Playing It Gay, Now and Then
By Jeffrey Epstein
After a hot Clash of the Titans in 1981, Harry Hamlin took on the role of seductive gay writer Bart McGuire in Paramount's breakthrough movie Making Love (recently released on DVD), the first gay movie produced by a major studio. He paid the price. As did Doug Savant, who took on the regular, openly gay role of Matt on Melrose Place. These days Savant is best known as Tom Scavo on Desperate Housewives, which boasts another unique gay character: Andrew Van De Kamp, played by Shawn Pyfrom. Andrew is TV's first gay sociopath, who also happens to be a teen with a very active on-screen sex life. Here are exclusive outtakes from our interviews with these three versatile actors.
Making Love was really groundbreaking.
Groundbreaking. That's an interesting way to put it. When I first read the script for that, I had my doubts. The original script was much more cutting edge than the one we ended up shooting, by the way. They softened it way down. They were frightened. The script that Barry Levin wrote was really raw'and I was willing to go there. The studio beiged it out by the end, which was disappointing to me.
What do you think, all these years later, to see actors play gay characters and it not having an affect on their careers?
I think the times have changed. Brokeback Mountain is a film that is a great love story. It's love with a huge obstacle and it's very well done. It was done cleverly so it could be marketed as not only the male-male love story, but there were other love stories. The men were married. They had families. They had such conflict in their lives. Making Love was a little more one-sided than that. I'm glad it's coming out on DVD because I don't have a copy of the film. I'm looking forward to getting a copy of the movie.
You're kidding! I'm just bummed it doesn't have any extras.
I'm a little surprised they didn't call us up and say, 'Hey, why don't you do some commentary on this?' I would have thought the opportunity was ripe. Michael Ontkean, Kate Jackson, and I are still breathing! We could have come in and given some dimension to the film. But they didn't do that.
Have you always had gay people in your life?
Because of Making Love, there's a big gay audience out there for me. [Laughs] That film came out at a time when there was a big transition happening culturally. It was before the AIDS epidemic. The only obstacles were really cultural, and it was all changing at that moment. I have had so many people over the years say 'Thank you for making that movie because it helped me talk to my parents, talk to my relatives, to come out.'
Matt was such a breakthrough for television.
I even had this awareness at the time. I knew I was just going to be a blip on the evolutionary map of gay characters and television itself. I am thrilled to see the proliferation of gay characters throughout television and more substantive and full portrayals of life. When I was doing Melrose, I would get a ton of mail, but the mail was generally'you could almost cut it right down the middle. Much of it was 'Thank God you're existing in television.' And then I would receive other mail that said 'You're not gay enough.' Rather than be offended by that, what became really clear to me was that I was only one character and the spectrum of the gay community wanted to see themselves represented in the media and in that case through Matt, so if I wasn't a reflection of what each individual experience was, they were ultimately offended. 'That's not what it's like for me.' There was a huge onus on the writers, on me, and no one character could do that. So thank God we are now at a place where we can have gay cowboys, where we can have a more complete picture of gay lives than we did' well, I started back in '92.
The great thing I remember was that you owned it. You never shied away from Matt's homosexuality.
Well, I was never out as a straight man. When I started on the show, the studio had no idea I wasn't going to go around and say, 'I'm straight! I'm straight! I'm straight!' I said, 'No. It's none of your business.' Did anybody ask Mark Moses [from Desperate Housewives], 'Hey, you're playing a straight guy'does that mean you're straight?' It went to the point where I would go to print interviews and have to take off my wedding ring. They'd say, 'Oh, I see you have a ring!' I was never trying to hide myself, but I said, 'You may assume whatever you want.'
That's pretty cool! Was the issue ever pressed?
For your magazine, we shot a photo session with all these gay characters. It was myself, Bill Brochtrup [from NYPD Blue], Nora Dunn from Sisters, and Mitchell Anderson [from Party of Five]. Bruce Bibby was doing the interview and I told Bruce that I don't talk about my sexuality, and that was news to him. So when he subsequently went to interview the other actors in the shoot, he said 'I know Doug doesn't talk about it.' And that gave them the freedom to either say or not say. To me, that was a victory. I really believe that it's an individual choice. In a world where we're supposed to be able to take on other skins, if it's going to prejudice someone else's opinion, I would respect an actor who chooses to say 'I'm not saying. It's none of your business. Please judge me on my work and I'll fuck whoever I choose to fuck.' It was a great photo spread, by the way.