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Sharon Gless
(Finally) Goes Gay

Sharon Gless
(Finally) Goes Gay


She's best 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.

She's best 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.

Gless just wrapped production on the film in Chicago, where she sat down with to talk about the movie and how it relates to Prop. 8.'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 resume, 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 contrasting.

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.

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