By Brandon Voss
Originally published on Advocate.com April 21 2009 12:00 AM ET
His costar Portia de
Rossi might be a higher-profile homosexual, but Jonathan Slavin
has been working steadily as an out actor since the early '90s.
Best known as a regular on
Andy Richter Controls the Universe
and for his recurring roles in
Caroline in the City
My Name Is Earl
, Slavin currently plays a geeky research scientist named Phil
Better Off Ted
, an absurdist sitcom about a morally questionable corporation
which premiered March 18 on ABC. Revisiting his queer roles in
other series such as
and the short-lived
, the 39-year-old animal rights activist tells Advocate.com how
his sexuality has been a hard pill for Hollywood's schlubby
gays to swallow.
Advocate.com:The relationship between your character Phil and fellow
research scientist Lem is really the heart of
Better Off Ted
. Tell me about that on-screen bromance.Jonathan Slavin:
We are an incredibly enmeshed couple. We fight, we bicker, and
we've probably been together way too long, but neither one of
us is going anywhere, because one of us would cease to exist
without the other one. Malcolm Barrett, who plays Lem, is so
funny and such a genius. Our favorite thing is when they just
let "Lem and Phil" be "Lem and Phil."
In the third episode you even shared the same Hazmat
After we shot the pilot, we came back a few months later to do
the table read for the next episode, and that day they started
fitting us for that suit. It was like, "OK, you guys are
going to get to know each other really quickly. Start
You also have great chemistry with Portia de Rossi, who
plays your boss. As an out actor, what's it like to work with
gay royalty? Are there strict rules of etiquette like when you
meet the queen?
Portia's so not like that. She's a little shy but so sweet that
you just feel at ease with her. Portia's my girl, and I love
her to death. When I found out that she would be on the show,
it was like, "Are you kidding? Two gay vegans on one show?
And both of us playing straight? How the hell did that happen?
It must've slipped right under the radar." It's bananas
because I've spent half my career being told people don't want
to hire me because I'm gay. But it never occurs to [
Better Off Ted
creator, executive producer, writer, and director] Victor
Fresco to think that I can't play a character who has a wife,
or that Portia can't play a character who has sex with a guy.
His mind just doesn't go there, but he's a weird anomaly in
this town. People are usually very up-front about not hiring me
because of my sexuality.
Have you been invited to Portia and Ellen's house?
Ellen's been amazingly supportive of the show, so we all got
together and watched the premiere there. They have a beautiful
home that's first and foremost a home; it feels very
comfortable. There was lots of vegan pizzas, and vegan this,
vegan that. I never go to a dinner party where I can eat
everything on the table, so I was thrilled.
What was the moment you consciously chose to be out in your
There were two, actually, because I sort of did it twice. My
partner, Michael, and I have been together since I was 24 years
old, which was right after I moved to L.A. and started working.
I did a lot of multi-camera half-hour stuff, and he'd always
come sit in the audience, and there was never any kind of
secret about who he was. But I had one show where a gay casting
director asked me, "Is that your boyfriend out there?" I
said, "Yeah." And that's someone who's literally never
called me in for another audition.
Gay casting directors
can be way worse than straight casting directors when it comes
to that. By the time I started doing
Andy Richter Controls the Universe
, there'd been a little lag in my career, and after auditions I
had heard a lot of "They loved you, but you're just too gay,
so they're not going to hire you." So I got a little skittish
I'm just not going to address it.
But that lasted for about a month, and then I couldn't stand it
anymore. So my partner became a fixture around work again, and
everyone knew who he was. There were some issues, and some
stuff made its way back to me, like, "This person is
concerned about what's going to happenâ€¦" But I didn't really
care. I'm weird-looking, so it's not like anyone's trying to
sell me as the hunk. Then in 2005 I got a series,
, where I was finally playing a gay guy. The publicity people
asked if I'd be willing to do any gay press, and I said,
"Totally." I'd been willing to do press about my sexuality
for years, but nobody ever really wanted to talk about it. With
all respect for gay publications and the work that they do, I
think that had I been 6-foot-2, blond, and gorgeous, I would've
been approached sooner. I always was who I was; it just took a
while for people to care.
But now that it's public, do you worry being
gay might pull too much focus in mainstream media?
I was doing press one day on the
Better Off Ted
set, and I was talking to someone about all the reality shows
that I watch. The interviewer said, "Oh, I guess your wife
must be really understanding about that." And I said,
"Well, my husband actually really likes them too." And he
immediately went, "Oh. So what did you think of Sean Penn's
speech at the Oscars?" [
] I was like, "Wow, that was fast!" But I'll talk to anyone
about it, and if you want to put it on E! or whatever, knock
Let's backtrack to that gay casting director you mentioned.
Why are gay casting directors worse than straight ones?
There's a significant amount of internalized homophobia that
happens there. What happens sometimes with gay writers, gay
directors, and gay casting directors is that they sort of look
like me: They're sort of schlubby, middle-aged gay guys who
have always been schlubby gay guys, and who have always wanted
to be around really hot guys. When you give those people power,
they tend to surround themselves with the people that they find
dreamy, and they have a tendency to fetishize the conversion of
hot straight guys. Like, you hear stories about them not
yelling "cut" on the set of
Brothers & Sisters
when Jason Lewis and Matt Rhys were kissing. It starts with the
gay people in power, but the responsibility falls on us in the
gay community because we tend not to care if a straight guy
plays a gay character as long as they're cute. We'll choose abs
over politics, and that's our problem. It's up to us to say,
"But I'd like to see a gay person playing a gay
Have you actively gone after gay roles?
