Karine Jean-Pierre
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Robert Gant works it out


Robert Gant works
it out

From fat kid to
lawyer to hunky new star on Queer as Folk, Robert
Gant has been through remarkable changes. His latest
transformation? For the first time ever he’s
ready to talk about his life as a gay man

From fat kid to
lawyer to hunky new star on Queer as Folk, Robert
Gant has been through remarkable changes. His latest
transformation? For the first time ever he’s
ready to talk about his life as a gay man

By Bruce C. Steele

Standing in a
sand pit in a playground off Santa Monica Boulevard in Los
Angeles, Robert Gant could easily pass for the muscular guy
who kicks sand in skinny kids’
faces—could, that is, except for that radiant smile
he flashes. It’s the grin of the onetime weakling who
has transformed himself into the strong, confident
homecoming king; the smile that says, If I can get
here from there, you can too.

Gant, 33, whose friends call him Bobby, is at once a
teacher and a learner. He has that in common with Ben
Bruckner, the HIV-positive literature professor he has
played this season on Showtime’s hit series
Queer as Folk. The show’s writers
envisioned Ben to be “just as comfortable in
front of the classroom as he is on the dance
floor,” Gant recalls, and the actor seems just as
comfortable in a playground posing for beefy
photographs as he was a few days earlier talking about
his personal and spiritual growth for this interview.

But finding comfort in his own skin has been a
long journey for Gant. Coming out publicly in this
magazine is just the latest step in his lifelong
effort to meld sometimes wildly different impulses. He once
aced classes at the University of Pennsylvania and
Georgetown University Law School on his way to a
position with the world’s biggest law firm. When
the firm closed its L.A. office just a few months into his
job, Gant returned to the love of his
life—acting—and now has 10 years as a working
actor under his belt.

But even though some may recognize him as
Phoebe’s beau on Friends or Vice Principal
Krupps from Popular, it’s Ben Bruckner who has
transformed Gant’s life. Not only is Queer
as Folk
a steady gig (“Ben will be back
every episode next season,” he promises), it
quickly brought him to the realization he needed to go
public as a gay man. It was one thing to entertain the
children as the Good Humor Man in one of his 40 or 50
television commercials and not be openly
gay—“I remember thinking how ironic it
was that I was this gay guy playing this American
icon,” he says. But it was quite another to find
himself on gaydom’s most-talked-about series
and have to dodge the question when Larry King asked
if he was gay.

“It was painful for me, in retrospect, to
have to sit with that,” Gant says.

Now he’s ready to follow in Ben’s
footsteps in one more way: He’s going on the
record. “I read your interview in The
Advocate!” exclaimed Ted (Scott Lowell) when
pal Michael (Hal Sparks) introduced boyfriend Ben in
Gant’s first QAF episode. “You’re so
honest and so forthright and so revealing!”

And he is.

Why have you decided to come out publicly now?
Obviously you don’t have to do this.
You’re clearly not being pressured to come
out by anyone from Queer as Folk.

No. In fact, that was made very clear to me.
Actually, the producers [Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman]
were very supportive. Given the fact that they’ve
been around for a while in Hollywood and have seen a lot of
changes, I think they get what it’s like to be
marginalized as gay writers or gay producers. And that
still happens, and it’s a frustrating thing. Among
the myriad of fears [I had] was certainly that—being marginalized.

The whole coming-out process is pretty artificial
to start with.

We have to waste so much damn time getting back to where
we started, really, which is without a diminished
sense of self-worth. Were we all socialized in a
balanced way—which is to say, to treat others with
respect and love and kindness—this would be a
nonissue. We have to go through so much pain and
effort to try to reverse [the effects of homophobia].
We have to reparent ourselves, or resocialize ourselves. And
this is the first time I’ve gotten to the point of
thinking, This is just silly.

Especially now, when there’s such a range of
openly gay performers. For example, I don’t think
you and Nathan Lane will be up for the same parts.

I think that’s probably correct. [Laughs]
In fact, you know, Randy Harrison and I won’t be up
for the same parts. It’s just a different game.
And even Peter [Paige] and I talk about the fact that
we play slightly different parts. I [also] thought, OK,
this could be the last job I ever do.
I had to
consider the possibility, as likely or not as it may have
been, that this would hurt me. And I was
counseled—I don’t wanna say by whom—[to
stay in the closet].

By people in the industry?

People in the industry who are openly gay. Things were
pretty split right down the middle with respect to
those who thought that I should come out as opposed to
those who thought, “Absolutely not, this will hurt you.”

Did the people who were counseling you advise you
not even to take the role? Just not to go there?

Definitely some folks had pause. I’m happy to say
that it was only a moment’s consideration for
me, really. The greater consideration was, Do I come
And that started from the moment that I got
the part.

What kind of conversations did you have with Randy
and Peter on the set of Queer as Folk?

