September 28, 2016
Edited by: Marcy
David: First fifteen years of your life, you lived in a very, maybe the word is constrained environment? It was defined by religion? Is that a fair statement?
Gale: To a certain degree.
David: Remember that I am cut out of this, so anything I say, please say in a way that gives in context. But tell me about growing up.
Gale: I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, in the suburbs, surrounding areas, southwest DeKalb County. Born in Atlanta, downtown, but raised in Decatur and Stone Mountain and South DeKalb. At a certain point in my life my family became really seriously involved with the church, Pentecostal, Southern Pentecostal, born again, quite a large organization, and maybe from the age of six or so I kind of got injected into that world. There were services five times a week – Wednesdays, Monday nights, and two services on Sunday, that’s five, isn’t it? Maybe? There was a big youth organization, “Christian Rock,” but that was a Monday night thing. Sunday was somewhat unique, fairly integrated for the time, in terms of the church body and excellent music. Sometimes we’d have two drummers on stage at the same time, so it would be sort of gospel blues and southern rock and people speaking in tongues and falling down, all that.
David: Were you an active participant, or were you sort of watching it?
Gale: I was primarily watching. I mean, I was in and out a little bit when I was younger, but I never really synthesized with that world. I watched it a lot. The music was a compelling part of it, but other than that it was more Bible stories and trying to stay out of trouble like any other place, you know?
David: Were you good at staying out of trouble?
Gale: I was fairly good. I could keep my head down, you know? I had friends that would get whacked and I would kind of be slightly behind.
Gale: Older sister, younger brother.
David: And what’s the age difference? You’re in the middle.
Gale: Six years younger than my sister, and almost eight older than my brother, seven, something. I can’t really talk about my brother, just so you know.
David: You don’t have to talk about anything, that’s fine. I’m an only child. What I’m getting is that in a way, because of that age gap, you’re sort of on your own, there’s not a close age between…
Gale: Yeah, the age difference between my older sister and my younger brother was kind of that perfect thread, and being in that position in the middle, it was kind of easy to be invisible, you know? And to my delight, actually, it was very…it was cool.
David: You were a part of that until you were a teenager, about fifteen?
Gale: Until I was about… I rapidly extracted myself about the time I got my driver’s license, and then I left completely from that world when I was seventeen. I haven’t been back there, to that church world.
David: What was it…you said what you did like about it, the music was compelling and interestingly it was somewhat integrated, what didn’t you like?
Gale: I didn’t like having to be inside the church building so much of the week. That was a little bit irritating. I was a kid, you know? I wanted to be outside, like any other kid. I was never really so gungho about it that I could preoccupy myself with what I felt about religion or God or Jesus or whatever. My mind was sort of in other places. I just didn’t like the rigor of it. It wasn’t like I was getting something immediately out of it. I loved reading the Bible, I loved hearing about the Old Testament, a lot of those stories, but it wasn’t really for me.
David: Did you get to Leviticus?
Gale: Yeah, I read most of it. I was remembering recently one of the most bizarre ones, stories of the Old Testament that I can really remember hearing for the first time and being rocked by was David’s oldest… David’s oldest son? David’s oldest son was… maybe it was his older brother? Was trying to escape riding his horse through the forest and he got his hair stuck in a tree and was hung by the hair? Snapped his neck and… anyway. Who knows how accurate that story is? But that’s the kind of thing that was interesting to me, beside the music. The Book of Revelations was… that’s a great one… job… those kinds of things.
David: But your values, as a person, it’s gotta be kind of hard because you’re doing this five days a week, you’re in a setting that is pretty exacting and Pentecostal, pretty specific, speaking in tongues, you’re in a world of it’s own. It’s very separate from the secular world. That’s my perception, tell me if that’s wrong.
Gale: Well, yeah, the Pentecostal church in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, it was pretty tribalistic. The Holy Spirit coming into your body and then coming out of your mouth in a language that only God and you can understand. There is a bit of Willy Wonka in there, there’s a bit of Clockwork Orange in there, there’s all kinds of stuff going on. And yeah, it was pretty isolated and its own world, but it’s like any other place, you know? It’s full of pretenders and full of double-dealers and charlatans all the way up and down the line. And I’m sorry to say that, but any organized group of people with some sort of hierarchy, that’s just the way it works. We all know this. It’s human nature.
