By Byron Flitsch
Originally published on Advocate.com December 17 2008 1:00 AM ET
known for playing the role of an outspoken, eccentric,
overbearing PFLAG mom on Queer as Folk, a tough
cop named Cagney on Cagney & Lacey, and
most recently the mouthy mother on Burn Notice.
But Sharon Gless has returned to gay and lesbian audiences
playing a new kind of role: an actual lesbian.
Hannah Free, a film adapted from the play by
Claudia Allen, tells the story of two women, Hannah (played
by Gless) and Rachel, who grow up together in a small
town and develop an undying love for each other.
Due to the social ramifications of homosexuality in
their generation, their love goes through trials as Rachel
chooses to live a traditional, heterosexual life while
Hannah continues on as an unapologetic lesbian. The
plot follows a nonlinear timeline, weaving scenes set
in the past and present, letting the audience see who the
two lovers once were and what they have become.
wrapped production on the film in Chicago, where she sat
down with Advocate.com to talk about the movie and how
it relates to Prop. 8.
Advocate.com:You’re shooting Hannah Free in Chicago.
How’s the city been treating you so far?Sharon Gless: I love Chicago. I haven’t
had too much of a chance to see it. I’m here on the
set for the majority of it and get to stay in a coach
house behind the house we’re filming in. When
I’m there, I’m memorizing lines. I did,
though, get to see Lily Tomlin, which was exciting.
So, I’m not going to lie. To prepare I watched
you as one my favorite characters you have played,
Debbie on Queer ss Folk. What I enjoy about your
career is that you’ve played the role of
Cagney, which was inspirational to lesbians.
You’ve played a role on Queer as
Folk that was extremely supportive of the LGBT
community, and now you’re actually playing
a gay person. How does it feel to finally
“be” one of us? I love it! It’s very natural to me. I
mean, I’m constantly reminding myself that
I’m playing a lesbian. But to me, it’s just
another character. It’s not too different than
playing other roles because it isn’t about just
being gay. It’s about love. In this case, I’m
just in love with a woman.
You’re also working with a cast made up almost
entirely of women. How’s that working out?Everyone is great! It’s fun. Especially seeing
the woman that plays the 30-year-old version of me in
the flashback scenes. She looks just like me!
It’s great to be surrounded by a very talented
collection of women.
Now, the film is based on a play?Yes, a play by Claudia Allen, who also wrote the
screenplay for the film. It’s a very excellent
piece. Claudia is a great friend of mine. We first
worked together to do a radio show that Claudia wrote at
[Chicago theater company] Victory Gardens in the early
'90s. Then, in 2000, Claudia invited me to do another
play at Victory Gardens. It was very fortuitous too,
working with Claudia. I was coming to Chicago to do that
show in 2000 when I was offered a script for a part on
Queer as Folk. That show changed my life, and
the opportunity to play this part of Hannah and work with
Claudia again just seemed fitting, especially being
able to come back to Chicago to play it.
Speaking of Hannah Free, who is Hannah? Hannah is a woman who’s known early on
[as a little girl] that she’s gay. She falls in
love with her friend Rachel when they both are very young.
Hannah has excellent gaydar and knows Rachel is gay too.
It’s not easy for Hannah because she’s
in a little town where that kind of love isn’t
accepted. As time progresses, Rachel realizes she
doesn’t want someone like Hannah in her life
because it’s a life she doesn’t want to accept
or live. Their relationship changes. Rachel gets
married while Hannah travels all over the world.
Hannah is a very sexual person, but she always returns
back home because she knows Rachel is the love of her
life, but you see all of these moments in different times of
her life. She’s strong and knows who she is and
doesn’t apologize for it.
See, that’s interesting because you say Hannah is
strong and unapologetic for who she is. Looking back at
your résumé, it seems like you have
played a variety of parts that fit that mold:
opinionated, outspoken, strong, and yet even vulnerable.
As an actor, have you always sought out these
parts consciously? I didn’t consciously choose them, but I
knew I was better at them. Not to say they are easy to
play, but I am better with them. What’s interesting
is that in real life, I’m pretty shy. But I do have
that quality in me, that mouth. It’s just more
fun playing outrageous people like that. Hannah fits
the roles I love playing -- she and Rachel are so
What is the relationship between Hannah and Rachel? [The audience] comes to the story, present time,
in a nursing home where Hannah and Rachel are both
staying. Rachel had a stroke and has been in a coma
for quite some time. Hannah is there because she fell off a
roof and couldn’t take care of herself.
That’s totally Hannah, by the way, someone
working on a roof in her 60s. But Hannah is not allowed to
see Rachel because her family knows about the history
of their relationship and refuses to allow Hannah to
visit. Obviously, because the two were never married
or couldn’t be married, Hannah has no authority to
fight the family’s decision, and it’s
extremely painful for Hannah.
Which is relevant to what’s going on right now in
civil rights history with Proposition 8 [the measure
rescinding same-sex marriage rights in
California]. You’re playing a character that
can’t be with the one she knows she loves
with all her heart because others don’t
accept it, while living your real life in a historical
moment where people are now legally having that
opportunity taken away. What are your thoughts on
Proposition 8?It won’t last. It’s like gays just
aren’t allowed to do anything. And the thing
is, the proposition isn’t just about being gay,
it’s about being a human being. Marriage
isn’t just about love, it’s also about the
legal benefits. Why can’t same-sex couples at least
have that? I believe it will be turned around.
It’s against the Constitution and just won’t
stand. It might take bit by bit, but [Hannah
Free] is just about that -- people just trying to get
only what they deserve.