Gale Harold is having a good year. As the star of Showtime's smash hit Queer as Folk, he has set tongues a-wagging and hearts aflutter in the role of the gay stud-sexpot Brian Kinney. Now, just to mix things up a bit, he's taken on the role of the homophobic nephew in Uncle Bob for the Rebellion Theatre Company. Written by Austin Pendleton, the two-character plays opens April 23 at the Soho Playhouse. It details the complicated relationship between a self-loathing victim of AIDS (played brilliantly by George Morfogen), who is facing a meaningless death, and his disturbed young nephew (Harold), who is facing a meaningless life. I caught up with Harold recently for a pre-opening interview.
JC: Let's start at the very beginning: Where are you from?
GH: I'm from Atlanta. A lot of my family is still there, but they're kind of all spread out. I moved around quite a bit after high school, then ended up at the San Francisco Art Institute.
JC: You're a painter?
GH: No, I'm a photographer and screen printer. Through that, I got to know a lot of performance artists and people in the local underground theater scene. When they started to get into more traditional stuff, I started to see that as a possibility for myself. I was never really able to make any connection as a visual artist, so I walked away from it all. It was an organic thing. I sort of drifted into the theater.
JC: This drifting is a rather recent event, correct?
GH: Yes. It was in 1995.
JC: So, you didn't dream of being an actor as a kid?
GH: No. My parents weren't theater people at all, so I didn't ever think about show business as a possibility.
JC: Your career is growing so fast, between the play and the TV series. I wonder if you have time to enjoy it all.
GH: I guess it's all kind of a swirl, but being able to do a show like Uncle Bob is exactly what I want. After I started studying, doing scene work, and rethinking what "drama" was all about, I only wanted to be in plays. I moved to L.A. so that I could study with a new teacher...plus the fact that I couldn't afford to live in San Francisco anymore!
JC: Where did you study in Los Angeles?
GH: The Actor's Conservatory Program at A Noise Within. They do classical work, and their outreach to young actors is great. It's a six-month program. Very intense.
JC: Tell me about your character, Josh, in Uncle Bob. Isn't it interesting that you're playing a homophobe in this play when you're playing such an out, gay character in Queer as Folk?
GH: Well, Josh isn't a fag-basher by any stretch. I think that, if his uncle hadn't been infected with the AIDS virus, he might not be so homophobic. The actual mechanics of Uncle Bob's sexuality have really screwed with Josh's head. He thinks his uncle is a genius, and he's the only person he has ever connected with.
JC: The play ends with a lot of unanswered questions; the audience is left to decide what happens. Have you chosen an outcome in your mind?
GH: No. I let the play end right where it ends. Uncle Bob is like a snapshot of life. The trajectory of the characters is clear; you see where they start and where they are headed, but there's no happy ending where the ends are tied up neatly. There's no structural resolution. I'm not sure what Austin's intention was, but you really get involved with the relationship of the characters. The play is about their struggle. That's so interesting for me, because it's like eavesdropping.
JC: You sure have a lot going on in your life right now. Not many actors working Off-Broadway have their faces plastered on a huge billboard for a TV series right in the middle of the theater district. Is there someone in your life that grounds you, the way Josh grounds Uncle Bob?
GH: Not really. Just working keeps me grounded. Plus, I didn't grow up dreaming of this, so I didn't have any high expectations. That keeps me completely engaged. It's a brand new experience on many different levels.
JC: With your TV success, have old friends and family been coming out of the woodwork to say hi?
GH: (laughing) I did get a very short e-mail from an old friend that just said, "Is that you?"
JC: I noticed on the Queer as Folk website message boards that most of your fans are female. That surprised me a little, considering your character's blatant homosexuality.
GH: I think it's the first time that women have had the chance to see this part of life, unless they're into buying male gay porn! It's very explicit. Men have been watching women make love to each other in magazines and films forever. If you're sexually attracted to men, it stands to reason that you might like to see two men in a sexual situation It's a real baseline dynamic! And it changes the power struggle, because women never got to see that. That's a bizarre sociological result of the show.
JC: What's the future of Queer as Folk?
GH: We've finished the first season and have been picked up for another. We're scheduled to start shooting again in July, although everything is hinging on the possible strike.
JC: How did you get the role of Brian?
GH: I auditioned, just like everyone else!
JC: Tell me about the character.
GH: He's very strong, extremely clear. He was created as a very sexualized, driven, unapologetic, unsentimental person. Since he's a gay man living in present-day America, the potential for being knocked out of his own orbit is really great. He lives his life at a fever pitch and seems like he's always stepping on hot rocks. I knew it would be a great role to play; but I'm learning that, working on episodic TV, you really don't get to evolve. If the character changes too much, it doesn't make a lot of sense to the audience. You have to let things happen slowly, which was difficult for me to conceptualize. Fortunately, Brian is not the type of guy to go through many changes!
JC: Who has inspired you as an actor?
GH: I saw The Play About the Baby, and Marian Seldes was so extremely alive in it. Of course, it's a brilliant role with great lines, but her delivery and timing were out of this world. It's like she's having a love affair with what she's doing on stage. At the time I saw her performance, I was trying to figure out how to deal with my character in Uncle Bob, and how to deal with the character of Uncle Bob. He's very sophisticated and impenetrable; Josh is trying to get through to him but, with his vernacular, speech patterns, and rhythms, Josh seems like a kid banging on a rock with a hammer. When I saw Marian Seldes, she made me realize what it means to be on stage. That feeling of communication is what pulled me from working with two-dimensional visual arts into the world of the theater.