Greek's Family Values

4.6.2008

By Shana Naomi Krochmal

Greek, ABC Family's funny drama about a geeky boy who rushes a fraternity at the college where his older sister is queen bee sorority girl, feels more like a prime-time show on its big sister network than the typical heavy-handed Disney fare of its other corporate cousin.

Signs of maturity include a conspicuous lack of cheap condemnation for underage drinking, realistic but sympathetic repercussions for casual hook-ups between college students, and, oh yeah, Calvin -- a fully developed, three-dimensional gay character played by Paul James. The sweet, surprisingly sharp show isn't shooting for record-breaking firsts (though it's not as if the airwaves are drowning in black, gay college students), but the storylines are refreshingly devoid of the same tried-and-true plot points we've seen on other teen dramas. Greek could easily fit in a slot before Ugly Betty but more than holds its own on the cable channel, where it airs Mondays at 8pm.

As Calvin's storyline slowly heats up -- he's getting a new boyfriend, Veronica Mars and Betty alum Max Greenfield -- Out spoke to James about the show's gay creator, real-life experience in a fraternity, and his own guys-who-play-gay mafia of actor friends.

Out: What kind of a reaction have you gotten to this role?
Paul James: My friends think it's cool. I haven't gotten anything negative. To be honest, there's been a lot more reaction from people enjoying the show than anything about my character.

What is a show this cool doing on ABC Family?
ABC Family is really trying to rebrand itself, trying to fill the niche that the CW has left. There is a lot more programming coming on in the next year, trying to get an older demographic. At the same time they're trying to keep the family aspect, which I think is really alive on our show -- the brotherhood and the sisterhood and the support you get from fraternities or sororities. And the creator of the show [Patrick Sean Smith] is gay, and I think he wanted to put something on that responds to who he was as a kid. There weren't very many positive portrayals on TV when he was growing up. And If one out of every 10 people are homosexual, then you've got to think that there are a lot of people in fraternities or sororities that are closeted.

What was your experience in a fraternity like?
I made some great friends. I had a really great time, for the most part. There's a lot of stupid stuff that goes on. I studied drama, and that took so much of my time that I wasn't around much.

Did you have gay brothers in the house?
There was a guy in my fraternity who came out when he left school. I'm still in contact with him. We had a kid rush who was in drama with me, who was gay. It was sort of an awkward conversation when we were discussing whether to give him a bid -- some of what you saw in the first episode of this season really happened.

How much do you and the creator collaborate on the character?
Television is a writer's medium, and it's Sean's show. Everyone's fraternity experience is so different. There was one episode last season with my father, and in the first draft, the father wasn't supportive. From an acting standpoint, that gave me a lot more to do.

But in the version that aired, we learn that his dad is accepting and just doesn't understand why Calvin won't come out to his fraternity. I thought that was so striking -- I'd never seen that story on TV before.
That was Sean's whole thing. He said, "We've already seen the father who doesn't approve of the son. That's been done. It's cliche. Let's do something different." It was the right way to go, and it was better. Calvin can't just be like everyone else. He has to be representative of some ideals and some things that need to happen for gay characters on television. From an actor's standpoint, sometimes that can be frustrating. But ultimately it's more important that it's good for the show.

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