David: We do. Were you leaving that or going to something when you got that driver’s license?
Gale: Kind of double. Both sides. I was leaving that because I kind of hit that wall of doubt, but more just [laughs] bullshit calling. You know? I called that card. And there’s no explanation. There’s nothing that’s coming through. I’ve never seen a flaming sword. Not unless it was on some nightclub stage somewhere at some point. But yeah, I didn’t believe that, I didn’t buy it. I loved the stories, I loved the myth, I loved the poetry, I loved the intensity, I loved the music, but the day to day of it was pretty clearly preposterous.
David: How of the world could you be before you left that? In other words, your household… did you have a television? Could you watch TV?
Gale: Yeah, to some degree. Not a lot. There was a bit of cable at some point, so I did see some films on television. I remember that the two biggest things that I saw on television was once, I think on a Sunday afternoon, I saw part of Lawrence of Arabia, that really blew me away. And I saw… Helen Mirren, Gabriel Byrne [struggling a bit, thinking hard] … John Schlesinger, is it? The Arthurian film, what’s it called? What’s the title? What’s the name of the world?
David: Not Camelot, no.
Gale: No, not Camelot.
David: Hmm. Hold that thought, we’ll come back to it. But you saw films on TV. Did you watch, during this period of time, were you watching television television?
Gale: Sometimes. When I was a kid, watching television was sort of… I played a lot of soccer, so I was gone in the afternoons until it was the early evening and then I was in my room listening to records. I remember things like All in the Family, I remember Dukes of Hazzard, and I remember Sesame Street. That was one of the things I watched probably the most of. I remember The Gong Show, I remember my mom watched a lot of daytime soap operas. I remember when I was a smaller kid seeing that stuff. And I used to watch a show on Atlanta public television called Soccer Made in Germany, which was German football matches that were then overdubbed with an English announcer, because I played a lot when I was a kid so that was really… one locked off shot of the field, somewhere up in the stands. The Love Boat. [laughs]
David: Yes, because who wouldn’t want to be on that boat?
Gale: Right. [laughs]
David: You mentioned All in the Family. Obviously All in the Family was a fairly controversial show. Did that raise hackles? Was there anything that you weren’t allowed to watch and that you had to sneak and watch?
Gale: I wasn’t allowed to watch a mini-series about Marco Polo, because it was being sponsored by Arm & Hammer, I think, and Arm & Hammer on the back of their… one of their logos is the sickle and the stars, right? The moon and the stars. And somehow that was interpreted by the church that I went to as a kid as being borderline satanic or possibly a symbol of the oncoming apocalypse so I was not allowed to watch that. All in the Family was too smart for my family. We would never have picked up on the subtext at all. And it was very exotic, you know? Northeast. Southeast. We moved about [adapts Southern drawl] that fast. [snaps fingers at a slow tempo] And the Irish-American world, that could have been… [laughs] I was maybe Dutch and Scotch somewhere, but no heavy family influence in terms of the tribe.
David: Do you remember seeing some of those images on TV that, as we’re talking about here, were the first time that people saw anything that was out of the nuclear family, and All in the Family was a big part in breaking that barrier down. There were gay people. Do you remember any of that?
Gale: I don’t as a kid. I remember more how the Jefferson family came through and… I think, if I remember correctly, and I could be totally wrong, but is it the intro, the titles to The Jeffersons, is that when they shoot the gatefold into the painting that’s of the Marvin Gaye record, of everyone dancing in the nightclub? Just a beautiful painting. I don’t know if I’m thinking of another show that was used as part of the images in the introduction, but it was sort of this juke joint and there were all these beautiful people dancing and sweating in different positions and I remember Marvin Gaye used it on the gatefold inside the album cover. And somehow I’m associating their theme song and at the very end the camera’s panning across, and I didn’t know that until much later, but that was more kind of compelling or interesting to me because of the church that I went to and the part of the city that I grew up in was…
[siren wailing in the distance]
David: There’s a siren coming. Asher, can you hear me? Do you remember what show that was? [mumbling in the distance] The film was Excalibur.
