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Harold acknowledges that television culture creates a spurious intimacy. “There’s a genuine human impulse to want to know more about people you’re interested in, for whatever reason,” he says. “But that impulse has been manipulated as an industry—a bad industry—to sustain itself. It can be tweaked by publicists and studios. It didn’t develop as a benevolent machine to provide more pleasure to people. It developed as a tool to sustain itself.”
Nevertheless, the story of Harold’s casting in Queer as Folk has that Hollywood-miracle aura that publicists love. Executive producers Cowen and Daniel Lipman, the Emmy-award winning writers of the groundbreaking AIDS drama An Early Frost and the long-running drama series Sisters, had acquired the American rights to the British drama series Queer as Folk. They had already cast actors Scott Lowell, Peter Paige, Hal Sparks, and Randy Harrison as a group of gay friends whose intertwined lives would form the basis for the American version of the story. The casting had been nightmarish for Lipman and Cowen because agents wouldn’t send their clients in to read for the parts in the show. The part of Brian Kinney was particularly difficult.
“Here’s a gay man, very sexual, very masculine, not the kind of gay character people are used to seeing,” says Lipman. “If he were a straight male character fucking every woman in sight, he’d be a hero. So this was not like the other roles, and that was part of the difficulty.”
“It was an extremely distressing experience trying to cast Brian, because of what we discovered to be the massive amount of homophobia [in Hollywood],” says Cowen. “We were so shocked and so upset, because we went into this thinking that in the years since An Early Frost things had changed. What we had discovered was that things hadn’t changed one iota.”
Late on a Friday afternoon, with an 8:30 a.m. Monday meeting scheduled to introduce their cast to the Showtime executives, Lipman and Cowen still didn’t have their Brian Kinney.
“It was a test of faith, and by Friday at 5 p.m. faith was running out,” Lipman says ruefully. At 5:45 p.m., their casting director called. “She said, ‘Come on over right now, he’s here!’” Lipman recalls. “In walks Gale Harold, and we’re looking at him and he’s reading the scene, and Ron and I are looking at each other, and it’s like, Is he fucking fabulous?”
“He fell out of the sky,” Cowen breathes. “There’s truly no other explanation.”
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