2003 - March
Gaywatch: Michelle Clunie, star of "Queer as
by Christine Champagne
March 25, 2003
Will Melanie actually get pregnant on "Queer as Folk" this season? It looks like all systems are go, so to speak, now that she has taken care of the health issue that had previously prevented her from having a child. Brian (Gale Harold) has reluctantly agreed to father the little one.
Michelle Clunie, who plays Melanie, isn't at liberty to reveal the details of her storyline. But Clunie did tell Gaywatch that a shift will occur in the dynamic between Melanie and her partner Lindsay Peterson (Thea Gill), who gave birth to the couple's first child, as the third season plays out. "[What will happen] is very healthy for our relationship, and I think it's really interesting what we go through this year," she teases.
The 34-year-old actress, who hails from Portland, Oregon, was perhaps best known for her turn as spunky DeeDee Landreaux on "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" before "Queer as Folk" made her a star.
When you signed on to do "Queer as Folk," did you think 'Oh, we'll just do the pilot, and maybe one season, and that's it'? Or were you confident the show would take off?
Oh, I had no idea. It's weird. Even though I know that we're picked up for next season (Showtime has already committed to season four), it's kind of hard to believe. It's so rare in an actor's life to have five years of employment that's steady and to know that you'll be fine. I never take it for granted. I've seen so much of this industry and how fickle it can be, so I know things can slip away.
I'm really enjoying season three so far. I feel like we'll look back on this season in a few years and think of this time as being representative of "Queer as Folk's" prime.
You're so right. Going into this season, after I saw episodes one through four, I remember thinking, 'Wow.' I felt as though there was a certain solidness -- is that a word?
Sure, I know what you mean.
It combines the soul of the first season with the comedic value of the second season. I think this season rocks, I really do -- and I'm a tough judge. I analyze everything.
After the first season, I was left feeling that you and Thea didn't get nearly enough airtime. It was a big issue with a lot of the show's lesbian fans -- at least according to the e-mail Gaywatch receives. I brought it up with Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman [the show's executive producers] when I interviewed them for a preview of season two, and they agreed they needed to give your characters more to do. How did you feel back then? And did people complain directly to you about this issue?
Yeah, it's interesting. A lot of people said that to me. While we were shooting it, I never realized it or thought that we didn't have that much to do. When I get the script, I take out all the lesbian scenes, and I throw away everything else. When you shoot, you're only shooting your stuff. So when I get the episodes, I go, 'Who are all these gay men in my TV show?' I always think it's a story about these two lesbians raising a baby, so I didn't realize it [back then]. But a lot of people commented.
I mean, look, unless they kill off a few characters, it's not logically or physically possible for Melanie and Lindsay to get more screen time, because there are only so many minutes per episode. So I feel like they've really pushed us to the maximum that they can with our screen time. But the great thing is, with Showtime realizing that we've developed this fan base, they could see that there is a place for a lesbian show, and that, for me, is a win.
You're talking about the upcoming lesbian-oriented Showtime series "Earthlings," right?
It wasn't that many years ago that actors were afraid to play gay characters. Nowadays, it seems matter of fact. Did you have any concerns about playing a lesbian when you got this role?
There was no debate whatsoever. I had no problem with it. I didn't foresee any problem as far as typecasting went. Now, I may be naive because I don't know how far Hollywood has come, but we'll see.
Had you met Thea before you began working with her?
We only met once at the audition. They flew her down because they wanted to see the two of us in a room together, and they wanted to see if we had chemistry.
Did you and Thea hit it off right away?
Yeah. It was great because there was a room full of people -- they were doing final callbacks. When I saw her -- she was in a corner, wearing overalls, a T-shirt and tennis shoes -- I knew it was her. I was like, 'That's Lindsay.' I walked over to her, and I looked her up and down, literally. [Laughs.] I squatted down next to her, and I was like, 'You're perfect. Just perfect.' She started laughing. She'd never met anyone who did that before. I said, 'Are you nervous?' And she was like, 'I'm OK.' I said, 'OK, we're going to go in there, and we're going to be great.' And that was it. It was very funny.
So you spotted her across a crowded room and knew she was your Lindsay.
My biggest concern was, what if they get some blonde bimbo for this role? When I saw her I just thought, 'Oh, she's so sweet. She's so perfect.' I knew we'd be great together. I just knew it.