Gale: The film was Excalibur, yes, and Gabriel Byrne played Lancelot and Helen Mirren played Morgane. It blew me away. For an eight-year-old to see Helen Mirren without her clothes on, it was just… it was too much.
David: It’s still too much now.
Gale: It’s still too much.
David: She’s so amazing, to this moment. Dame Helen Mirren. We’ll get to the dame you worked with in a while. So one thing I keep hearing, if I’m listening, is music. There’s a beat in your head. There’s music in your head all the time.
Gale: I think so, yeah.
David: Marvin Gaye, and from the church, David Bowie. So at that point, as you’ve said, you’ve called bullshit on where that was. Where did you think you wanted to go?
Gale: I didn’t know. I mean, I called it bullshit, my own choice of word and my interpretation of that. I just wanted to blast off, you know? I just wanted to go. After high school, I really want to go to school far away. I ended up in DC for half a semester and then I dropped out. Came back to Atlanta for a bit, went to Tucson for awhile, knocked around there, came back to Atlanta, saved up, then moved to San Francisco to study photography and printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute. So my escape was a little bit interrupted. I fell back and took off and fell back and took off, but when I got to San Francisco, that was my last time in Atlanta for any substantial period of time. I’ve been gone since.
David: When you get to San Francisco, how old are you?
David: Nineteen. When you arrived in San Francisco, was that the first time you’d been to the city?
Gale: Yeah. I’d been to California once when I was a kid. I was in Bakersfield and Riverside and Los Angeles and San Diego on a soccer tour playing, but we didn’t get to see too much. And I’d never been to northern California, I’d never been to San Francisco. I’d never been to Oakland, Sacramento, any of those places.
David: If I’m doing my math right, we’re in the late ‘80s.
David: ‘89. What’s your impression of San Francisco? It’s another world from where you were.
Gale: I got to San Francisco, I landed I think around 3:00 in the afternoon. My friend, who I was going to school with, who I met in DC, we both decided to leave DC and try to get to San Francisco somehow. He was raised in Palos Verdes, a California guy, dirtbiker, just kind of archetypal ‘70s, ‘80s SoCal kid, but he had friends who lived in San Francisco and had spent some time there, and we were both sort of demystified by Washington, DC, and wanted to go somewhere else, and I had already applied to go to school there. So he said, “if I were you, that’s where I’d go,” and he called me later and said “I’m going to move there and transfer to San Francisco State,” so he picked me up from the airport, 3:00 in the afternoon, drove straight to Golden Gate Park, and then worked our way back down to the Mission, which at that point was still pretty much razor blades, hypodermic needles, lots of fun. [smiles] And that was kind of that.
David: I had been there ten years before, and it was that then. But the Haight was, and this was 20-some odd years after the Summer of Love, the Haight was becoming gay at this point.
Gale: I didn’t experience any of that until… the first couple of weeks was just exploring, you know? The thing I will always remember about it, that’s stuck in my mind, I felt like… I’d heard so much about San Francisco, I’d read so much about it, I’d seen some of it on film, but I really felt like I was just getting to a party. I was coming in the front door. And most of the people were just leaving from the other side of the room, you know? It was just kind of closing down. It changed a lot in those first two years that I was there. But compared to today, it’s pretty exotic, and I’m really happy I was there at the time that I was.
David: Did you know Tales of the City?
Gale: I didn’t really know that, actually, when I got there. I knew it by name, but I learned more about that years after I was there. I learned it historically through some people I knew who had grown up there and the political history of the city, just friends that I picked up that I became really close with by living there, who had either fled to San Francisco because they wanted to be free from wherever they were from, they ended up there because they were musicians or artists. So the interplay of people that I came to know, they brought me up to speed on the history.
David: Is this the first place you saw lots of gay people?
