By Michael Fairman
Originally published on Advocate.com June 01 2009 11:00 PM ET
On a soap opera filled with so much drama, the casual way in which The Young and the Restless announced its landmark first gay character, Rafe Torres (played by Yani Gellman), was refreshing. By casually having it come up in conversation on the now-infamous (or not) April 24 episode of the series, during a potential matchmaking session set up by Lily Winters for her friend Colleen, it set the tone that this daytime drama may truly be making its gay citizens part of the tapestry and not having them stick out like a sore thumb.
But -- and there is a big "but" -- then came the shocking turn of events the week of May 21 that hit the LGBT, mainstream, and soap press hard. It was revealed that Chris Engen (then Adam Newman) reportedly walked off the set for refusing to do a kissing scene with Gellman. The show immediately recast the role with actor Michael Muhney. Sources told Advocate.com that Engen was indeed very unhappy on the set, particularly about the dark direction his character had taken. Rumors have persisted that Rafe and the "straight" Adam, could potentially be lovers or that Adam was playing Rafe as part of his nefarious schemes and was going to sleep with him to do so. Engen countered the accusations that he was homophobic with a statement on his MySpace page, saying the rumors were "absurd. Many of my dearest friends are homosexuals who would be more than happy to speak on my behalf."
But what about Yani Gellman in all of this? A spokesperson for Gellman has refused to let the actor talk about what went down that fateful day, concerned about fueling the fire and the rumor mill. The rep said, "Yani doesn't have the answers to these questions. At the end of the day, the only person who does is the one that is getting slammed [referring to Engen]."
So now what can LGBT fans expect? Good news! Gellman and his alter ego, Rafe Torres, have major story on the way! With the gay legal eagle's client Adam Newman as one possible beau, rumors persist that the arriving John Driscoll (as Phillip Chancellor IV) also could be a love interest. Add to that the mystery of how gay actor Thom Bierdz (the just-returned Phillip III or "Langley") fits into this equation. There seems to be plenty on the horizon for fans who have long wished daytime's number 1 series would add some modern-day gay romance and life into the mix in Genoa City.
Advocate.com chatted with Gellman about his excitement on landing the role, living his dream of appearing on Y&R, and being "the man for the job" to lead the show into a rainbow-colored future.
Advocate.com: There has never been a gay male character on Y&R, which so many fans have wanted for so long, and now it's here ... and you are the guy!Yani Gellman: Yup, there has not been one, ever! Well, there is now!
Did you know when you got the part of Rafe that he was going to be gay, or did you find that out later?I did not know it going in. It was something that the producers ran by me a little later on in the filming process. It took me maybe all of two milliseconds to respond. I thought it was a great idea and we jumped right in.
Did you feel any hesitance?No hesitancy whatsoever. I had some questions about the story line and where they saw it going and really standard questions you would have for any character you play. They assured me that the role was going to be written in a way that would be quite sensitive and conscientiously written, so that really appealed to me. I gravitated toward it and having this great new character to play. I am just like the viewer, wanting to know what's it going to be and what they are going to throw my way. I am ready for any of the great twists that come my way in the story.
Viewers found out in a conversation during a potential setup for a date that Rafe was gay. In case some missed the very nonchalant moment, set it up for us.Basically, Lily was trying to set her good friend Colleen up with me as sort of this new eligible lawyer in town. So she leaves the two of us to talk over coffee, and I sort of mention in a very offhanded way that I am gay. It was done in a way that was sort of matter-of-fact. The nice thing about it was, there was a comfort level with it that I think spoke highly of the show and our audience and where we sort of are right now in society, in that a character on the show can be very much be a lawyer and a person first, and his sexual orientation really is just another element of his persona.
Have you watched any of the other gay story lines on the soaps, such as Otalia on Guiding Light or Nuke on As the World Turns to see how these shows are tackling same-sex issues and relationships?I am a Y&R fan through and through, and I don't stray too far from it. I grew up watching Y&R with my sister after school, and I never dreamed in a million years I would wind up on the set and having it out with some of the heavyweights on the show! It's just awesome! It's a dream come true.