Were you always up for Melanie, or had you at all been considered for the role of Lindsay, too?
Oh no, they brought me in just for Melanie.
So you don't see yourself as Lindsay. Why not?
I think just because of my essence. Her character is definitely a WASP, and if they're going to get the quintessential WASP, they're not going to hire me. I'm definitely more of the Melanie character. There was never a doubt or a question.
I have to admit to you that I was very upset about the threesome Melanie and Lindsay had with Leda [Nancy Anne Sakovich].
Oh, yeah -- me too!
I didn't like it because I felt like they hadn't gotten to the point where they needed to do that to spice up their sex life. I just didn't believe it would really happen.
I know. That was a bit forced. I didn't want it to happen. Thea didn't want it to happen. It's funny that you bring that up because that was the only storyline that I ever really found it hard to wrap my head around. But it's all a process; it's a journey. By talking to Dan and Ron about it and going through the script, I feel as though we made it as believable to us as we could. It was a tough scene to shoot. It just didn't feel right. It was just hard. I think you get attached to these characters, and you root for them, and you don't want them to do something like that.
Because of your roles on "Queer as Folk," you and Thea have become lesbian icons. I don't mean to insult you, but I assume that you're straight -- am I wrong?
[Laughs.] Thank you. You've probably put that better than anyone has ever put it.
It isn't that I don't find you convincing on the show. But am I wrong?
No, I'm straight. I have a boyfriend.
That must be an interesting position to be in -- a lesbian icon, but not a lesbian. Do women hit on you? Do you get love letters?
Yeah, I get love letters. Maybe I should think about it more in terms of what it means, but I find nothing strange about it. I think it's great if people think I'm gay, because that means I'm doing my job well. I like the fact that I'm straight and I'm playing a gay character, because I think that there is something in there that breaks down the walls between gays and straights. It's important for people to integrate everyone into one community, so there are no labels.
Do you feel like you're a role model?
No. I'm just trying to play a character to the best of my ability, and if I pull it off, that means a lot to me. And if I help anyone in the process, that's great. If I'm in a position to help others, I should. But at the same time I never want anyone to think that I know everything about their life -- a life that I've never led. I've never had to come out of the closet. I've seen people go through it, and it's frightening. Oh, my God -- the courage that it takes. So, not having lived through that, I certainly would not want people to think I think, 'Oh, I know all about that,' because I don't. I'm a straight, white girl from Oregon. Life has been pretty easy for the most part, aside from the boys' club that Hollywood is. [Laughs.]
You were a struggling actress before "Queer as Folk." Now you're an actress on a popular TV series. Do you feel the difference in terms of power?
It's interesting. I feel it in ways. I don't feel it in other ways. Obviously, I'm more financially secure. I never used to ride around in limos and go to premieres, so that's a big change. But when it comes to breaking into film, I find that there are just not as many roles for women as there are for men. That's one thing that I'm looking at right now, and I think it needs to change. It's slowly changing -- roles have become more complex for women -- but there are still a lot scripts where you'll have six male leads but only one female lead -- and she'll be the token girl, someone's girlfriend.
That's why I started writing. I thought, well, if the roles that I want aren't out there -- and Melanie was certainly a role that when I saw it I was like, 'That's a great female role' -- then I think I should write, produce and direct them. Not be a victim, but part of the change.
What are you writing at the moment?
It's a film about a self-absorbed, neurotic woman who goes through a spiritual transformation.
How did you get the story of my life?
I took the story of mine. Just kidding. Hopefully, it'll turn out very funny. but powerful and moving. It deals a lot with death as well and suicide. It's not a very p.c. film.
I was looking at your Web site, www.michelleclunie.com, and saw that you're the spokesperson for the Destination Foundation. Tell me about that.
I'll be coming up on a year doing that. It's a charity foundation founded by Tim Hepworth, and we grant dream vacations to people living with terminal illnesses -- primarily HIV/AIDS and breast cancer -- in the San Francisco Bay area. Our goal is to make it national. It's very grassroots. It's doing very well; I'm very proud. I think what attracted me to it was a certain spirit behind it -- the power of travel. There's power in getting out of your daily routine -- taking your medication and going to the doctor and being fired from your job for whatever prejudice people have against you. Sending someone like that on a beautiful vacation to Italy has amazing effects. I've seen people that have lived so much longer when they come back. Their doctors can't believe the turn that their health took. It's amazing what the spirit can do to the body.
