Baby comes early, Daddy comes out

Broadway and TV star B.D. Wong talks about his new book on the harrowing premature birth of his son—and about why he’s finally ready to speak out in The Advocate

BY Fred Bernstein

May 27 2003 12:00 AM ET

Could you bring something to the role because
you’re Asian-American?
No. I cannot. It’s about the literature, about
illuminating the text.

You played Linus in the Broadway revival of
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

It was a really big deal for Charles Schulz to sign off
on that. He did not draw a diverse group of kids. But
I think in 1999 he recognized that the world is a
diverse place, and being so literal on the stage would
send not such a great message. I really related to Linus,
and I never took liberties with the essence of who
that person was.

In 1990, Jonathan Pryce, the British actor, was slated to
play a Eurasian character in the Broadway musical
Miss Saigon. You wrote a letter
denouncing the casting as “dangerously
wrong” and arguing on behalf of
Asian-American actors, “We may never get to do
the work we dream of if a Caucasian actor with
taped eyelids hops on the Concorde.” That
led to a bitter struggle with the producer of the show.
What do you think about the controversy now?
It was a triumph on the part of the Asian-American
community. Until we protested, Jonathan Pryce was
going to wear yellow makeup. [Pryce was dropped from
the show in 1992.] When we compared it to blackface, people
started to get it. Apparently, the lighter the ethnicity,
the harder it is for people to fathom.

So it had a positive effect?
It was undeniably positive. People didn’t
understand what we were talking about before that.
Everything that’s happened since then resonates
with that moment.

But if you say that a Caucasian actor can’t play
an Asian character, why can’t someone else
say that an Asian actor can’t play a Caucasian character?
I would say, it doesn’t work both ways.
It’s just one of those things that
doesn’t.

Back to Oz for a moment: In the last season, Toby
Beecher gets to go home; he’s a free man.
And then Chris Keller frames him, so he’s
sent back to prison. I found that almost too sad to watch.
I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was
about Chris saying, “I cannot be without you. I
cannot live without you in this place.” You have
to believe that Chris loved Toby.

What do you say to your fans who are angry they never got
to see you in the prison shower?
I say, “Send photos. JPEG format
only.”

Since Oz is over, maybe you can help us understand
your character. What was Father Ray’s sexuality?
That’s a really strange question, don’t
you think? You wouldn’t ask a straight person
that question.

Sure I would. I’m interested in how an actor plays
a priest. I thought you might have some insight on
how Ray was able to repress his sexuality.

I can’t imagine doing it. And yet these
people do it. My insight is that the Catholic Church
is full of incredible men and women who are leading
celibate lives, and we should celebrate them.

And Father Ray?
He was straight.

I guess you don’t like it when people expect you
to know particular things because you’re
gay or because you’re Asian.

I know about lots of things that have nothing to
do with being Asian, that you would never guess from
looking at me. I know all about musical theater. I
could go on Jeopardy! and knock off the whole
Broadway show tunes category. Also the whole Bible
stories category.

Because of your upbringing?
No. I wasn’t raised in any religion. Because of
Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, and
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Do you believe in God?
Yes. I think about God a lot; it’s a front-burner
issue for me. God is trying to show me that everything
is going to be all right.

Are you a Democrat?
It’s like religion; it’s like a lot of
things: I don’t know what I am. But I’m
not a Log Cabin Republican. That I know.

Do you worry about Republicans and the Christian right
trying to roll back the freedoms that allowed you
to have Jackson?

I’m concerned about them and alarmed by
them, but I’m not afraid of them. I believe
that love and goodness prevail.

What would you say to the president of the United States
if you found out he was opposed to parenting by
gays and lesbians?

I’d say, “I live in your country;
I pay my taxes; get over it.”

Why do you think so many gay men don’t have children?
I guess a lot of gay people have issues with
their parents, and that must color their ideas about
whether they want to be parents or not. One of my
friends said, “I can’t have kids; I’m a
kid, and I need attention.” But I think of
myself as a kid, as someone who vies for attention.

I’ve met people who, when I talk about my
children, tell me they’re happy just having
a dog.

I had a dog, and I’m sorry to say
it’s not remotely the same. Remember, the part
I like about parenthood is communicating.

Your family has been supportive?
Wonderfully, disgustingly gooey all
around.

Do you think more gay people ought to have children?
Only if they really want to. There’s
something pure about our bloodline: There are no
accidental kids of gay parents. Every single gay parent
desperately, passionately wanted to be a parent.
That’s neat, and I hope we can keep it that
way.

Will you and Richie have more kids?
We haven’t had that period of time yet
where things are calm and we can think about having
another one.

Would you play yourself in a movie of Following Foo?
I don’t know if I could handle doing it
myself. But I might, for closure.

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