Television is all about firsts, and starting Wednesday night, Third Watch star Anthony Ruivivar has a chance to log his own. Ruivivar stars as multiracial, openly gay attorney Alejo Salazar — with a high-ranking D.C. political figure as a partner — in the new Jerry Bruckheimer legal drama The Whole Truth. Costarring Rob Morrow and Maura Tierney, the show takes an in-depth look at the legal process, from the points of view of both the prosecution and the defense.
Ruivivar says he’s thrilled at the chance to play such a high-profile gay character who is also an ethnic minority, but even more excited that Salazar doesn’t wear his sexuality on his sleeve. Even so, his personal life, the actor assures, won’t be left on the cutting room floor.
The Advocate: The Whole Truth is a legal drama, but with a twist, kind of like The Good Wife turned the genre on its ear last season. Is that what drew you to the project?
Anthony Ruivivar: Yeah – I think The Whole Truth is just comfort food enough that people understand the formula, but we tweak it enough that it starts to feel different. Unlike, let’s say, a Law & Order, we’re law 24/7. We really dive into the law and the workings of it, kind of like ER did with medicine. Our tech advisers are spot-on. Our scripts are spot-on. We painstakingly prep as actors to understand what we’re saying and what it means and what the ramifications are, so I think you’re going to get a full helping of what goes on in a trial, the whole nine yards. If you’re interested in law at all, it’s going to be a wild ride.
So Alejo is a partner at a law firm, he’s openly gay, and a workaholic, from what I gather. What else can you tell me about your character?
He’s basically Jimmy’s [Rob Morrow] right-hand man; they run the firm together. He’s openly gay, his partner is high up in D.C. politics, so it gives him an opening into that world, which inevitably will help them with their cases. Alejo is the nuts and bolts of Jimmy’s operation. Jimmy and Alejo met when Alejo was fresh out of college. Jimmy saw a lot of prospect in Alejo — the day Alejo graduated, he showed up for work, and the two became best friends. Alejo is kind of like a genius with law briefs and is Robin to Jimmy’s Batman.
What drew you to the role? We’ve had many gay characters on TV, but an openly gay political figure and his partner is pretty groundbreaking.
You know, being an ethnic minority, my first things were ... I’ll just be taking what’s behind the register and shut up. So I’m definitely aware — look, we’ve come a long way, we’re not out of the woods yet. But I’m really proud to play an ethnic minority gay character on network television. We’re definitely going somewhere. The thing I really like about the character is that he just is gay. It’s not like they put it on a pedestal and make a big deal out of it. It felt to me like, this is the world we live in, get used to it. His sexuality is his sexuality, it’s not something that precedes who he is as a human being.
In press notes for the show, they refer to your partner as your husband. Are they indeed married?
[Laughs] You know, I’m not really sure. I think Noah Wyle on ER said it best. He said, “I didn’t know I had a brother until episode 10, and I didn’t know my brother was dead until episode 20.”
So you’ll find out a few weeks before we find out.
Exactly. I know they’re together and partners; I’m not sure if they’re actually married.
Will we get to see a lot of Alejo’s personal life outside the courtroom?
They’re going to live their personal lives through work. I think Tom [Donaghy, creator and executive producer] does a great job of getting personal stories, getting who these people are, getting character and chemistry, all while going through the case. Most people kind of live their lives while working, so we’re not ever really going to go home with Jimmy or Kathryn [Maura Tierney] and see what happens, although home lives and personal lives definitely influence each show. In the second episode we’re dealing with parenthood. Jimmy’s father is in rehab; Alejo mentions that when he came out, his father kicked him out of the house. So they’re all dealing with these issues through the case. That’s where we’ll get personal.
We often hear that gay actors have a tough time getting work in film and TV. We also hear that is often the case with mixed-race actors. What has your experience been?
Well, I’ve definitely found that to be the case. I mean, look, there are gay actors playing straight roles on TV, playing gay roles. I think that, if you look at the amount of gay roles that were available last pilot season and the roles that were available to ethnic minorities, they’re 2% of the roles out there. It definitely is a competitive market and it needs to improve, but I think we’re moving in the right direction. Like I said, I’m really proud to be able to nail two birds with one stone.
On Third Watch they made it a point to note your character’s diverse ethnic background. Is that the case on The Whole Truth?
We haven’t really explored that yet, but I kind of like that. I like that my first scene isn’t explaining what my ethnic background is. It’s almost like, “Why is this gay, brown person here?” It’s really cool that they don’t — that’s one of the things I find interesting. This is the world we live in. It’s a mixed world. Sexuality, my ethnicity, all of theose things don’t come before who he is as a human being.
When you shot the pilot, Joely Richardson was one of the stars, but she’s left the series and been replaced with Maura Tierney. Did you then reshoot the pilot?
We reshot all of the stuff that Joely was in. So we definitely did extensive reshoots. Not changing the pilot, just putting Maura in.
Maura’s had a pretty tough year, and I think people are excited to see her back on television. What has it been like working with her?
She’s the best. We share a lot of history but had never really worked together. We’re both from the John Wells camp. She was doing ER, I was doing Third Watch [Wells executive-produced both shows]. We both know the same people — actors, directors, producers. Just as a human being, she’s this amazing, feisty, fun, bighearted actress. I totally get why the television public loves her. She’s just one of those people.
You’ve appeared in a couple of pretty prominent gay films. High Art is a huge film for lesbian audiences, and it was the start of a big career for Lisa Cholodenko. What do you remember most about that project and working with her?
Lisa and Dolly Hall [producer], they’re the best. I lived in New York for 13 years. I just recently moved out to L.A. They’re just groundbreaking, continually producing stuff. I remember that it was a shoestring budget; we shot the majority of it in this decrepit warehouse in Brooklyn. But they did some really cool stuff. I just felt at the time that we were shooting something really edgy and raw, and I haven’t had that feeling in a really long time. I think things have since taken on that gritty look and feel, but at the time, that’s really the heyday of independent films. The term independent film — who knows what that category is anymore. But at that time, that was the real deal. I still keep in touch with them — it’s one of those experiences where I may not talk to them for two years, but then I’ll see them and pick up right where we left off.
Congratulations also on your play. Tell me about Safe.
Safe is great. I wrote Safe in New York post-9/11. It’s about five people trapped in a bank vault in the aftermath of a robbery, playing off of this whole idea of what happens when five people are left to wonder whether they’ve been taken hostage, if they’re running out of air. I was motivated by the Stanford Prison Experiment, where you just see the human psyche and where that will take a group of five people who are trapped. It’s exciting. Samuel French ended up buying it and publishing it. I’ve been really happy because it’s had a life of its own. People have done it in L.A., Chicago, Vancouver. It’s done really well. Me and the cowriter are also working on a screenplay in our off time. I started in theater. The is a part of my life. Even though I do TV and film, it’s in my blood.