The Ties That Bind

By Michael Fairman

Originally published on Advocate.com June 07 2009 11:00 PM ET

How does a gay son come back from this one? Your biological father, upon learning you are gay, decides that that the best way to "help" you is to send you to a deprogramming camp where they claim to turn young teens straight ... all the white trying to get his hands on your rightful inheritance. That is what As the World Turns' Luke Snyder dealt with in 2006, the last time Damian Grimaldi came back to Oakdale.

Fast-forward to 2009, and a mysterious hit-and-run on Luke, a pair of distant whack-job Grimaldi relatives, and the return of Damian to Oakdale, and it would seem like this father and son are about to implode once again. But wait -- something has changed. This time, Damian wants to make up with his son and has accepted his sexuality.

The fantastic Daytime Emmy-nominated Van Hansis (Luke) and the mysterious, sexy, and very Italian Paolo Seganti (Damian) are winning raves from gay and straight soap fans alike for their believable portrayal of an estranged father and son trying to find common ground and rebuild their relationship. So what can viewers expect next? Hansis says there is an exciting upcoming story not only for Nuke (that's Luke and boyfriend Noah) but for daytime's most conflicted father and son.

Advocate.com:First, Van, congratulations on your Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor. What scene of Luke's did you submit for the competition?Van Hansis: I submitted a scene from last May or June when Ameera had just left, and Luke and Noah are breaking up. Luke is trying to get Noah to stay in their relationship. I chose it because I remember shooting it that day and feeling really good about it after we shot the scenes. Sometimes as an actor you get these cathartic scenes, and it just felt really good. I knew from that moment on, this is what I would submit.

Well, LBGT fans would love to see someone who plays a gay character win an award.Hansis: Well, Sean Penn just won one, so there you go.

I mean in daytime!Hansis: Sean Penn is not doing daytime these days. [ Laughs ]

Paolo, what did you think of Van's nomination?Seganti: I am thrilled for my son! [ Laughs ]

VAN HANSIS AND PAOLO SERGANTI ATWT (PROMO)

Paolo, do you like the story of the reconciliation between father and son and the pacing of the story of Luke and Damian?Seganti: Yeah, it's great. One of the reasons I came back to ATWT this time -- besides the fact that I am closer to my home in L.A. and my family -- is that I can work with Van again. One of the reasons I came back a few years ago was because I was so intrigued with the story line. At that time, it was very real and predictable for a guy who grew up in Europe with Damian's background to react that way to Luke being gay. I am a father in real life, so it's cool this time how we are playing this out.

A few years ago it was Damian who sent Luke to a deprogramming camp for teenage boys to turn them from gay to straight. Looking back on that, how do you feel about that plot point?Hansis: I thought that was a great story, and I thought it was an intriguing twist. I remember I visited some websites where this happens to people ... a kid comes out and a parent does not accept them, and the parents think they can do something and he will change.

Back then; Damian really thought he was doing the best thing for his son?Seganti: It's not that you don't love your kid. You do. But then, you have to love your son and accept him the way he is, and try to support him the best way you can. His first reaction is a bit of a shock. Damian grew up in a very conservative country and had a strict upbringing. I thought it was fine that we went in that direction back then. Coming back now and being able to play the difference that he is accepting who his son really is, is wonderful.

Has Damian really accepted his son's sexuality?Seganti: Yes, he has.

Does Luke feel that?Hansis: Luke feels that. I think some things we are taping that won't air for a couple of months illustrate that Damian understands Luke more than anybody else. I can't get into it more than that. But Luke is going to go through some major decisions in his life. Everyone is telling him what to do, but Damian is the only one who asks him what he wants to do. So there is a connection between the two, and they are trying to put the past behind them. I think that's what makes it such an interesting story. It's an estranged father and a son trying to make their relationship work.

That what's resonating with the audience, and that's a real issue that is represented on-screen. What was the turning point for Luke, when he let his dad back into his life?Hansis: I think after all the stuff happened with Zac and Zoe ... the crazy pseudo-twins. I think when Damian saved Luke and Noah's lives, and then started helping out with Luke's foundation, he proved to Luke he is trying to change. I have a couple of friends whose fathers left them when they were very young and abandoned the family. Growing up, what does that do to somebody? Even though Luke has Holden, Damian is his blood. He wants a connection with that, like anybody would.

