no, I just got here and I think I am going to stay here. Then a friend of mine said to me, “You know, Jill, you have a little debt and you want to pay off that house of yours. Yes, you are here, but you don’t have a job, you don’t even have an agent, and, you know, look at it as a two-year prison term. It’s OK.” [Laughs]
Which turned into?
Twenty years this November!
You have made some very interesting projects and choices in your career surrounding issues that face the gay community. Are you yourself gay?
I am not gay. I am straight. But I love the gay community. When we did the first story line on AMC with Chris Bruno, who played Michael the gay schoolteacher, and they told me I was going to be the one that was going to be the homophobe, I said, “Oh, please. Oh, please, no!” They said, “Listen, you are a beloved character. We want somebody like you, who has a transformation and has a revelation, because that is the way we bring around people who are not of our opinion.” That made sense to me. So I said, “All right, great! And then in that respect, absolutely I will.” Ultimately, it was written pretty well and hopefully that is one of the things that AMC is known for. The show really does approach and handle some important issues that will convert some people and change people on how they think of things.
Let’s talk about Gibbs Garden.
The subject of the student film that I produced, Gibbs Garden, was about a dear friend of mine. It was tender and heartbreaking. The film was about him taking care of his lover, who had AIDS, and of course he passed away. This was in the '80s.
Tell us about your role in Were the World Mine.
I was Nora, the wife of the headmaster, in Were the World Mine. I strongly recommend that you see it if you haven’t. It’s wonderfully humorous and poignant and sincere. It begs the question, What would happen if I had the power to make someone that I love love me back? Of course, it’s a question that has been asked by people from the beginning of time. In the movie, they do the play Midsummer Night's Dream and this kid gets a magic potion. Suddenly, this little homophobic town, for one enchanted night, everyone falls in love with someone of their own sex.
Who does your character fall in love with?
I fall in love with the mother. I am chasing her all over town. It could be so campy and extreme and silly, but it’s done with enough respect for the characters and integrity that it has a lovely feeling when you walk away. My brother-in-law saw it in Minneapolis. He called me up and said, “I just loved the movie. I loved it so much that now I just want to be gay!” [Laughs]