Gale: No, the first place I saw lots of gay people was in Atlanta. Absolutely. And in my church, to be honest. That wasn’t officially recognized, but there were some people that I think it… that’s why it’s so preposterous that they use that phrase “don’t ask, don’t tell.” At that point, it’s this ongoing, running gag of “okay, we’re not going to talk about it, it’s not happening, right. I know why that man is more like my mom than like my dad, but… I guess we’re just not going to talk about it.”
David: But what they did talk about it was that it was a sin, right?
Gale: Oh, yeah. I don’t remember specifically hearing that being preached from the pulpit, either because I wasn’t listening or I didn’t hear it or I can’t remember, it’s been too long. But you have to remember that was the south, too. Whether you’re Baptist or Episcopal or whatever, even if you’re not religious, these are some very old American ways of behaving. What you are and are not allowed to do in public, and the assumptions, just about body language and inflection of voice and all those things, it’s a breeding ground for pretty A-list bullies, for a lot of different reasons. But it was not looked upon well.
David: For you, looking upon it, first as a teenager and then as a young man, first in DC and then really in San Francisco, did you form a view of this? You’re arriving in San Francisco at the end of a decade that’s been devastating for gay men. How conscious of that were you?
Gale: I think that my understanding of what AIDS meant, what that word meant, was almost purely understood through watching the news. At the point that I moved to San Francisco, I didn’t know anybody who had verbally spoken to me about that, either that they knew someone or that they were scared or that they were worried. I had heard public service announcements in terms of safe sex, needle exchange, use of drugs… I wasn’t a drug user and I wasn’t in that world, so I didn’t have a direct awareness of it. It was after I got to San Francisco and saw for the first time someone who was ill and was made aware of what that illness looked like by people that could explain it to me. And then people that I worked with and hung out with and went to school with, then there was a lot of that conversation. You know, be careful, be careful, be careful. And I was going to school with painters and sculptors and photographers and performance artists so of course… that’s when Piss Christ was a huge piece, and Blood on the Flag, and Jesse Helms, and so it was a constant topic of conversation, whether it was about that specifically or it was the world that was falling apart around us.
David: You talked about having seen it on the news. Do you remember, a few years earlier than that, Rock Hudson? Do you remember that on TV?
Gale: I think I remember about Rock Hudson. I remember some maybe gasp or something as a result of my mom seeing something on television and sort of being third-party to that and not really knowing and hearing rumblings, but I really didn’t learn the specifics of that story until much later. That was a bit before me.
David: Do you remember the end of the ‘70s, that is, Anita Bryant?
Gale: Oh, yeah. Anita Bryant was either a highly regarded diplomat/comrade in my church or she came and spoke there, I believe. She may have come and spoken on a Sunday afternoon. I spent a lot of time in Florida when I was a kid, a lot of my family lives down there, so anything that has to do with oranges and orange juice, it’s sort of burned in the back of my brain as well. So on the one hand, she was always doing these promotional pieces for the orange industry. And then on the other hand, she’s making this very grim reaper declaration about how a lot of people need to be removed and that’s how it should be and that’s why it’s happening.
David: But you were young. Do you have, and say her name if you can, do you have an impression of Anita Bryant in your memory?
Gale: Oh, I remember her having her bouffant hair, that billowing… I remember her wearing white dresses. I think I remember seeing commercials of her walking through orange groves with cameras on cranes, great shots swooping in on her and whatever she’s saying about the Florida orange industry, I think… either that or it’s a John Waters movie that’s somehow in my mind that I’ve just put together now, I don’t know.
David: I’m going to go with that you actually remember it, but John Waters is fine. You remember that, but do you remember hearing people talk about what she was saying?
Gale: Oh, that’s my point. That’s sort of the overlay. I understood her as this woman who was this celebrity/personality/singer somehow who was pumping oranges, but under her breath, and very directly, was attacking the world of homosexuals and decreeing that their suffering and the thing that had befallen them was somehow coming from above and was their deserved right. And I think when we go back to what I was talking about before, my instinct, the bullshit that was flying around the church, that’s part of it. That’s just my intuition as a kid. You can’t say that. How can you… there are laboratories, there is science, there is medicine, you can’t start saying there are winged horses. We know that. We know there aren’t unicorns. We know that Narnia is a great setting for a book, but it’s not really true. Jesus didn’t walk on the water. He just didn’t. So AIDS isn’t some sort of damnation from God, and for you to say that is asinine.
