When it was announced late last year that actor Haaz Sleiman would not be returning as gay nurse Mo-Mo in Nurse Jackie’s sophomore season, fans of the Showtime series feared the surprise departure signaled a “code blue” for gay content. Skeptics can safely swallow a chill pill: Stephen Wallem, who played peripheral gay nurse Thor last season, has been promoted to a regular. A professional stage actor for almost 25 years and a fixture of Chicago’s cabaret scene, Wallem, who now lives in New York, discusses his very personal connection to the part — and why his lesbian sister had something and nothing to do with it.
Advocate.com: You and Nurse Jackie writer, cocreator, and co–executive producer Linda Wallem share the same last name.
Stephen Wallem: Yes, how about that? Linda is my big sister, and this is the first time we’ve worked together professionally.
And both you and Linda are openly gay.
Yes, we’re very close, and we were both been blessed with the most supportive family to come out to. We also have an older brother who’s straight, so my mom got grandchildren out of it, thank God. [Laughs] We also had a gay uncle, my mom’s brother, who we lost a couple years ago. He had a huge influence on Linda and me, both artistically and personally. He was a playwright, so he instilled both of us with a love of theater and classic movies. He was with his partner for over 30 years, so we grew up seeing a rock-solid gay marriage between Uncle Jim and Ken even before we understood what that meant. That was wonderful for us to see, but it also raised our standards really high.
Were you lucky enough to not have to audition for Thor?
No, I went through the same audition process as everybody else did. As much as Linda would love to have final say on everything, that’s not the way it works with a project like this. She got me in the door for the very first audition, but after that I was on my own. When you’re dealing with a family member in this kind of situation, you almost have to prove yourself even more. If it were really up to her, I would’ve had a bigger role last season.
Now that Jackie’s gay confidant, Mo-Mo, is gone, how would you describe Jackie’s relationship with Thor?
Jackie is more of Thor’s confidant because she mainly helps him with his problems. Thor was more intimidated by Jackie in season 1, but he really dug her and wished they could be better friends. That starts to happen this season after Thor, who’s diabetic, has an insulin reaction during work, and I welcome the opportunity with open arms because Edie Falco is the best. I crave and am grateful for any second I get with her on-screen.
Many viewers have expressed concern that losing Haaz Sleiman’s gay nurse, Mo-Mo, would mean a significantly straighter direction for Nurse Jackie.
It’s been so interesting to read the Internet and see the public’s relation to changes on the show. People have jumped to a lot of conclusions and made these assumptions even before season 2 has aired. Just because Mo-Mo is gone, people immediately thought, Oh, they’re cutting back on gay story lines. That’s absolutely not true at all.