All in the Family
BY Ross von Metzke
September 23 2010 8:10 PM ET
In the explosive season 4 finale of Brothers & Sisters, writers of the ABC Sunday night family drama dropped multiple bombshells, but none registered quite so much as the revelation that Uncle Saul is HIV-positive. Played by veteran actor Ron Rifkin, Saul is a rarity on television —a newly out man in his 70s trying to reinvent his life and, in many ways, start over.
But critically acclaimed as Brothers & Sisters has been over its four-season run, since coming out, Saul has often been relegated to the periphery — a shoulder for sister Nora (Sally Field) to cry on and a faithful adviser and confidant for each of the Walker siblings. With the HIV announcement, Rifkin and fans had hoped producers would finally drum up a meaty story line for Saul, but a few weeks into shooting the show’s fifth (and rumored final) season, he says that so far nothing much is happening.
Rifkin talked to The Advocate about his frustrations with the story line, a glimmer of hope in guest star Stephen Collins as Saul’s boyfriend, and how producers could tweak the plot and make the actor more passionate about sticking around.
The Advocate: We learned a big bombshell about Saul in the season 4 finale. What were your thoughts when the writers brought you that story line?
Ron Rifkin: Well, you know, it’s very complicated. My thoughts were, fine. I think it’s important that anytime we have a chance to discuss it to discuss it intelligently, to take it seriously, and to engage people so that they understand that this exists. One of the reasons I was interested in exploring this character is we don’t often see a guy my age gay on television, explored in an intelligent, dignified, funny, serious way. So I thought, when David approached me with it three years ago and said, what if Saul’s gay? I said, bring it on. What happens in network television, often, there are restrictions. There are already two gay characters on the show — “Oh, my God, three gay characters? No. The old guy? No, I don’t know.” So it’s been sort of a struggle, if you understand what I mean. It’s been a struggle to really identify this character and give him some weight.
Has there been push-back from the network? Have you gotten any sense of that?
I don’t personally because they would never do that to me, you know ... I’ve been with this network a long time. Lately I feel the writers have — the character ... I shouldn’t be saying this ... but the character has become sort of peripheral over the last couple of years, and not as involved as he was the first two or three years. It’s been a frustrating struggle for me. It’s really been hard for me. And then, with the reveal of the AIDS thing, I thought, well ... maybe they’ll get into it, but it doesn’t seem to be what they’re interested in. I was hesitant to do this interview with you because I don’t have that much to tell you.
So it’s not something you think they’re going to get into even further down the road this season?
I don’t know. I certainly would like them to. I think they should. They’ve opened up an interesting possibility for the show. I mean, I think people think AIDS is over, and we know it’s not. There’s a little possibility. Stephen Collins [The First Wives Club, 7th Heaven] came on the show and played my boyfriend, and there was enormous chemistry between us. He’s an old friend of mine ... he’s just the greatest guy in the world. Something happened in the script between us, and there was such a dynamic between us that I think they’re going to bring him back. But we’ll see.
So the possibility for love for Saul is still on the horizon?