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John Stamos and I have a mutual friend who does penis tricks. By "penis tricks," I am referring to this particular acquaintance's habit of dropping his pants at parties and forming his privates into various unexpected and admittedly impressive shapes. "Have you seen the Hamburger?" Stamos asks me as we stroll through the sprawl of the Warner Bros. back lot. I nod, and Stamos immediately shoots me a grin conveying that thanks to our mutual pal and his unlikely talent, we're now friends as well.
For a moment I'm awed by Stamos's nonchalance--as if discussing penis tricks is the most ordinary thing in the world. But after spending the next hour with him, his ease doesn't surprise me in the least.
Here's the thing about John Stamos: He's completely, refreshingly open-minded, the kind of guy who is nonjudgmental about things like the public display of a penis, the kind of guy who has no reservations about taking on the role of a likable gay rights activist--despite being an actor best known for marrying a supermodel and making all the girls (and boys) swoon.
"John's incredibly charming," says Jim Fall, who directed Stamos in Wedding Wars [premiering Monday, December 11, at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific], "which makes him the perfect conduit for the message of this movie." A family comedy that manages to tackle the issue of same-sex marriage with light humor and a deft touch, the A&E feature stars Stamos as Shel, a wedding planner who impulsively decides to fight for his own right to marry after his brother--played by Grey's Anatomy's "McSteamy," Eric Dane--becomes engaged to the daughter of a conservative governor.
"I didn't want to make just another 'gay' movie," explains Fall, whose debut feature was the gay indie Trick--and who married his boyfriend on the Wedding Wars set in Halifax, Canada. "I wanted to make a point and really say something, but subtly. I wanted to show both sides without vilifying anyone. I wanted to win people over with comedy--and who better to help with that than someone who has been coming into their living rooms for years now?"
It's a savvy strategy. Take Full House's sweet, hapless Uncle Jesse and General Hospital's brooding, darkly handsome Blackie, and combine and transform the popular characters into a likable, smart, authentic gay man. Because of Stamos, Middle America will start watching and--fingers crossed--won't be able to stop.
Former Full House costar Bob Saget, for one, will be watching. "I love John like he's the sister I never had. Truly, he's one of my best friends and has always, always been there for me," Saget says. As for Stamos taking on such a role, Saget has no concerns. "He's such a good actor. When researching his part for ER, he not only hung out in a lot of emergency rooms, but he literally performed four illegal surgeries. The patients didn't even mind. They felt safe with him 'cause he was Jesse from Full House. He did two heart bypasses, one hip replacement, and a colonoscopy on a man named Gerald."
Fall says he never worried whether Stamos would have to "play gay" in order to be believed: "I remember in rehearsals he was telling some story with such enthusiasm and energy, and I said, 'That's it--that's Shel!'" There's this light inside of John, and all he had to do was turn it on, and there was the character."
That "light"--a luminescent, infectious likability--has kept Stamos in the game for over two decades. It's carried him through those teen-dream General Hospital days and the eternal flame of Full House syndication; seen him through a "tabloid-perfect" marriage and subsequent divorce with model-actress Rebecca Romijn; powered him past the short-lived Jake in Progress; and landed him a hot new on-screen life on ER.
With Wedding Wars, Stamos may be adding "gay icon" to his resume. "John was always the first choice for the role," says producer Neil Meron. "He's been one of my best friends for years, and we were always wondering when we would be able to work together. This was the perfect chance."
That Stamos, the giddy pretty boy with a heart of gold, would completely reinvent himself--with parts like Shel and a raunchy revamp of Cabaret's Master of Ceremonies--might come as quite a surprise to his longtime devotees. One can imagine Full House fans watching with mouths agape as Uncle Jesse passionately kisses another man. But this is how the renowned gay producing team of Craig Zadan and Meron operate: with a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down.
And in the end, Shel and the emcee aren't actually that different from Stamos himself: All are tolerant and exploratory gentlemen who have seen enough of life not to be flustered by two men necking or a guy pressing his penis into something that resembles a hamburger.
I sat down with Stamos after a day on the set of ER to discuss all the dirt we have been so curious about.
So why don't you tell me how you ended up playing a gay man.
I was excited to get it. I think I'm actually one of the right guys to deliver this kind of message. I think the gay community will see the film and love it and hopefully like me in this role, and the people that are not gay will hopefully want to follow my story and not turn it off 10 minutes in. I felt like it was a safe way to get people to see this and hear a really important message. Hopefully they'll take the trip and be able to look at both sides.
How did you prepare for the role? Any method-acting tactics? Make-out sessions with a good male friend?
It's funny, I never approached it as being different than any other role. I'd never kissed a guy, and I was thinking that would be really weird for me. In Cabaret, I was physical with the other dancers onstage, but Wedding Wars was a couple of full kisses. But it didn't affect me. It wasn't even an issue.
You'd never kissed a guy before? Come on!
