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.

BY Brandon Voss

March 23 2010 7:40 AM ET

STEPHEN WALLEM 2 X390 (SHOWTIME) | ADVOCATE.COM

Have any other aspects of your own personal life translated to Thor?
I’ve also struggled with my weight for my whole life. Linda and I have a long-running joke: Whenever she asks what I feel like eating, my go-to response has always been “wedding cake.” Unfortunately, I have the hugest sweet tooth for someone who shouldn’t be eating anything sweet.

We know that Thor has a new boyfriend. Will he ever be introduced?
We don’t get to see that in season 2, and I have no idea what’s going to happen in season 3. It’s not up to me, of course, but I think it’s important to show gay characters in stable relationships, and I would definitely welcome it if the writers chose to explore that.

If you could choose, whom would you cast as Thor’s boyfriend?
I like to think that Thor would have a boyfriend that his friends and family wouldn’t necessarily pair him with, so I hope it would be someone quirky. I like surprises and unpredictable characters. We keep hearing about so many big-name actors who are huge fans and really want to be on the show, so it’s anybody’s guess who’ll show up on the set next.

Are you dating anyone?
Yes, we just celebrated our one-year anniversary, and this was about eight years after my last relationship. He’s a theater professor. We have about 100 mutual friends and had met a few times back in Chicago about 12 years ago. We reconnected again thanks to Facebook and started chatting as friends. Before either one of us knew it, we were in love. It’s pretty much the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

You’re celebrated in Chicago for your autobiographical one-man cabaret shows. Have you always been out professionally?
I never took the path of pretending I was something I wasn’t, but I also didn’t make a big deal out of it because, as I’ve said, my coming-out process wasn’t traumatic and being openly gay wasn’t really a struggle for me. If I sang love songs to a man that were gender-specific, it was just sort of a given and I didn’t make an issue out of it. I never really thought about it because you don’t really have to worry about being gay as a stage actor. I never dreamed in a million years that I’d be on a TV show, but here I am, playing a role that also happens to be gay. But that’s just one aspect of the role, and I approach every role with objectivity. The fact that I happen to be gay certainly helps contribute to the role, but it’s not a given that it’s going to feel authentic just because I’m gay too.

Now that you’ve made the transition to television, do you have any concerns about being openly gay?
I had trepidations before the show aired for the first season because this is my first exposure of this magnitude and it’s as a gay man. Having done theater my entire life, where I’ve played a huge variety of roles, the last thing I want is to be typecast. Doing this show for two seasons, I’m starting to understand how people in the industry focus on what they’re used to seeing you doing. They don’t care about your past or potential; they just know you can play a gay man, so they offer you another gay role. I have no control over that, and you have to trust your agents. I’ve had my handful of wacky gay hotel managers, but I’ve also been sent out on auditions for an equal amount of straight roles. You just have to keep your fingers crossed and hope that casting directors keep an open mind.

I’ve noticed online that you have quite the bear following.
Yep, and I didn’t see that coming at all. [Laughs] I’m a bigger guy for sure, but I’ve never considered myself a bear per se. Then I started wearing a beard, and I guess a big guy with a beard is automatically labeled a bear. But I’ve gotten nothing but wonderful, kind words from them, so I’m absolutely delighted by it. If I had to pick any part of the gay community to embrace me, I’d pick the bear community because they’re the most accepting and nonjudgmental. I love it.

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