I have actively sought after some gay roles that I haven't even
been able to get seen for because they've said, "It's not
that kind of gay; we want
gay, so we're only seeing straight guys." The industry thinks
that in order to make a gay character palatable, it has to be
gentrified. I love playing gay characters because gay
characters are safer with gay actors than they are with
straight actors. We can be more trusted to handle them. If
someone said to me, "You can play nothing but gay people the
rest of your life" -- after
Better Off Ted
completes its seven-year run, of course -- I would say,
"That's great. I'm happy to do that."
You memorably played gay in the 2005 indie
, in which your character participates in a scientific study
for a new drug that turns gay men straight.
They had started that project a year before with a straight
actor that they just loved, but a couple of weeks into the
project he actually said, "I think you need to reconsider me,
because I don't get this. This doesn't make sense to me."
They went back to the drawing board, and I just happened to
audition. They asked me if I understood the material, and I was
like, "Uh, do I understand a plain-looking middle-aged gay
guy? Yeah, I think I got it."
You played a new gay dad in
, which was canceled after only two episodes. Did that
experience influence your decision to raise a menagerie of pets
instead of children?
I had some moments on
where I was like, "This is great!" But then I'd be holding
a baby who would start to get upset, so they'd bring me its
sleeping, docile twin and switch it out, and I don't think
that's what parenthood is really like. I love kids, but I have
to be honest: I am that person at a dinner party who's a little
relieved when the kids go to bed. Michael and I have talked
about adopting an older child or a sibling set that's been
stuck in the system, but babies are not that interesting to me.
They don't really do much.
you portrayed an HIV-positive gay man, which seemed
gutsy for a series on the WB network geared to a young
I was so excited because I was coming on to this existing
series, and it was one of the nicest groups of actors I've ever
had the pleasure of working with. I continue to worship Lori
Loughlin as a goddess. What's weird is that I played this gay
character, and on my first episode I had this whole speech I
say to her character because I'm trying to get her to life her
life: "According to the best doctors of our time, I should be
dead right nowâ€¦ You wake up in a hospital with a priest giving
you last ritesâ€¦ And that's why I live the way that I liveâ€¦"
So Lori and I talked that day about how amazing it was that
they were putting an HIV-positive character on a WB show. I saw
some of the fan pages where people were either talking about
how great it was to see an HIV-positive character or
complaining, "Of course they introduce this flaming gay guy
and the first thing he says is that he has AIDS." So the show
folded right after I did some press for the California AIDS
Ride about playing this character. Then I ran into the
showrunner, who was like, "Oh, no, that speech wasn't about
HIV. We didn't want to get specific, but in our heads he had
survived a car accident." I told Lori that, and she said,
"Well, that seems a little naive." If you have a gay guy my
age talking about facing death, you're going to think it's
an HIV issue. But I played it like it was HIV, so I'm glad I
didn't know that. If they had thrown in a line about a car
accident, I would've absolutely fought it, and then I probably
wouldn't have gotten to do as many episodes as I did.
Because you worked on
with Jesse McCartney and Zac Efron, are you allowed to find
them hot now?
No! And I'm completely freaked out when people make them sex
symbols. Leave them alone! Those are still little boys to me.
Now Zac is this shirtless sex symbol? That child is 15 years
old! Because I certainly haven't gotten any older since
, so why would they have?
How do you feel toward actors who remain closeted?
It's certainly no way to win the revolution. It's the same way
I am about being a vegan: I don't go to a dinner party and tell
people what they're eating is bad, but I just try to be an
example by the way that I live my life.
Which openly gay actor do you look up to most?
When I was a little kid living in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., I
thought I was the only person who had the feelings that I had,
and I would pray and pray that they would be taken away from me
because I couldn't imagine living my life this alone. Then I
read an interview with Terry Sweeney when he started doing
Saturday Night Live
, and he talked about how he told the producers when they hired
him that he had a husband and wasn't going to pretend that he
didn't. I had a moment of release, and it made me feel less
alone. I know I should say something like, "Nathan Lane is
great," but I will always remember that Terry Sweeney said
magazine, which I read furtively because it was weird for a
little kid to read
I read on various online sources that you're actually
married to David Boreanaz's sister. Are you sure you're not a
closeted heterosexual, Jonathan?
I worked with David, and he said, "Hey, my brother-in-law's
name is Jonathan Slavin. I've never met another Jonathan
Slavin." I was like, "Oh, weird." All of a sudden, it
appeared on my IMDb page and my Wikipedia page that I was
married to David's sister. I keep telling these sites that I've
been married for almost 15 years to a guy named Michael, but
it's hard to get those things corrected. It's kind of upsetting
to me, and it doesn't thrill my husband either, to be perfectly
honest. Until I can get it changed, I guess I'll just have to
act as gay as possible so that no one thinks it's actually