They absolutely wanted me to come out. [Laughs]
There’s no question. I knew Peter beforehand,
and he’s really the person with whom I had this
dialogue most often. And I should say that when I
mentioned this article to a couple of
folks—“Oh, I’m coming
out”—the response has invariably been,
“I didn’t know you
weren’t.” [Laughs] Because I made a
point of living my life without that sort of hiding.

Well, when Nathan Lane did his coming-out
interview, he said, “Until I did The
nobody cared about my sex life.”
Until you do the gay role, people don’t
ask. It’s the industry standard that
you’re heterosexual until proved otherwise,
and no one even asks until you play that gay role.
Look what happened on Larry King—Larry
went to every single actor on that show without question
and said, “So—are you gay?”

Yup. And there were only two who were openly gay.
Larry’s presumption, then, was that if there
were only two who were openly gay, then all others
must be straight.

So when you finally decided to go ahead and let it
all hang out, it was more of a personal decision for you
than a professional one. It sounds like
you’d run it through both sides of the
brain, though.

Well, to get back to what you were saying, the producers
were very encouraging of this being my choice. And a
lot of my friends were disappointed that I was even
contemplating waiting. My rationale for myself was I
was basically ready to [come out right away] until, as I
said, I was counseled to consider the fact that I only
had—at that point—a 12-episode deal. (I
ended up doing 14 episodes in the first season.) It
was in great part a job stability issue at that juncture
because everybody else had a five-year contract. Peter and
Randy came into the deal knowing that they
had—assuming the show went and
worked—five years on the show.

But if you came out for the purpose of a 12-episode
run, then what do you do afterward?

Exactly. I didn’t want to be rash, you know.
There was a lot happening very quickly. The way that I
got the part and was flown up [to audition] without
knowing that I had it, and if I got it, if I was
supposed to stay and start [filming immediately]. It was crazy.

You went to Toronto not knowing whether you would
come back to Los Angeles a day later with no job or stay
for months to play the part?

It was bizarre. They said, “Pack clothes. In case
you get it, you’re staying.” And I
started filming the next day. So it was just a whirlwind,
and I was having to focus so much on trying to get this
character—who in the first episode reveals that
he’s HIV-positive—and it goes through a
lot very quickly. I thought it was too much to have to make
a life decision like that on the fly.

Why is it important to you to come out?

Because I’m not living the life that I want to
live. Because being on Larry King Live and not
being able to say to him, “Larry, sorry, you
have some misinformation. I’m actually
gay”—it was painful for me. I guess this
whole thing has been a process; I’ve been
inching into the water along the way. But [pauses] I
think it’s amazing how, on the other side, one
can’t see how that freedom is going to feel. And I
have enough other examples of that to know it’s
gonna feel really good, because it already does.

Are you prepared for what comes next? To be urged
to appear at every gay pride event and fund-raising
dinner from coast to coast?

The truth is, we could speculate until the cows come
home. But who really knows if any pride parades or
whatever are going to ask me. They may; they probably
will. I don’t really know. And I think I may do
myself a disservice by getting into that inner debate
because what I’ve learned is that that robs me
of right now. And I think also it’s
something that I have to be careful of. As a kid, I
yearned for the applause. I yearned for the
stage, and I wanted to be a star. Really, it was about
self-worth—because I had a lot of self-worth
issues, I yearned for that. What’s nice now is
not to need that so much. It’s still
there—like everything else, it takes time.

But whatever happens next, you can no longer mix
with the gay world in an anonymous, private way.

You know, it’s interesting. I feel a sense of
responsibility. I’m careful not to get into
this trap of not respecting my own needs and my own
desires for my life. And yet I know that there is going to
be a call for appearances—[to serve as] a role
model or something. I already get that feeling. And
it’s interesting to try to balance those things
because I do want to be of service. I do want to help
change the world. I do want to help people get back to
themselves because that’s what I’ve worked so
hard to do for myself—to give myself back to me
through therapy and through all the books that
I’ve read and working on myself and getting to
a point where I can tell the truth about my sexuality, for
God’s sake.

You talk about how Queer as Folk has changed
other people’s reactions to you. How has Queer
as Folk
changed your feelings about yourself?

Well, you couldn’t work in a more supportive
environment with respect to sexuality because
it’s the nature of the show. One of the things that
makes it a beautiful experience is that people have a sense
of the show’s specialness. People are actively
learning to be tolerant, and you’re watching
that happen. Guys [on the crew] who otherwise
would’ve been really uncomfortable with two
guys gettin’ it on are OK. They’re like,
“Yeah, whatever, fine—we’ve seen it a
hundred times now, who gives a shit?” And so
it’s a very supportive and nurturing place that
way. I feel empowered by it. I definitely do. One of the
producers refers to it as this “pink
bubble” that we all live in for this period of
time [while we’re filming], and then we come back to
the real world. And it’s interesting to see how
the real world is or has changed or responds to this
thing that we’re doing. It’s definitely made
me more confident. And getting my deal [to return] for
next year and the options for beyond were huge.

