Stephen Wallem: Nurse Jackie's Hammer of Thor

Out actor Stephen Wallem nails the role of Thor, Nurse Jackie’s resident diabetic gay nurse. As for the mysterious disappearance of that other gay nurse? Hey, don’t blame him.



So what’s the inside scoop on Haaz’s departure? Were you being a diva and demanding to be the only gay nurse on duty?
[Laughs] Yeah, call up anyone on the show and ask what a diva I am — I’m so far from that! It really had nothing to do with me, so that’s been another shocking assumption. I read on a pretty major news site where a columnist said it was somehow demanded that Thor become the new Mo-Mo, which is ludicrous and just plain untrue. I’m not privy to the reasons behind that decision, but I know I had nothing to do with it.

Why do you think Nurse Jackie steadily continues to be such a gay-inclusive series? Is it simply because your sister and other executive producers Liz Brixius and Richie Jackson are gay, as is Showtime entertainment president Bob Greenblatt?
That might be part of it, and having gay creators does make a difference, but it wasn’t their main goal to make gay characters a priority and include as many gay story lines possible. It just evolved that way naturally, because — guess what? — there are a lot of gay people in real life and in every kind of work situation. It’s about time that’s shown on television, and I’m very proud to be part of a show where the fact that some characters are gay isn’t even an issue.

What was it like to work with Harvey Fierstein, who guest-stars this season as the husband of a dying patient?
I have just one line with Harvey, but he could not have been lovelier to work with. In reference to his character being married to a man, I say to him, “Thank you for paving the way.” But after about two or three takes, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I had just been given the opportunity to thank Harvey Fierstein himself for being a pioneer. Being able to look into that amazing man’s eyes and thank him on film was sort of an indescribable honor.

Tell me about this season’s exploration of Thor’s diabetes, a disease from which you also suffer.
Before they started writing season 2, Linda came to me and said they were thinking about adding that part of my life to Thor’s story line. She double-checked with me because she didn’t want to delve into anything I wasn’t comfortable with. I was terrified, honored, and excited all at once. Ultimately, I did want to explore that because there are so few diabetic characters on TV and in film. It’s very frustrating when you have the disease because most people don’t understand the severity of it, so this felt like an amazing opportunity to help expose people to diabetes and how serious it is without being preachy. If I can make any other diabetic feel a little less alone, it’s worth it.

Like Thor, you’ve lost an eye to the disease, and in an upcoming episode you actually remove your eyepiece.
Yeah, that was probably the strangest day of my professional life. It was also sort of funny because we quickly learned after everyone read the script that most people on the show didn’t know I really had an eyepiece. The makeup department contacted Linda and said, “How do you want us to make this piece? Is this going to be computer generated?” She’s like, “No, he’s actually going to be taking out his eyepiece and showing it. This is real.” I did a whole cabaret show about my experience with diabetes, but the idea of millions of people watching me on television as I literally expose the most vulnerable part of myself was absolutely terrifying. But everyone took special care to make sure I felt comfortable.

Tags: television