Although television has long been at the forefront of LGBT inclusion, we’ve recently seen a trend in mainstream representation. In the tradition of Will & Grace, the LGBT sitcom proves that our stories can be told with the same humor and importance as heteronormative plots.
One show currently making that statement is ABC’s The Real O’Neals. After much criticism from conservative groups, the product of Dan Savage’s labor is well into its first season and has just been renewed for a second. It tells the story of Kenny O’Neal, a gay teenager from a devout Catholic family living in the suburbs of Chicago and comically catching up with the times.
Noah Galvin stars as Kenny, the awkwardly adorable protagonist. Galvin’s theatrical childhood in New York has given him a progressive upbringing and confidence far from the sheltered existence of his character. The differences in Kenny and Noah are evident after a short conversation with the young actor. Yet, he’s managed to create a character that’s won most of America’s heart and has even served as a role model for LGBT youth.
We spoke with Galvin as he was patiently awaited news of whether or not The Real O’Neals would be renewed for a second season.
Out: You’re out publicly, and it doesn’t seem to be so much of an issue for you as it has been in the past with a lot of actors. Did you have any hesitation with being open?
To be honest, not really. I mean it’s something my team and I talked about initially. But given the platform with this show, given the responsibility, I felt that it was necessary to be as open about my sexuality as possible given the subject matter. But I didn’t truly know what it would do. Of course there are cases like Rupert Everett and whatnot long ago in which he was just blacklisted. So I’d hoped it wouldn’t be something like that, and it hasn’t been really. But because of the show, I haven’t really had much of a pilot season. I haven’t been auditioning as much as I normally would. To be honest, I truly don’t know how it’s really affected my career.
What’s it like being a part of this show that gives gay storytelling a mainstream medium and format?
It’s fucking awesome. I get messages from kids on the daily saying how relatable it is for them and the older generations of gay people saying they wished they had something like this on TV when they were younger, someone they could look to to feel like their situation is maybe a little bit more normal than the world around them made it seem. I got a message from a mom a few weeks ago on Facebook whose son is like 11 years old and had come out. She sent me a picture of him, and he just looked so self assured and awesome. I wish I was that cool when I was 11. It’s awesome that somebody that young who’s just figuring himself out, that he’ll grow up with this sitcom as a norm. It’s a very cool thing.
You, Matt Shively, and Bebe Wood play siblings. Are you good friends offset?
Yea, we love each other. We love each other thoroughly. We have a family group text actually titled The Real O’Neals in my phone. It’s Mary Hollis who plays Aunt Jody, Martha (Plimpton), Jay (Ferguson), Matt, Bebe, and me. So pretty much as a cast, we’re all very close. But my fake siblings are my best friends. I love them to death. Bebe Wood is gonna rule the world some day. She’s smarter than all of us. She’s a goddamn genius.
And Martha Plimpton does such a good job at playing this mother who may be traditional, but she is making an effort so you really can’t help but love her. What’s it like working with such a dynamic actress?
It’s a very cool thing. I think Martha, being as intelligent and left wing as she is, is able to give this character depth and dimension. And I think for her, it’s been a cool process to really get to understand this woman and understand the struggle of a person who has grown up with such staunch beliefs who’s now having to deal with this new reality. If I were to meet Eileen O’Neal in real life, I can’t say that I wouldn’t just write her off as sort of a bigot. But working with Martha is my favorite thing ever. We both come from New York City. She’s an honorary Jew, I’m a real life Jew. We’re both from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I spent my formative high school years like literally two blocks from the apartment that she had lived in for like 42 years on the Upper West Side. So we were within walking distance of each other but never knew each other. We have lots of friends in common. We both come from New York theater. Yea, we bonded very quickly. But the way they structured the filming process, they put five weeks in the middle and we filmed five episodes that all of the storylines were centered around me and Martha. So it was basically just the two of us for a solid five weeks and it was very intense dealing with these issues. It was almost as if we were actually going through the things that Eileen and Kenny were going through. It felt like we were dating for a little bit. We started out in our honeymoon phase but in the depths of our five-week process, we wanted to kill each other. But we found love again. [laughs]
Your character is going through a lot of firsts as a recently out gay kid. Are these scenarios things that you’ve experienced since you came out of the closet?
