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 02 2001 12:00 AM ET

The obligations
of newly minted stardom include photo shoots like the one
the next day in the Toronto studio of photographer Chris
Chapman. In between shots, Paige does handstand
pushups. Feet against the wall, arms extended, palms
flat on the floor, he pumps the muscles of his chest and
shoulders as adeptly as any Calvin Klein model. He is
shirtless, his muscular alabaster torso rising from a
pair of trashy black leather pants selected by a
stylist. The makeup artist has smoothed and buffed the skin
of his face, highlighting the wide planes of his cheekbones.
He looks like a star today, lit by both the studio
lights and the sunlight streaming through the dirty
industrial glass of the studio windows.
“It’s very flattering,”
says Paige in response to a question about how he
deals with his new, higher profile. For years he went out
dancing to get cruised, to be noticed. Now the
experience is double-edged. “It’s an
incredibly vulnerable feeling as well,” he adds.
“They have a lot of information about who I am
and what I do, and I literally have no idea who they
are, so it’s a very uneven playing field.”
The ninth episode of Queer as Folk opened
with Emmett naked in front of the computer engaging in
cybersex. Paige asked his mother to “tune in
two minutes late” for that episode. He imagines that
her response to his new fame is a complicated one.
Although both of his parents were supportive of him
when he came out, he says, “there are likely
various elements” to his mother’s take on the
show: “There is seeing your son’s
success, seeing your son get semifamous, seeing your
son become a poster boy for alternative sexuality—and
other things that parents and kids aren’t
supposed to feel comfortable talking about. She’s
expressed real pride in my candor and in my lack of apology.
For Paige, personally, the as-yet-undefended
border is the line not between who he was then and is
now but between who he is and who—and
what—he is perceived to be. How it will affect his
primary relationship, the one with his boyfriend, is
anybody’s guess and likely nobody’s
business. Lately the two have spent more time apart than
Paige considers healthy. “Of course it puts
stress on the relationship,” he says softly.
“I think the notion that any two people can be apart
for nine months and not have it be a challenge is absurd.”
And Paige realizes he won’t be returning
to Los Angeles as the anonymous actor he was when he
left in July 2000. “I know [my boyfriend] has
concerns about what it will be like for us to go out and not
have it be what it was. I don’t know how he
couldn’t. I do. It’s not jealousy as
much as it’s fear of the unknown.”
It’s been a new experience for Paige the
actor as well as Paige the person. “I’ve
never played one role this long,” he says.
“I’m ready to get back to the world of
my life. And, yes, I’m a little scared. I hope
my life is essentially the same.”
Still, he has no regrets. “I’m
always drawn to edgy, interesting, controversial
stuff,” he continues. “I knew this would be
heated. I knew it would be dangerous. I knew it would
piss people off in every direction. I understand
people being uncomfortable with some of it. I get
uncomfortable sometimes. Sometimes I read a script and say,
‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe I’m
doing this,’ or, ‘Boy, does this not show this
character in his or her best light.’ But I also knew
it was human and true. If I thought for one moment
that this was slanderous or dishonest or denigrating
to the community as a whole, I wouldn’t be involved
with it in a million years.”

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