The full Paige

As the most flamboyant character on Showtime’s Queer as Folk, out actor Peter Paige has given a lot of thought to the show’s impact on gay lives—and on his own career and long-term relationship

BY Michael Rowe

June 01 2001 11:00 PM ET

Ironic, maybe,
but not surprising, once you know something of
Paige’s enlightened upbringing. He was born in
Connecticut, and his parents divorced before he was 2.
He lived and traveled with his mother until he was 11.
“My mother worked at a feminist bookstore,” he
says. “I don’t remember what it was
called. I always called it ‘Uterus Rising.’ I
used to sleep in a Babe Didrikson T-shirt. I was
surrounded by funky bisexual women who all changed
their names to reflect their African roots. At the age
of 6, I would go out with them and engage in
conversations.” That exposure to his
mother’s world, Paige says, “gave me a sense
that there was something out there for me.”
At 11, already intent on being an actor, he
moved in with his father. He attended an arts high
school in Raleigh, N.C., graduated summa cum laude
from Boston University in theatre arts, then lived in New
York and Portland, Ore., before settling in Los
Angeles—a city he now desperately misses.
Toronto in winter is everything that Los Angeles is not.
Paige misses his boyfriend, and he misses his best
friend. He misses his godchildren, Morgan and
Charlotte. Mostly, though, he misses the California
sun. “I feel like I’ve been on a submarine for
nine months,” he says lightly, looking out the
window at the slate-gray Canadian sky, streaked with
freezing rain. “I’m looking forward to a
little bit of shore leave.”
Paige’s casual openness about his life
has spared him the endless questions about straight
actors playing gay characters that other cast members
have faced. He has no patience with such questions, in any
case. “I find the idea that straight actors
playing gay roles is somehow exotic offensive in the
same way that I find the notion that I as a gay actor
might not be able to play straight characters after this
show offensive,” Paige sighs. “The fuel
to the fire is that the show actually has sexual
energy to it. Not only are these actors playing gay guys,
they’re playing gay guys who actually have sex.
They’re called upon to invest in the emotional
lives of the characters, and they’re called upon to
actually touch bodies.”
As for his fellow cast members’
occasionally ill-considered answers to questions about
physical contact, he says, “There is something about
the question ‘What’s it like to kiss a
guy?’ that is innately homophobic. What does it
matter? You’d never in a million years ask an actor
who was doing an interracial relationship what it was
like to kiss a black person.”
Paige acknowledges that apart from himself and
fellow out actor Randy Harrison, who plays 18-year-old
Justin, and many of the producers and writers, the
cast and crew members of Queer as Folk are mostly
straight as arrows. Dominated by craftspeople, a film set
can resemble a high-tech construction site at times,
and a blue-collar ethos more often than not carries
the day. Yet Paige says the culture on the set has been
embracing, if occasionally wondering, as any initial
trepidation among the heterosexual crew members
dissolved quickly.
“It comes back to the notion of living
out of the closet,” Paige explains. “One
of the grips came up to me one day and said, ‘Before
I started to work on the show, I was completely
homophobic. But seeing this every day and getting to
know you as a person has changed that. I was
completely wrong.’ And what the fuck else do you
need? That’s what I’m after.
That’s what I’m about. That’s
what’s important to me.”
Back at Paige’s apartment after the lunch
on Church Street, the phone rings several times during
the course of the afternoon, and at least twice
it’s Paige’s friend and costar Scott Lowell,
who plays Ted, Emmett’s emotionally repressed
sidekick. The two actors have formed a close
friendship over the past nine months. Paige has nothing but
praise for Lowell, and Lowell characterizes Paige as
“wonderful to work with” and
“very giving, very alive.” He proposes that
Ted and Emmett are unofficially “the new Odd
Couple,” referring to the fact that the two
represent opposite yet inseparable ends of the gay spectrum.
Behind the scenes, Lowell says, the actors have more
similarities than differences.
“You need to remember that our offscreen
personalities are quite different from our on-screen
ones,” Lowell cautions. “Peter is not as
flamboyant as Emmett, nor am I as conservative as Ted is. We
do share a similar sensibility. Peter has been great
for me in terms of calling me on my shit, and vice
versa. We’re both really good at listening. Early
on, those talks were dealing with the show and our roles,
and then we became better friends, and that led into
our personal lives. I don’t know what I would
have done up here without him.”
Lowell is well aware of the career risks Paige
has taken by playing it the way he has. Yet he
insists, “I really don’t worry about Peter
Paige or Randy Harrison. They have the strength to
prove themselves. The amount of bravery it takes in
this day and age to be out in this business is
unfortunate, though.”
“I’ve been a good boy my whole
life,” Paige says. “The main thing was
always to be pleasant, to be kind, to make nice. To play by
the rules. Well, one day that stopped serving me. It
took me a long time to realize that I had my own rules
and those were the ones I needed to live by. I needed
to figure out what I valued. When I did, that’s when
my career began.”

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