Going Mental for Marisa

By Jim Halterman

Originally published on Advocate.com May 28 2009 12:00 AM ET

Marisa Ramirez has taken the route of many aspiring actresses: She did some modeling, appeared in a Backstreet Boys video, and guest-starred in series such as Without a Trace and CSI: Miami. However, the beauty, of Mexican-Irish-American Indian heritage, has found the most success playing roles that are more than a little bit different from who she really is. For three years she played an African-American woman on General Hospital, and now she's taking on playing a lesbian doctor in prime time. Created by Deborah Joy Levine ( Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman ), Fox's new drama Mental, which premiered this week, takes the medical genre to an arena not generally visited on a weekly basis -- the mental hospital. Ramirez plays Chloe Artis, an out and proud doctor not only helping patients find mental stability but also trying to make a relationship work long distance.

While waiting to see how audiences respond to Mental, Ramirez discusses her first major gay role, who she'd like to cast as her on-screen lover, and why women don't seem to be hitting on her ... yet.

When did you find out that Chloe was going to be a lesbian character? I knew when I went in to audition for it. It felt like me as a person. I feel like I'm such a strong person. I teach kickboxing and have been kickboxing for 12 years. I talk about cars all the time. It wasn't a big stretch for me to audition for something like that because I feel like aside from actually dating a woman, I could be a lesbian. Somebody could believe that I was a lesbian.

You've played straight characters on General Hospital and The Young and the Restless, but did you approach Chloe differently? A little bit. What I loved about Chloe was that Chloe has a little bit of an attitude toward men. The other roles that I've always played have been the flirtatious women who always hook up with the men. So Chloe, given that attitude, was really Marisa just doing herself and giving men attitude, which I always want to give. I was tired of being a nice little girl all the time, so this was fun.

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It's established in the second episode that Chloe is in a long-distance relationship with a woman. Will we meet her lover during the course of the first season? No, unfortunately. I always pushed for bringing her in. Who's it going to be? Get me a blond! [ Laughs ] It didn't happen, so I don't know if they are saving it for the second season or maybe they were scared, but I was hoping for some action.

It doesn't sound like the first season is going to be The L Word, huh? I wouldn't mind that at all! That would be so fun!

So, hypothetically, you get the choice to pick Chloe's lover in Mental and it can be any woman you want. Who would you choose? Oh, my gosh! That is such a tough question! There are just so many girls! A part of me has something for blond bombshells.

Like Pamela Anderson? No, not tacky blond bombshells. There's a girl who is up-and-coming and she's so beautiful. Her name is Michelle Pierce and she's a beautiful blond. I think there's something about Katherine Heigl that would make a good love interest. She would be a lot of fun. Maybe Scarlett Johansson. Lucy Liu also popped into my head. I love her! So confident and sexy, and she makes the Chinese language sound like music.

Chloe also has to deal with a cocky male coworker (Nicholas Gonzalez) who comes on to her even after her finds out she's gay. Did you get to tap into some of that attitude? Nicholas and I have kind of known each other off and on for almost 10 years, so for us to sort of work together, it all flows naturally; the character of Arturo is very Nicholas, which is funny. Sometimes, some days when he has his moments, they are very much the same person. I think a part of me always kind of wants to be mean to him because he is who he is. It all flowed very naturally.

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Did you do research on mental illness or mental hospitals for the show? To be honest with you, there have been places in my life where I've had to visit family and friends in mental wards of hospitals, and those are the kind of memories you can never erase and never forget ,so that's always something that was always in my head and an image I would always refer back to. As far as actual research for the show, we really didn't have much time because it was like "two weeks and you gotta leave." We did have an on-set doctor who would help with any sort of terms or anything we needed, and there's always the Internet.

Have you been hit on by women? Oh, I feel dumb now! I don't get hit on by women! I don't really go out. If I do go out, I go to dinner. [ Laughs ] I'm not that exciting, which sucks. I did frequent some gay bars ... I went to the Abbey [in West Hollywood] a few times and there was a moment when I was in the line for the bathroom and a woman looked at me and was like "What's you name?" kind of thing. [ Laughs ] It's never to the point where it's uncomfortable.

How did your husband feel about you playing a lesbian? He was really excited. He was really looking forward to some girl on girl action. Basically every job I get I'm making out with a different man, and I think for Nate -- that's my husband -- he gets a little tired of it. But he understands it's my job, it's what I do for a living, but I can imagine how his family would feel watching me with another man all the time. It's a little weird.

Why do straight guys think girl-on-girl action is so hot but they can't handle guy-on-guy? I don't know! My husband is from Pittsburgh, and I think growing up there he didn't grow up around a lot of homosexual men, but now in L.A. it's so in-your-face, but he's the same way, but I don't know why that is. He won't watch Brokeback Mountain.

What are your thoughts on the opposition to gay marriage? I'm really tired of it. Everyone should have equal rights in every state. I'm just tired of all the arguments and all the controversy.

You grew up in California, right? Did that influence you getting into the entertainment business? I was born in Monterey Park, which is very close to East L.A. When I was 5 years old, my mother worked in a Realtor's office in Beverly Hills, and she was always coming across all these fancy bigwigs in the industry and kept trying to take me to auditions, and I did not want to go. I screamed, I threw fits, and I did everything a child would do to avoid it.

But then you started modeling at a pretty young age. How did that come about and eventually lead to acting? When I was 12 someone approached me and said, "You should model; here, call my agency." I think my mother instilled the industry was always in the back of my mind, and when I was 12, I think I was kind of ready to sample just a piece of it. Modeling is totally different from acting, but that's how it started. I started modeling when I was 12 and was traveling as soon as I graduated from high school. I went to Singapore, South Africa, Australia, Milan, and Hong Kong just doing the modeling circuit, and then I kind of got sick of it. I realized that I developed some personality that I didn't want to have my mouth closed all the time and I wanted to talk. I wanted to express myself and not just wear clothes and have someone poking and adjusting me all the time. So I came home and I got into an acting class and started auditioning, and it kind of went from there.

While you wait to see if Mental is a hit, what are you working on? I'm working on getting another job. Always, I'm always auditioning. I did a little short film with Nicholas, actually, that he produced, but it was only a couple of days, but it was so much fun. As far as everything else, I miss auditioning. It's a weird time. There's not a lot going on and there's not a lot we can audition for except for guest roles and movie roles, but there aren't a lot of movies being produced right now, so it's a weird time. So I'm hoping we get to go back to Colombia, where we shot the first 13 episodes of Mental.

What would be your dream role? I've always said that I want to play a character with a severe problem, whether it is maybe a drug addict or somebody with a mental issue. Or just a role where I can go out there and do a lot of research and fully prepare and something that will just make me feel good at what I accomplish in showing this different character. I feel like I haven't had that opportunity yet. I feel like I don't go out for a lot of these crazy roles that I'd like to go out for, but we'll see.