Speaking of the heavyweights, who have you gotten the chance to work with that blew you away, now that you were actually on set living your dream?The funny thing is, it's such a comfortable set to work on. The entire cast has been so welcoming, and they really quickly set you at ease. I had a scene recently with Eric Braeden [Victor], which was a bit of a confrontation scene where about halfway through I had to pinch myself and go, "I can't believe I am locked in a bitter stare down with Victor Newman, one of the biggest icons of daytime television ever!" And then I had to tell my sister about that scene right away, even though you are not supposed to give out spoilers. I was like, "Oh, my God! You are not going to believe who I just had a scene and yelling match with! It was Victor, and it was really cool."
Rafe Torres is Adam Newman's trustworthy attorney. Adam's turn to the dark side has taken so many twists. On one episode Rafe stumbled upon a box with the Botox in it that Adam had been injecting into his eyes to make him appear blind. Is Rafe going to figure this out?I am not at liberty to talk about where the story is going. You would never want to ruin the surprise for the audience.
Does Rafe feel "friendly" or attracted toward Adam? Is he smitten, or is he suspicious of his client?Let me put it like this: Rafe is anything but a dumb guy. At the same time, he has a responsibility to protect his clients' interest, and that is all I will say!
You are related to the former Newman maid, Estella, who was just kicked to the curb after Victor and Ashley suspected her of being behind the "gaslighting" of Ashley.Yes, I am related, and she is my Aunt Estella. We are developing that relationship there, and as the episodes come down the pike, you will see more of the backstory there.
So many men, so little time ... the rumors have been rampant on who will be Rafe's love interest. Could it be the "straight" and twisted Adam Newman, the incoming John Driscoll as Phillip Chancellor IV, the just-returned Thom Bierdz as Phillip Chancellor III, or someone else?I am very much an eligible bachelor. The truth is, I don't know yet who my love interest will be, but I have a couple of people in mind. How's that?
Are people coming up to you on the street and commenting about your new role on Y&R ?No, that has not really come up at all. People do recognize me on the street from this show or other work I have done, but it's never had anything to do with the sexuality of the character. It just has more to do with "keep up the good work" or "I love the show." Y&R has a loyal fan base. What I have learned from the other actors from the show, who have been around a long time, is how to take your time with your fans, because ultimately they make the show what it is.
What would you love to do with your character if you were writing Y&R ?I always wanted to be a lawyer growing up, so I really enjoy the courtroom scenes. I would love a big, long protracted court battle, like some that we have had already.
Many actors who play lawyers in soaps hate the long monologue-type legalese in courtroom cases. But not you, I suspect?I love it! I did a show where I had to play a scientist, so I am used to those big wordy things. It really helps the character and the reality of the situation to have that kind of text to tackle. I love it. It's a great challenge and it's a lot of fun!
What has your family's response been with you playing the first gay character in Genoa City?They were really excited. First, they were excited I was on the show, and then to see my character develop and where we could go.
Fans are always concerned, in the LGBT community, that the powers that be will wimp out on telling a gay story line. What can you tell us?You can expect to see the story line play out. They are not going to leave us hanging here, I can promise you that.
When other members of the Y&R cast found out that you were playing the first gay character in the 36-year history of the show, what did they say? They were like, "How cool! This is awesome. There has never been a gay character on the show, and we are really excited to see where this goes ... and good for you."
Why do you think Y&R decided to tackle this story now?I have no idea. I am not a writer on the show, so I am not sure what goes into the thought process of the writing of the show. I am just happy it happened when it did, so I get to be the man for the job.
On daytime and prime-time soaps, it seems like we have seen the gay character be a gay activist or center of morality. Do you get a sense from Y&R that Rafe will be more integrated into the story?It definitely seems the direction he is going in. They keep that information close to their chests. The whole thing behind soaps and what makes them interesting to watch are the constant twists and turns and unexpected things happening in the plot to keep everyone interested.
I know you are from Toronto, but your family is very global these days.My mom lives in Scotland and my dad lives in Malaysia. They are world travelers, but the rest of my family lives in Toronto. My mom was just out here visiting me in L.A. for a couple weeks.
Did you take mom to the set of Y&R ?I took her to Y&R and she could barely contain herself. I said to her, "Mom, you have to pretend like you have been here before, OK?" She was like, "Like hell I will!" and she was as giddy as a kid in a candy store. My mom had a nice conversation with Eric Braeden about the benefits of meditation, so that was cool.
In closing, if we were to tease what to look forward to from Rafe, what would you say?Look forward to Rafe finding love and justice in Genoa City!