Sam Pancake: Hollywood's Go-To Gay Guy

Busy character actor Sam Pancake retraces his rocky road to recognition and revisits his most memorable roles.

BY Brandon Voss

February 09 2010 1:45 PM ET

SAM PANCAKE4 X390 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COM

I might approach you about the two Will & Grace episodes where you played Jimmy, one of Jack’s OutTV colleagues.
Well, the first time I did the show I played a bartender on one of the Woody Harrelson episodes. I had this extra playing my bar back — this blond kid who was prettyish in the face and straight off the bus from Kentucky. During rehearsal he turned to me and said, “How come you get to do all the lines?” I said, “Um, because I auditioned for it and got the part?” He was like, “Well, I think when the camera starts rolling I’m just gonna start talkin’.” I was like, “That would not be a very good idea. That’s Jim Burrows over there, a very respected director, and he would not appreciate it if you just started ‘talkin’.’” So he didn’t. A few years later, I swear to Christ, I saw this same kid on TV, and he had fathered Anna Nicole Smith’s child. It was Larry fuckin’ Birkhead! Later, I did one of the OutTV episodes with Rip Taylor, who phone-stalked me to the point that it brought me to tears. I’m genuinely afraid of him. He asked for my number, but I’d seen that Victor Garber, who was also in the episode, had given him his phone number earlier, so I thought, Who’s going to call me when they could call Victor Garber? But then the calls started and didn’t stop for months. He would leave the longest, meanest messages on my machine. I wish I’d saved them, but they hurt my feelings so much at the time that I erased them.

You also played a gay waiter on the short-lived 2005 series Kitchen Confidential and got to stare longingly at star Bradley Cooper.
I did, which was very easy. I love Bradley. He’s really smart and funny, and he was a movie star even before he was a movie star. I used to tell him, “You’ll win an Emmy if things go as they should,” which of course they didn’t. It’s a shame the show got cancelled, but it’s on DVD, so tell your readers to buy it today!

According to IMDb, you were “Man in Car #2” in a 2005 episode of Fat Actress called “Holy Lesbo Batman.”
Kirstie Alley was actually very cool. That’s also the first time I met and worked with Mo Collins from MADtv, who is literally one of the funniest people in the world. She played the lesbian prison guard when we all went to jail. She had me laughing so hard off-camera that I almost wet myself, and that’s never happened before.

Since I’ve got your IMDb profile pulled up, let’s see what else looks interesting. You were in the 1998 TV movie Gia?
I played an assistant to photographer Francesco Scavullo, and Angelina Jolie cusses me out in our scene together. She was very intense but really nice. Jennifer Aniston was also a delight to work with on Friends, so since I’ve had such good experiences with both, I’m like, “I can’t pick a team, y’all!”

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde. Discuss.
Reese Witherspoon and I had a really good time together because we’re both from the South and had similar family dynamics. I played her gay assistant in the first 10 minutes, but they cut out a scene where she’s leaving the firm, has a Jerry Maguire moment, asks who’s coming with her, and I completely turn on her like a dick. Part of me was sad my part got shortened because it was juicy, but at the same time it’s probably better not to be known as the gay guy who turns on Reese Witherspoon.

You played a demon in a 2003 episode of Charmed. Was he gay too?
I don’t think he had a sexuality. But I remember asking Alyssa Milano, “OK, I get killed by a fireball, so how does that work around here?” She was like, “Oh, it’s really the actor’s choice. Just do whatever you want.”

Finally, tell me about Roy Osmond, your character in the 1995 Cagney & Lacey reunion special Cagney & Lacey: Together Again.
Or, as they called it, “The Menopause Years.” That was my first movie of the week. The story was that someone unlikable had been murdered in an apartment building, so all the tenants were under suspicion and they were interrogating me. I had to be like, “I’m a homosexual, and I’m not a strong person, Mrs. Lacey” — not how any gay guy would ever really talk, but that’s how they used to write gay characters back then. I remember looking at the CDs they had chosen for my character’s quote-unquote apartment, and it was just Cher, Barbra Streisand, and Bette Midler — what attention to detail! Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless were both so nice, but what I didn’t know until I saw the fucking movie on TV is that my next-door neighbor was played by Rose Marie from The Dick Van Dyke Show. It’s like the time I did Arrested Development with Liza Minnelli but didn’t get to meet her. Henry Winkler, who I had such a crush on in my youth when he was Fonzie, was also in that episode. He said to me, “Oh, Liza would love you so much.” I’m like, “Because I’m gay, right?” And he said, “Well, I didn’t say that, but I hope you get to meet her. She’s coming later today.” But I couldn’t wait around because I had another job or audition, so I missed meeting Liza and I’ll kick myself forever. I did save the call sheet that said “Henry Winkler, Liza Minnelli, Sam Pancake.” I should frame it.

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