David: It’s worse than that. It caused a lot of people to die.
David: Speaking of someone who did, Harvey Milk. Do you remember any of that?
Gale: Well, going back to talk about Tales of the City, I learned more about that writing after I learned about Harvey Milk and after I learned about the history of the city. He’s an icon, so there’s iconography around, there’s his picture, there’s mementos left to him, so I ingested a lot of that in passing, but the longer that I lived there and spending a lot of time in the library and getting to know people who had grown up there and were born and raised there, that’s where I learned that firsthand. I didn’t research it. I got it very organically.
David: I’m kind of glad that you did. I met him when I was a kid, I was still closeted when I met him and I saw him give that speech he became famous for giving. He was saying he was doing that for that fourteen years old in Altoona, Pennsylvania who doesn’t know there is anyone else like him in the world. And I was 21 when I hear him give that and I didn’t know there was anyone like me . So fast forward, you get to San Francisco, you’re studying, you’re in a crowd of artists, some gay, some straight. I’m guessing you were hit on. It’s gonna happen. People react to that differently, and in different periods of time, where it used to be something that you’d recoil in shock. Do you remember that experience for you?
Gale: Well, in San Francisco I was somewhat already accustomed to it, because like I said, I grew up in Atlanta, and I began working in restaurants pretty young. I worked in Virginia Highlands, I worked North Avenue, I had a lot of friends in Decatur. Piedmont, Virginia Highlands, North Avenue, Ansley Park was a long-established gay neighborhood, and that’s where I learned why all of the best architecture, a lot of the best restaurants, they’re always in certain neighborhoods, right? And I worked in some really good restaurants, and I worked with a lot of gay men and a lot of gay women, because they’re always the best at serving the food and talking about the wine and hypnotizing you into buying more than you really need, but that’s the magic of it. So I was sort of prepared for that when I got to San Francisco. And when I got to San Francisco, I went much further into just focusing on my work, and a lot of that was just studio time. It was all about going to see bands, making photographs, and paying the bills. I didn’t have a lot of gallivanting.
David: Studio time, and going to see music. Where were you going in the ‘90s to go see music?
Gale: We used to go to the Nightbreak, we used to go to the Covered Wagon, we used to go to the I-Beam. I worked at the Warfield Theater so I saw a lot of music at work, and because of all the relationships that you make, the sort of gypsy tribe of “can you get me into this show, can you get me into that show?” so I backed into a lot of good stuff without having to pay for it, which is good. I worked at one club called the Trocadero, which had one really big gay night, it had a retractable roof. But every night of the week there were different DJs there.
David: What were you doing there? What were your jobs?
Gale: At Trocadero I was working the door. As you can tell, I’m a total ass kicker so I should definitely have been there doing that. But most of my work in restaurants was either serving or clearing tables, bar backing. At the Warfield they served food, I think that’s how they were able to have almost every show be all ages because there was some food to counter the alcohol.
David: It’s a great venue.
David: It’s funny you should say the I-Beam, because going back, that was the place in the ‘70s. It’s where I met Harvey.
David: Yeah, it was at the I-Beam, and then went and saw him speak. It’s kind of funny; the I-Beam was Babylon.
Gale: Yeah, the I-Beam was a very popular gay club before I got there, and then it turned back into a rock club, and the shows… like I saw Hole there, I saw the Flaming Lips there, I saw the Butthole Surfers there. They were pulling pretty serious… that was I think a 3,000 seat, you could fit 2,500 people there, maybe? When it was packed, when it was wall-to-wall?
David: All I remember is people dancing.
Gale: Yeah. Up the stairs, there’s a long hallway, then there’s bars on one side and there’s the room, the live room on the other side. I saw some very cool things there.
David: Hole and Butthole Surfers.
Gale: Yeah. Flaming Lips. I can’t even remember now. So many great shows there.
