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The Interview

Denis O’ Hare

by Windy City Times
You’ve seen out actor Denis O’Hare in dozens of films, television shows and, if you’re a theatregoer, on Broadway. He won a Tony award for his performance in the sexually charged Take Me Out, and has gone on to appear in Assassins, Cabaret and other shows. O’Hare, who hails from the Detroit area, got his first break in theatre here in Chicago as the lead in the critically lauded Hauptmann in 1992 (after graduating from Northwestern). Up to now O’Hare has been mostly familiar to larger audiences for a series of memorable supporting parts—usually as the bad guy—in a series of high-profile movies (Michael Clayton, Milk, Changeling, etc.). However, with his role as Russell Edgington, the King of Mississippi, a 2,800-year-old vampire with the 700-year-old boytoy boyfriend Talbot on HBO’s True Blood, O’Hare’s visibility has memorably increased. The actor, who lives in New York, discussed with Windy City Times his role on True Blood, the importance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in his coming-out, being an openly gay actor in the business and more.

WCT: (Windy City Times) You’re just back from Comic-Con with True Blood. What’s it like to be a gay man at Comic-Con, the ultimate nerd fanboy convention?

DO: (Denis O’Hare) It is definitely “geeks triumph all” and “nerds come first” but I guess there can be gay nerds and gay geeks, too. I’m a huge sci-fi fan myself and I was comfortable in that respect. It’s a very nice crowd—it doesn’t feel at all threatening. People are really fun so there’s no bad energy. If it was a monster car rally, I might feel differently. [Laughs]

WCT: You came out in high school which by doing the math was the late ‘70s—a pretty courageous step for that period—did you have trouble because of that?

DO: I had a lot of trouble. I had a very, very good support in that my best friend growing up became my first lover when we were about 12 and we both struggled with our sexual identity throughout high school. He had a good friend named David and the three of us formed a kind of clique even though we went to rival high schools in Michigan and we would all hang out at The Rocky Horror Picture Show on weekends. The permission of Rocky Horror was the permission to be different so we were allowed to express ourselves and we could also watch a beautiful, half naked man on the screen and have it be okay. I was totally fantasizing about Rocky all the time and I had Tim Curry as sort of a mentor or role model. Not that I want to be like him but giving you permission to openly indulge in your satisfaction.

WCT: Russell has been with Talbot for 700 years—surely the longest gay relationship by 600 odd years. You’ve been with your partner Hugo for 10 years. Have you two learned anything from Russell and Talbot about a good gay relationship?

DO: The only similarity—and there isn’t much—is that there’s a sort of confidence when you’re with someone for awhile. You no longer feel that you have to prove things; you no longer feel that every crisis is a definitive break-up worthy crisis. You can fight and survive; you can be in a bad mood and survive. The bond is stronger than anything and in the case of Talbot and Russell, later in the season their relationship is tested in a major way and it’s actually very moving at times. I will say this about their relationship: they deeply, deeply care for each other which I think is fantastic in the context of a show like True Blood to have this really, really deeply committed relationship.

WCT: True Blood this season is now officially the hottest gay show on TV since Oz—is it just a pleasure as a gay actor to go to work every day with all these hunky naked guys?

DO: I have a problem that whenever I meet someone and they become friends I’m no longer able to objectify them so I always feel slightly guilty about letting a thought flit across my mind when it comes to people I’m working with. They’re lovely guys and the more you get to know them the more you realize how wonderful they are, but it’s certainly nice to show up on the set and be confronted with some out-and-out beauties.

WCT: You’ve come back to playing a gay character, which you haven’t done a lot of—I’m assuming that’s nice?

DO: Yes, yes, it’s nice.

WCT: I’m going to guess that as a “character” actor it’s easier to be out than if you were a leading man. Is America ever going to be ready for a gay actor to play the superhero?

DO: Well, we have a Black president and who ever thought that would happen? There’s always hope. I think it will take the individual. I don’t think as a category it will ever happen quickly but I think there will be an individual who will come along whose charm and ability and persona will bat those problems aside. I think it takes an individual.

We’re definitely progressing. There are more out actors now than ever before and actors who can play gay and straight. When I play a gay character I don’t worry about being gay—I worry about other aspects of it. For instance, Russell is many things aside from being gay—if he even is gay because that’s such a modern conception and as a pagan preacher, he may not even have that understanding. He knows who he likes to sleep with. But the notion that a gay person has a problem playing a straight person is bullshit. The only problem is the idea that the audience is not willing to suspend its disbelief, which is hypocritical because it suspends its belief all the time in other matters that we take for granted. We believe that a certain actor or actress is intelligent enough to be a nuclear scientist, for example.

WCT: [Laughs] Right, right—Raquel Welch in Fantastic Voyage.

DO: Yeah—we believed that could happen. It’s interesting because some of the actors who are playing gay characters like Theo [Alexander], who plays my boyfriend, Talbot. He was very concerned with how to play gay and I thought, “I don’t have that problem.” I’m not going to think about the character being gay. He just is. Gay is not actions. Gay is simply part of core identity and in fact, if anything, Russell’s a warrior. He’s an ancient Celtic warrior who is bent on power domination. Being gay is simply one part of the mosaic that he is. So a gay actor is always in a better position to play a gay character—we come at it with a more well-rounded understanding, I think.

WCT: Gay, straight, warrior—Russell is a fabulous addition to your rogue’s gallery.

DO: Thank you.

Written by: Richard Knight, Jr. for the Windy City Times
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