standing in the bedroom of Tammy Lynn Michaels and Melissa
Etheridge. "This is where it all happened,"
Michaels is saying. She gestures to one side of the
comfy king-size bed in the master suite of their new
house in a serene, ranch-like west Los Angeles
neighborhood. "We had a microphone stand right there
with the chemo dripping from it."
It's impossible to imagine what Etheridge
went through in this room just weeks earlier. But
it's equally impossible to imagine how Michaels
held her family together through such an overwhelming crisis
at the same time she was costarring on what became one
of the few network success stories of 2005, the NBC
sitcom Committed. It's been a year of the
highest highs and lowest lows for Michaels, of private
tears and studio audience laughter, sometimes on the
Committed is a nervy comedy built around the
offbeat romance between slightly damaged New Yorkers Marni
and Nate. Michaels plays Marni's best friend,
Tess, the salty live-in nanny from across the hall. As
in the WB's Popular (1999-2001),
Michaels's classically feminine beauty acts as
foil to her character's biting personality.
"Early on, I saw how quickly a girl can get
pigeonholed into the 'blond-haired, blue-eyed
girlfriend' or 'ingenue
sweetheart,'" Michaels says. "I
don't find much interest in [that kind of
role]--unless she's really, really funny."
By the time the show wrapped, in mid November,
Michaels had a new full-time commitment: Helping
Etheridge through two hellish months of chemotherapy,
following her early October lumpectomy for breast cancer.
But today Etheridge is back on her feet, bald and ballsy,
asking me to rub her shaved head and settling in to
work on a jigsaw puzzle just a doorway away from where
Michaels sits down for her first solo Advocate interview.
When you spoke to The Advocate in 2003, you
said you'd "rather make peanut
butter and jelly sandwiches" than hit your mark
as an actress. Would you still?
Hmm. Well, now I look at it as, I just do both.
I finally have a job that I enjoy enough to squeeze in
amongst the peanut butter and jelly. I wouldn't
want to choose one or the other.
Tell me how you came to commit to Committed.
I liked the really dark, crunchy humor. I liked
that the wacky people were suddenly in the center, and
it was the normal people [who were sidekicks], as
opposed to other sitcoms, which are usually vice versa. I
liked everything about it--and the clown in the
closet? Are you kidding me? Come on! Somebody's
in the closet, I gotta go!
Your character, Tess, is like the younger, hipper
Ethel to Marni's Lucy--she's a
little doubtful, but still ready for an adventure
with her crazy best friend.
Yeah. I like that description. The formula of
sitcoms, according to Tammy Lynn Michaels, is,
you've gotta have a balance. You've gotta
have things smack up against each other. But I gotta tell
you, I don't function as though Tess is normal
and Marni's weird. I'm still trying to
figure Tess out.
The last few months must have been very difficult.
What strength do you fall back on inside yourself to get
[Pause] God--I didn't fall
back. I loved Melissa so much, it pulled me through.
Do you know what I mean? I didn't think about
it--I went on automatic pilot. When you see this
soul that is such a huge piece of you go down, it's
almost like losing a part of your arm. It's
survival. You do anything you can to get it back on
and back to where it needs to go.
We all know that the crucial part of recovery and
regaining health isn't just chemical. It's
emotional. You have to show her the light at the
end of that tunnel.
You gotta remind 'em. And we took turns.
Sometimes she reminded me, sometimes I reminded her.
Sometimes we just hugged each other and waited.
We last talked at the end of 2003, which was such a
remarkable year for progress in gay rights. But after
all that's happened in the past year, are
How long did it take them to apologize to
Galileo? [Laughs] I just keep going, Rosa Parks
didn't give up her seat, and Galileo got the apology.
We're going to be fine.