David: Like I said, I hear a lot of music threading its way through your life. It’s important to you, yet it’s not what you were doing. When was acting absolutely what you were doing?
Gale: I came into acting in kind of a strange angle. I was studying, trying to make enough money to buy film so that I could shoot and process, and at some point I just ran out of the ability to keep up, so I took a hiatus and I never really made it back to school. But one of my good friends from school was living with me at my shop in east Oakland and he met someone at a gallery showing of a friend of his paintings, and then I met her, sort of became friends with some new people. I came into it kind of backwards. I was introduced to a theater director who talked a lot about stage work and that was her life. And I only really understood plays as literature. I read plays, but I had never really seen a play.
David: That’s Martin Landau’s daughter?
Gale: Yes, Susy Landau, that was my dear friend. That’s the reason I ever came to Los Angeles, and she introduced me to a woman named Joan Scheckel, who was an excellent theatre actor and director and I started study with her… But I don’t think I ever would have really followed through with that if I hadn’t lost the building I was living in in San Francisco. My building was owned by the archdiocese, and it was supposed to be protected by a city ruling for live-work spaces, but somehow the archdiocese sold the building and it turned into a parking garage, so I had to leave. I couldn’t afford to live in San Francisco anymore, so I moved to Los Angeles.
David: They paved paradise…
Gale: Yeah, they did. They paved it right down.
David: Except for anything else.. I’m a huge, always was as a kid, a huge Martin Landau fan. What a great actor. So you came down to Los Angeles. You’d seen it playing soccer, but you hadn’t really seen it. Los Angeles, as we know sitting here, is a world entirely different than San Francisco.
David: When did you arrive?
David: And you almost didn’t stay. You were down to, like, farthings.
Gale: When I was hired for my first professional job as an actor, yeah, I had about five bucks.
David: Even then, that didn’t go very far.
Gale: No, it didn’t go any farther than the fact that I ran out of gas in my truck and took the bus to my house to get the five bucks to take the bus back to get the gas to drive the truck back to my house to park it so it could be there, out of gas.
David: You know, we pay a dollar for these interviews, so I’m feeling like we could help.
Gale: I appreciate it.
David: Any time. Now, here’s the thing. It’s the ‘90s, and something else has happened. Television is starting to change in a very real way with respect to gay people. Are you watching any television during this period?
Gale: I wasn’t watching anything. I mean, I was living very minimally and I didn’t see it. The only thing I would ever see on a television screen was if I went to watch some European football match in a sports bar somewhere. I was watching films from time to time, on DVD or on VHS or something, but I wasn’t really up to speed.
David: So you weren’t watching things like, for example, Ellen when she came out.
Gale: No. I was absolutely out of the loop for all that.
David: Did it enter your consciousness? We asked Rachel Maddow this. She said she remembers she didn’t own a television for ten years, two years of which she was on TV, but she remembers seeing Ellen’s coming out on the cover of a magazine.
Gale: I remember that. I remember there being an announcement of some sort, and I didn’t –
David: Can you say what it was?
Gale: I do remember some announcement of some sort about Ellen coming out. And I didn’t have a fast track into what her world was and how that affected her world. I remember in the aftermath of that hearing about the show itself being canceled, or something being pulled, and that was the show, and the reason for that was the fact that she had made this statement. But she had made it in character, which was the fascinating part to me. And I really didn’t clock on that in the moment that it happened, because it was all flying past me at light speed. But to later hear that when I began to more specifically think of telling the story of someone who was homosexual on television, all those things came back in research and just conversations, yeah.
Gale: No. I had a manager, a wonderful manager.
David: You had a manager, and you get a script for Queer as Folk. Was that the norm? Were you getting a lot of scripts?