Um...I think the tape just ran out... But really, to be honest, I just approached him as a guy who is in love. Initially it's not about this issue of gay marriage. It's just the simple fact that his brother gets to have something that he can't have, and why shouldn't he get to have it? He can plan a wedding but can't have one himself.
Are you happy with the way it turned out?
I was really proud of it. I don't mean to sound self-congratulatory. Do I sound self-congratulatory?
You sound duly pleased. I think you played the role with real class, actually. You didn't high-camp queen it.
I didn't need to do any bullshit stereotype crap, not that I ever would have, but there was a great character there, gay or straight. I was surprised at how emotional the movie was. It was just enough of what was needed to convey the message without shoving it down anyone's throat. That was the intent. I wanted people to stay in it and hear us out.
Did you have any trepidation about your fans judging you in any way?
If you're in my position, you're always worried about what you should say and what people will think or how they'll misconstrue something you say, so you end up censoring yourself, and what happens is, you end up being a big fat bore. Now, as I'm getting older, it's more important for me to speak up. So what if I'm going to piss off some people? That's where I'm at in my life right now. Whereas before, I wanted everyone to like me, and that will make you crazy--trying to please so many people. Doing this movie is kind of the beginning of that for me, of doing things I believe in and speaking out.
What are your personal feelings on gay unions?
It doesn't matter if you're gay or straight; if you're in love, you should be allowed to show that love. I learned a lot about gay rights and the laws and the taxes. I did a lot of research, not that I hadn't looked at it before. I had always thought that if gay people wanted to be married, they should be able to do it. I hate to have this be a quote, because it sounds so cliche, but I have lot of gay friends--and a lot of them have been together in long-term relationships. Why shouldn't they be able to celebrate that like anyone else?
There's a wonderful subplot in the film: a "no gays for a day" strike, where all the gay professionals walk out on their jobs, causing everything to come to a complete standstill.
Initially in the script that "no gays for a day" aspect was huge--we had the lights of Broadway going out, the whole bit. I think it's important to really see that it wouldn't be just the florists and the makeup artists. It would be the mail and pilots and telephone operators. The world would be immobilized. It really would. It would affect everything, not just show business or Hollywood.
I have to say, it's rare that anyone in your comfort zone of fame speaks out about political or social issues.
The problem is, a lot of blabbermouths in our business abuse the privilege and you see it and you're like, Oh, God, I don't want to be like that! It's finding the balance. This issue is important and so I wanted to be part of this movie. Homosexuality has never been an issue to me. I never really judged it. I remember a dear friend coming out to me when we were younger. It didn't freak me out at all. I remember just being like, OK. And he said something that maybe sounds simple, but it was really revelatory to me at the time: He said, "You know how you feel when you see a pretty girl you like--those butterflies in the stomach and that tingly feeling? Well, that's how I feel when I see a guy." And I never forgot that. It just was so simple and beautiful.
Do you feel like you're maturing with this role and with the transition from Full House and marriage to ER and the life of a single man?
I've been an adult for a while now, but Full House is on 20 times a day, so in the audience's eyes, I haven't really had a chance to grow up. Now that's changing; things are kind of breaking open for me in terms of characters and working in adult themes. It's about being mature enough to appreciate when I'm doing something that I haven't done before, appreciating when things aren't safe, or comfortable.
And that's why you wanted to explore roles like those in Wedding Wars and Cabaret? To push your own boundaries?
Yes. The beginning of that was performing in Cabaret and playing, well, a pansexual or whatever. That guy would have sex with a squirrel if he had a chance, and he probably did! I remember I did my first few shows in front of an audience and their mouths were on the floor. "Look at Uncle Jesse with the sparkly nipples!" And it scared me. I reverted back to kind of bullshitting around and giving them what they wanted. Then I was like, No! Fuck this! I'm not being true to this character! And from there I pushed the character as far as I could.
That must have been cathartic.
I felt liberated. I felt free and not afraid to start taking chances. I'm a lot less self-conscious. You worry about how you look and how you act and how the characters are supposed to be and how you're supposed to be to the public. I was also on a very homogenized show where I supposed to be this sweet, clean-cut guy. And it ate me up to hear something bad about myself. But there's always some critic out there. But who cares? Fuck 'em! Be dangerous! It's taken me the last 10 or 15 years to rid myself of that self-consciousness.
What has helped you let go?
Time, maturity. You wish you knew these things earlier. I think it's taken me longer than most people in some ways. I'm glad it happened now, but I wish it had happened 10 years ago. But I guess I wasn't at the right place. My life was pretty storybook until my dad died. I didn't have a lot of things that came into my life and shook me up, like most people do. Then my dad died and I divorced and I started experiencing failure. But up until the end of Full House, it was like, Hey, this is great! I'm on TV; I married the girl on the cover of Sports Illustrated. My family is great. And look at that truckload of money they're bringing into my house!
But then life happens, real life comes in, and for me that happened a little later. I can't truly say I don't give a shit, because I do. There are some people who truly don't give a fuck. And I wish I could be like that completely. But then again, if nothing bothers you, that's bullshit too.