Holden has always been Luke's "father." How does Damian feel now about his rival?Seganti: It's always been a tough road there, because Damian has always been deeply rooted with Lily [Luke's mother]. He is not going there now, because it would jeopardize all the work he has done to get closer to Luke again. And he does not want to lose Luke's trust, and that's the main thing Damian wants ... to rebuild the relationship with his son and take his time. But Damian is still very much in love with Lily. Holden has always been his archrival. He took Damian's place. Damian was kicked out in the old days and it was not his choice. He fought to have custody of Luke and he lost it. He had no choice in the matter. He does not hate Holden; he is just the guy between him and his rightful wife and son. Damian is letting dogs sleep for now, but he is so connected with Lily, and inside he would love to form a family again. But he is not there yet ... so, one step at a time.

VAN HANSIS AND PAOLO SERGANTI ATWT 3 (PROMO)

How does Luke view Holden?Hansis: Luke does not call Damian "dad". Luke calls Holden "dad". Holden is the person that raised Luke. Holden is Luke's father in every sense of the word. Also, Luke and Holden had scenes recently, after Luke was the one who convinced Damian to stay in Oakdale. Lily was OK with it, and Damian was thrilled with it, and Holden was the one who had an issue with it! I think where Holden is coming from is; he has his family and his life back after everything that happened with Carly. Things are starting to get back on track with Lily, and then Damian comes in. Not only is he a threat to Holden's marriage, but also, he is a threat to Holden's fatherhood. Holden is very wary of Damian, but Holden loves Luke, and wants Luke to make his own kind of decision of what he wants with Damian.

As ATWT viewers see it, Holden has constantly stood by Luke! Even when his mother and Damian had to grapple with their son being gay, Holden was there for Luke.Hansis: Holden was the only one. Lily came around, but at first she was more shocked than anything, but Holden was the one who put it together before Luke came out, and Holden was the one who was most accepting.

But is our "Luciano" more like a Grimaldi than a Snyder? He must feel conflicted.Hansis: I do think Luke feels a pull -- like between My Two Dads. Wasn't that a sitcom or something? I think what's interesting in the writing right now is that you are seeing much more of Damian's influence on Luke, whether Luke knows it or not. Luke is starting to act more like Damian. He has taken a lot of the same risks that Damian has taken, and he has a lot of the same self-centeredness that Damian has, in terms of justifying the means. I think that definitely comes from Damian. He also has Holden's stubbornness and the way Holden cares about family. Luke is a good mix of his three parents -- Holden, Damian, and Lily.

Were you surprised that in the story, Damian took an instant liking to and was accepting of Noah, Luke's boyfriend?Seganti: No. I already accepted that Luke was gay. In meeting Noah, I just wanted a confirmation about the guy. By choosing Noah, who is awesome and a great person, my son is a great judge of character, and is in good hands as well. For Damian, it was the icing on the cake to meet Noah. He believes they love each other. He is a great guy and very grounded. Noah has been through a lot in his life to be a rock for Luke. Luke is up and down right now, and he does not know what to do with his life and his foundation, so Damian is happy that he has this guy in his life. Noah was the first person who felt Damian meant well and that Luke should give Damian the benefit of the doubt.

Hansis: I think it was really good to have Noah be the one who accepted Damian. Damian was saying, "I'm sorry for my actions, and I have had a lot of time to think about it," and Luke did not trust that. And I think this time, more so than when Damian came back a couple of years ago, what Damian says he is doing now, his actions reflect it; where what he used to say he was doing one thing, and his actions were completely different. I think Noah is a good judge of character and much more rational than Luke.

Nuke are becoming involved in filmmaking, especially Noah!Hansis: Noah is in school to be a filmmaker. So when Paul kidnaps Eliza, Noah has an idea to make a tape of Meg to put on YouTube asking Paul to bring Eliza back. Luke helped him.

Coming up, there is trouble ahead, as all ATWT fans know; Colonel Mayer is on his way back. Also, the exciting news that Forbes March will be joining the cast in July, and he is playing gay too!Hansis: Yes, there is the Colonel Mayer stuff and the Forbes March character being thrown into the mix in July. His character will be involved with Luke and Noah, but I don't know where the story is going, because we just started taping it.

Where are Nuke at this point in their relationship?Hansis: They have been happy together for a while now, and it's a soap, so I don't know how long they will be happy.

Since you travel and work all over the world, Paolo, do you see a big difference of how gay people are treated now, and that some of the old prejudices are falling away?Seganti: So much so! I think there is such a big leap forward in acceptance for gay people.