'Queer as Folk' Returns With Plenty of Couples
LYNN ELBER THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Olympian, Olympia Washington
Sunday, March 2, 2003
LOS ANGELES -- "Queer as Folk" is wearing its heart on its sleeve
The Showtime drama made a splashy debut in 2000 with its frank, freewheeling depiction of sex and social escapades among a circle of gay and lesbian friends in Pittsburgh.
But the stories are as much driven by relationships as they are by bare skin -- even more so in the third season beginning Sunday at 10 p.m.
"I think in certain ways it's the year of the couple," said Ron Cowen, who developed the series (based on the British program of the same name) with partner Daniel Lipman.
While the sexy, promiscuous Brian (Gale Harold) has yet to change his ways, he's being squeezed on all sides by pairings that began or were hinted at last season.
Brian's ex-flame Justin (Randy Harrison) has fallen for a music student (Fabrizio Filippo) whose unbridled romanticism is in sharp contrast to Brian's cynicism.
Comic-book store owner Michael (Hal Sparks) is still an item with hunky professor Ben (Robert Gant), while happily committed Melanie and Lindsay (Michelle Clunie and Thea Gill) are contemplating having a second child.
Twists and turns
Even buddies Emmett (Peter Paige) and Ted (Scott Lowell) are taking the leap into love -- a friends-to-lovers shift that's worked more than once on "Friends."
There's a daring twist involving Michael's single mom, Debbie (Sharon Gless), and her police detective friend, Carl (Peter MacNeill).
"Yes! Heterosexual sex on 'Queer as Folk'!" exclaims Gless, who is as enthusiastic about her role -- she plays the brash, proud mother of a gay son -- as she is about the show.
"I think it's probably the most fun I've had with a character. They've made such a mouth on me for this," said the former "Cagney & Lacey" star. "I've been doing television for 30 years and never had the freedom I've had doing this show."
She doesn't expect a middle-aged straight couple to become the drama's focus, and neither should viewers. Other lovers, especially Justin and his new squeeze, are center stage in the early episodes.
"To Justin, Ethan represents a certain romantic love that he did not experience with Brian, who's more pragmatic," said Cowen. "I think what Justin may discover through his relationship is how valid is a romantic relationship, does it work, does it last."
The "neg-pos" problems confronted by Ben, who is HIV- positive, and Michael, who is not, also will be an important story line, Lipman said.
"It's a gay relationship that hasn't been seen on TV at all, I feel," he said.
As for Brian, his love affair with one-night stands continues. But there's more screen time for another passion, his ad agency work. One new client is a local politician who represents a threat to gay liberties while raising questions about how those liberties are exercised, the producers said.
For the actor who plays him, the arrogant Brian's professional success makes his longtime friendships -- and sexual conquests -- more believable.
In real life, Harold said, "if you were his friend, you wouldn't want to keep hanging around him." But the power Brian exerts at work allows him to control people in his personal life, he said.
One viewer, who's a comedian and writer of a gay-TV update that runs online and in some newspapers, previewed several episodes and said he's pleased with the series' direction.
"I really love romantic story lines," said Gay Boy Ric, who goes by his stage name. "I would watch the show anyway, but it's the Justin and Ethan story line that makes me feel like I can't miss it."
He's willing to defend the drama's randier aspects, which have drawn fire from some gay observers but which he believes "show the reality of some gay lives" and allow people to honestly assess their behavior.
This season's action takes place on a compressed stage. There are 14 "Queer as Folk" episodes, compared to 22 in the first year and 20 the second. Showtime has committed to another 14 episodes next year.
Although the drama has proved a success for the channel, attracting both a straight and gay audience, Showtime is following the common cable practice of shorter runs.
The HBO drama "Six Feet Under," which also returns Sunday, has a 13-episode order, as did "The Sopranos." Cable channels have more flexibility in marketing and production because they aren't locked into broadcasting's 22-episode seasons, a Showtime spokesman said.
Lipman and Cowen say they are comfortable making fewer episodes. The two, along with Tony Jonas, serve as executive producers for "Queer as Folk."
"For everyone, cast, crew and us, emotionally and psychologically it has been a little easier. Fourteen hours still is a lot to do and you can get a lot accomplished," Lipman said.