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Tammy Lynn
Michaels: Committed to love

Tammy Lynn
Michaels: Committed to love

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In her first solo Advocate interview, Tammy Lynn Michaels talks about her year of triumph--on the NBC hit Committed--and family crisis: helping her wife, Melissa Etheridge, battle through chemotherapy.

We're 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 same day. 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 through that? [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 you optimistic? 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.

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