Did being in this story change your perception of gay people?Seganti: It's not about, "Oh, this guy came out or this guy is gay." It has been like this for years. I have been working in the fashion world as a model and an actor for a while now. When I first left Italy 20 years ago it was different. Now there are always things in movies on gay subject matter and on daytime with ATWT. We are going forward a hundred miles an hour compared to the old days!

Van, did you think the role of Luke would ever last this long?Hansis: I was hired for three months, and I have managed to stretch it out for three and a half years. Every day I go to work I am so happy. I remember being so thrilled that I was going to be working for three months, and I don't have to wait tables for three months! I think what happened with the show was they were telling this new story that has never been told on daytime before, and with a core character instead of a peripheral character. They were waiting to see what the fan reaction would be. And as Paolo said, the fan reaction proved how we are moving a hundred miles an hour with it. The fan response was so immensely popular, and so much more than anyone thought it would be.

Why do you think the character of Luke is so popular?Seganti: In New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, gays are accepted and are part of those cities' fabric. But if you go elsewhere, that is not always the case. A lot of people who are fans of the show and the story line are people who are going through what Luke went through at worst; when Damian sent Luke to a camp, or feeling people will crucify them. There is still a lot of that, but in much of the world it is a normal thing right now. That is why a lot of people are so happy about the story line, being it's something they can relate to, as they are still living every day, with difficulty.

Hansis: I totally agree. I think that is what the audience of daytime reaches. People generally in New York City and San Francisco are not really the soap demographic, per se. So I think to have this story told on daytime, where we do have a huge fan base in the Midwest and the South, for it to be celebrated is a huge step.

Seganti: They are living their own drama, and people are seeing on our show it's OK to accept it. The thing is to love your kids and help them out as much as you can. So this story should be a huge help to kids and families.

In the film Milk, I was struck by the scenes where the young man in a wheelchair would call Harvey and tell him he was stuck and could not get out, because he was in some little town. Do you ever get e-mails or correspondences from gay people similar to that?Hansis: I don't get that as much as something else. A recurring item in e-mails and correspondence is from older people who tell me, they wish this story had been told 20 years ago "because it would have helped me." I can't help but think because of this story, and how people are reacting to it, that there will be kids 20 years from now who won't feel, "Oh, I wish this story was told," because it was told to them as children. I think that is the power of the media. It can normalize things. It's not this big shocking thing anymore that there is this gay character on a TV show, because there are a lot of TV shows now that have gay characters. Americans have a huge appetite for media, and when things get normalized and put in the public spectrum through the media, they become OK with it. People feel they can relate to different types of people because they see them being represented on TV, no matter whether it's gay, interracial, and racial. You see a relationship with characters you can connect to, and then you can connect it with real people on the street in your everyday life.

You two have mutually expressed your "lov-fest" for each other. Van, why is working with Paolo so great?Hansis: I found out a couple months beforehand he was coming back to ATWT, and it was just a thrill. For me, when Paolo had come back the first time, I had really only been on the show four or five months. I did not know who Damian was at the time. And I remember Martha Byrne [ex-Lily] sat me down at the time and she told me the history. When he came back, everything was new to me, and he was so nice to me. He is really one of the nicest guys I have ever worked with. It is easy to work with him. He is really funny, and he has great stories.

Your turn, Paolo!Seganti: One thing I was lucky and fortunate to find with Van is we just clicked. It was something we did not have to try and work out. We connected and worked well off each other again. There is great emotion when I work opposite of Van. He makes my scenes better all the time.

Has your pal Martha Byrne watched you two together on-screen this time out?Seganti: Yeah. She said, "I am going to smash the TV set now!" She misses us. It was great working with her.

In closing, what can we look forward to from dad and son?Hansis: Right now Luke and Noah get involved in another story line for a little bit, but what we are starting to shoot, which will air in July, Luke and Damian will share more screen time together. Damian is involved with Meg right now, and Luke and Noah are involved with Riley, Casey, and Margo. There will be separation for a bit and then they will dovetail together.

Will fans see more ups and downs with the two of you?Seranti: I think ups and downs will be more interesting. Don't you think, Van?

Hansis: I would say, of course, there will be drama. When Luke and Damian come together in a couple months, I don't know if it's going to be Luke and Damian against someone else, or Luke and Damian against each other ...

Seganti: I hope it will go smooth for a while for the two of them and piss other people off.

Hansis: I think that will happen!