Gale: No, no, no. The details are very simple. I had a manager who saw me do a play and she’d been sending me out for things and I wasn’t doing very well. I really didn’t enjoy it. And I really liked studying, and I really liked working with actors and directors, but the terrifying going in and try to bang a cup and get a job as a result of it was kind of grinding me down. And I had made this decision that I was going to move. I was going to move to either to New York or to Chicago. I was going to flip a coin, I was going to make a decision, just dive further into working as a stage actor and learning more going to the promised land, so to speak, when I was sent this script for the pilot episode of QAF. I read it, and, to be absolutely honest, and to give credit where credit is due, if I had not seen Aidan Gillen performing in the British version of Stuart – and the chance of me seeing that was absolutely synchronistic because my girlfriend at the time was making sort of tape collages, kind of random access of thing after thing, and then she would build them into some sort of strange, surrealist storyline, and I was watching one of her gatherings of the day, and I saw that scene, and she goes “What about that?” And I said “that’s…what is that?” She said “it’s some British show, it’s called Queer as Folk.” I said “that’s crazy, those guys are really good, I’ve never seen anything like that. How do they… oh, it’s BBC, or it’s Channel 4 or something, because we can’t have it here.” And then maybe a month later I got the script and I looked at it, and I realize that’s what I saw, I saw some scenes from this and it was very interesting and very compelling but I didn’t think there was any way it was going to happen.
David: Do you remember the scene that she put in that collage, that montage? Do you remember what it was?
Gale: They were in a club, they were running down the streets of Manchester. There were a couple of grabs, a couple of snippets. Then there was the scene... the sex scene in the pilot, where the two characters meet, and the older brings the younger back home and baptizes him. I saw at least a bit of it, because I remember us looking at each other kind of going, “wow, that’s television, right? This isn’t some sort of… no, it’s television.” Just because of the context, and the extremity of the scene, the extreme nature of the scene. So I read the script, I called my manager, and I already told her I wasn’t going to go on anymore television auditions. She told me it was a “movie for Showtime.” She was careful about how she described it. And I think maybe because it was so terrifying and it was so unlikely that it would ever happen, and because I had seen the performance of the character that I would be reading for the US version of that , that it kind of fired me up and I decided I would just throw my hat in. And I did. Just thinking really like, this would be my farewell song to Los Angeles.
David: You threw a lot more than your hat. You say it was terrifying. What was terrifying about it?
Gale: For me, at that point in my life, and it still is, it’s still one of the things that’s terrifying to me every day, is to do good work. I am highly and repeatedly blocked by my own state of mind. It’s very hard for me to loosen up sometimes and just do the work. So of course then I double, triple overanalyze everything. What was terrifying was can I go in there and can I even… the first scene that I read for them for Dan and Ron was a very long, it was a pretty long scene, it was kind of a speech, and I don’t have any direct personal understanding of what it is to be a gay man, I don’t know how the world that this character lived in operated, I don’t have any notches on my belt in that regard, but that was the character. He was basically peacocking all over the page and trying to hypnotize this kid, so I didn’t know how I could do that.
David: You read with Randy?
Gale: No, initially I just read with a casting director. I didn’t meet Randy until later on in testing. I didn’t meet him until it kind of came down to the wire.
David: But the speech, as you say, you’re peacocking, do you happen to remember, did it wind up in the script?
Gale: It’s sort of… It’s like “are you coming or are you going, are you coming or then are you going,” it’s sort of a preamble to that. It’s sort of he’s establishing “you’re in my world now, you can leave or you can stay, but these are all the reasons why my world is my world, and here we are, and do you got the balls?” [laughs]
David: So… this happened. You don’t know at this point… you now know retrospectively… it’s funny about memory. I had this conversation with Gore Vidal in which he talked about how we only think we remember, but most of the time we’re remembering the memories of our memories.
David: And that’s why his memoirs are called Palimpsest, it’s a piece of paper that’s not quite the momory. You’ve told this story or thought about it and looked back on it... it’s been a number of years now since that happened. It’s sixteen years on. Do you remember how you felt when they told you got the part?