So we can expect Ben to come back, at least for the
next season?

Ben will be back every episode next season.
[Pauses] I am not foolish enough to be unaware of
how my sense of job stability has helped my ability to
choose this now. I mean, the reality is I was this
close [holds up two fingers half an inch apart]
to coming out right off the bat. In fact, I was
prepared for it and really looking forward to it, and I told
my manager, “I’m really excited about
this—this feels right.” And then I just
gathered the intuition that I should just take a breath and
wait. So no, I’ve been contemplating this since
day one. However, job stability absolutely is a
factor. Not the factor, not the overriding factor, but a
factor, yes.

What else would you like to do professionally?
Putting aside your being at peace with the possibility
that you won’t ever do anything else.

[Laughs] There are a lot of things
I’d like to do. You know, there’s a part
of me that’s a little spoiled by the
opportunity to be doing something that’s so
substantive, and so part of me wants to continue down
that road. But I think the truth is probably more that
I’d like to do some other things: I’d probably
like to get back and do some more sitcoms. I’d
probably like to play a villain. I’ve always
wanted to play a superhero, which actually may happen next
year. [Laughs] But no more about that.

Superheroes are very big right now.

Yes, they are. You know, I don’t really know.
I’m open to whatever’s out there.
I’d love to start doing some film work. And I think
Queer as Folk really prepares one for that, as
far as each episode feels like a little independent movie.
They use the preeminent Canadian independent film
directors to direct these different episodes, and
that’s why they have the feel that they do. So it
feels like we’re making a little movie.

Having done Queer as Folk and also feeling
like you can be more honest about yourself, does
that give you more ability in your work to play somebody
that you’re not—like the nice
boyfriend you played on Caroline in the City?

There’s no question that the more honest
I’ve become in my life, the more I’ve
been freed up as an actor. And this, I’m certain,
will have an enormous effect on my sense of freedom as
an actor to create. It has a huge impact on my ability
to express myself because I’m not having to sit
in my head and be a constant watchdog to what I say so that
I don’t happen to say something that says too much.

What is that self-policing about? Why are actors
still so afraid to come out?

It’s fear. It’s always fear. We’re
afraid that we’re going to experience the kind
of rejection that we either experienced when we were
younger, or believed we would experience, yet we never did.
So we’re this fucked-up group around that.
Hollywood can be so much about facades that it fits in
perfectly with that whole gay kid thing: “Let me
create this facade, and maybe no one will know who I
really am—this glamorous exterior I need to
exist in the world.” The Hollywood culture only
reinforces that. [But] it is absolutely changing. The world
is changing. Are there still reasons for fear? Sure.
Will there always be? Probably. I would like to
contribute to those fears going away.

Does it help that gay consumers are increasingly visible?

Yeah. I said this to the people in Orlando—I was
introducing episodes 18 and 19, and they were going to
be the first people to see it before the rest of the
country and they were all excited. And I took just a
moment to say, “This is really exciting, we have
Showtime to thank, we have lots of people to thank,
but don’t fail to realize that you have
yourselves to thank more than anyone, because you are
spending the dollars, you are buying the
subscriptions, doing whatever it takes to cause people
to perk up and take notice.” There’s a power
and an energy there to instigate change that’s
untapped. It doesn’t take much for this group
to just step over. It’s about ticket sales.

Your first contact with the Queer as Folk
phenomenon was not as part of the cast, though.
You’re now the only leading actor on the show who
got to watch the first season and see the response
to the first season before you joined the show.
What did you think of that first season—just as a
gay man watching Queer as Folk?

I was really excited. I was blown away by the look of
the show. I had seen the British production, and
I’m one of those folks who didn’t have a
problem at all with how different this was. In fact, I
expected it to be [the same]. I really saw them as
apples and oranges because this is America [chuckles].

And it’s an open-ended series that Showtime hopes
will run for years, as opposed to the self-limited U.K.
version. That time line requires a whole different
concept of character and story line.

Exactly. And they’re interested in drawing a
really broad-based viewing audience. I don’t
think that the original production was so concerned
with that. Here, profit’s a part of it—welcome
to America [chuckles]. This is part of what drives
our industry.

So what excited you about it?

It was ballsy. I loved seeing the kissing,
I loved seeing just the free physical expression, the
freeness of sexuality. I thought the show looked
really beautiful—like an independent feature in
its style: the ramp shots, different split-screen
kinds of things, and just all sorts of stuff that I
didn’t tend to see on prime time. I think my
first thought was the classic actor envy. [Laughs] I
think maybe part of me didn’t want to watch it
because I wasn’t getting to be a part of this neat
thing, to be perfectly honest. It’s hard
sometimes if you see something that really excites you
that you would love to be a part of. I didn’t used to
be able to watch the Academy Awards back when I was in
law school because I was so painfully aware of the
fact that I wasn’t getting to do the thing that
I really wanted to do, the thing that I was really
passionate about.

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Queer as Folk

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