Sort of. I’d say I wasn’t as sheltered as Kenny is. So on a base level, we’re going through the same thing as any kid coming out of the closet does, going back to school for the first time, going on a first date and whatnot. But I grew up in musical theater with gays all around me so I had a slightly better idea of how to navigate the "gay lifestyle" as the Catholic league would put it.
Your character is also inspired by a young Dan Savage. Did you get a chance to work with him on bringing Kenny to life and building your character?
People ask me this all the time. Dan didn’t really have anything to do with the character. When I first auditioned for the show, it was called The Untitled Dan Savage Project, and the character was very much, even physically, based on him. There was a line in the scene from the pilot when my girlfriend is trying to have sex with me and she pulls out a condom, and in the script I initially read in my first audition, she gets my shirt off and talks about being able to see my ribs because I’m so skinny. And that’s not me. (Laughs) I’m a little skinny fat in real life. Anything with that throughout the process of filming the pilot, Dan sort of took a step back. Part of the reason was the amount of flack we were getting just because Dan was involved. People were up in arms about the show. So throughout the filming of the pilot and throughout the process of us getting picked up to series, it became less inspired by Dan Savage’s life and instead, it sort of became this launching pad for what the show is currently. But I’m close with him. He’s a really good source of advice for me in terms of how to deal with these kids contacting me about their struggles and coming out to their families. That’s when I really turn to Dan, and that’s when he’s really been the most helpful to me.
I definitely remember seeing the negative backlash from some conservative groups. Did you personally face any of that backlash with social media or hate mail or anything?
Honestly, only once. I mean people write about the show all the time, like One Million Moms and whatnot, but they never directly attack any of us except like once. This guy on Facebook wrote me. Fuck, I wish I could remember it. (Laughs) He called me like a dick-eating, semen-intoxicated, hashtag, all caps, sodomite. (Laughs) That was the only hate mail I got. It was just pretty entertaining. And then he sent me a Joel Osteen video or something like that.
Well I love your sense of humor about it. What are some things we can expect from Kenny in the next few episodes?
The fantasy sequences in the next episode are some of my favorites. Tim Gunn is in them, and I love that man so much. We had so much fun together. He was literally the sweetest person in the world. Nobody is more gentle and giving than Tim Gunn. So he will be there. You can expect some Tim Gunn action, maybe some Project Runway references. There’s some episodes with some shenanigans between the three kids which I always love. Getting to work with my siblings is always a riot. And then prom. And you’ll have to wait and see. Maybe a first kiss with a boy? Who knows? You’ll have to watch.
Do you know if you’ll be renewed for season two yet?
No, I’m living in purgatory and it’s the worst thing ever. Basically what happens is they have to release to the world all the pilots they’re going to pick up for this next season. Once they do that, they figure out where we fit in the lineup. They decide if they want to move us around in terms of where we lie in the week and time slot. So we basically have these next few weeks to sit around and slowly die.
Well I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Thank you. It’s my 22nd birthday on Friday so if they don’t tell me on my birthday, I’ll be so mad.
Happy Early Birthday! Assuming the show gets renewed, is there any unchartered territory that you hope Kenny gets to explore?
I don’t know. Kenny’s spent a lot of time pretending to be something or suppressing his true self. Like you saw in the Romeo & Juliet play episode, he talks about having wanted to do the plays before but being afraid to because he thought it would out him. And I think he sees a lot of extracurricular activities that way. I don’t know if he’s ever truly found his passion or his group of friends or the things that excite him besides men, boys. So I’m really excited to focus on things other than his sexuality. I’m excited to delve deeper into who Kenny is as a person now that he can truly be himself.
Update: The Real O'Neals has since been renewed for Season 2!