Gale: I remember being told that I had been cast as this character Brian Kinney. I remember, as odd as it sounds, I remember everything going silent, just sort of… “what are you going to do now? What are you going to do about it?” This isn’t a version of the memory, this isn’t a overlay. This is exactly what happened – you’ve got it, and you have to leave in two days if you take it, and what do you think? And I said, on the one hand, I’ve got 70 cents. On the other hand, I’ve got 70 cents. I just went in. I knew that if I had been able to get to this place, where they wanted me to work with them, then I had accomplished something that up until that point in my life I’d never been there before. This was another level of my life. I grew up in Atlanta, like we’ve said a million times. I already had gay friends as a kid, that I knew were gay, and I knew people that were gay in my church, and I knew people that were gay who were just friends of friends. I also knew about Oscar Wilde and I knew about Jean Genet and I knew about Tennessee Williams as literary figures, more so, especially Williams because I’d never seen any of his plays on stage, but I knew that a lot of the things that I loved in terms of art, in terms of things that compelled me, that made me really step back and say “that’s the kind of work that I’d like to be able to do at some point,” or “I’d like to meet those people,” or “I’d like to be in those worlds,” I felt a real slight tinge of I’d been included on this team now. I had slightly been pulled into a new world and I felt inspired by that. I felt I really wanted to do a good job, but like I said, I was terrified because I didn’t know what to do. Other than to say the lines and play the physical actions and feel the feelings of what the character was feeling, there was a whole part of that world that, I mean… that gun wasn’t loaded. I didn’t have the bullets for that part, so...
David: Well, you didn’t fire blanks, b ut I’m hearing something that I hadn’t thought about before and I read it but it hadn’t dawn on me. You’re thirty years old, right? And you never really had a steady acting gig… anything that was going to put you through . It didn’t matter what the part was, gay, straight…
Gale: Yeah. I’d done this really small, low-budget film with some great guys who became my first on-set family outside of theater, running and gunning and camera work, what it’d take to make a film.
David: How long did that last?
Gale: That was maybe all of four weeks. So yeah, I was still extremely, extremely green, extremely green. It’s fascinating to me that I could even hit my fucking mark, you know? Because it looks very different when you’re on a set as opposed to being on the floor of some stage with people sitting in front of you in chairs.
David: So you get on a plane and you go to Toronto. You ever been to Toronto before?
David: Oookay. What happens now? There’s a car waiting to meet you at the airport?
Gale: Went to the airport. Left the airport. Took the car, went into town, and went to the production office and I was immediately told that because of some glitch with my passport or my work permit I had to go to Buffalo to go back across the border. So got in the car, drove to Buffalo, back across the border. Then I was actually in Canada. I was in the province of Ontario to do work in the city of Toronto and I had an American passport and I was legal to work and I could do that, so that’s where it started. Then I went and had fittings and met Sheila Hockin and Dan and Ron – I had met them already but kind of landed with them. Went to the Sutton Place Hotel, got my information that the first day of shooting would be about eight hours of sex, shooting sex scenes, and I think the next thing that I did was went and bought a bottle of Jameson and went into my room with my headphones and listened to the first Stooges record about thirty times until I couldn’t stay awake. Slept all through the weekend and walked off the plank.
David: You just made Asher’s day. That’s what he would drink, too.
David: So that first scene, that eight hours, that’s with Randy?
David: Did you meet him on set for the first time?
Gale: No, no. We read together for the network. We played a couple scenes in the room together and then… we had a bit of dialogue, we saw each other a little bit before we got to set that first day, but it was pretty much zero to 100.
David: I’m going to ask a personal question. Did you know he was gay and did he know that you were straight when you were doing this?
Gale: I don’t know if he knew if I was gay or straight. I didn’t know whether he was gay or straight. I don’t know if I ever actually had that conversation with him. I don’t think I had that conversation with anyone. I didn’t feel that was relevant and, honestly, I didn’t feel it was very much my business to know. I think I was aware fairly soon who was who and how they were the way they were and why. [laughs]
David: The only thing that might be useful is you said you had no notches on your belt. He’s young, but at least it’s a world that’s not entirely alien to him. Does that help?
Gale: This question was whether this world we were shooting that first day, was it completely foreign to him as a gay man and I’m not, I think for the sake of this conversation, and what actually happened in memory, is that it didn’t matter if I was gay or straight or if he was gay or straight, because what was happening was that human being and this human being had all their clothes on the floor, and we’re surrounded by a crew with two cameras, one on a dolly and one locked, and we were simulating sex from breakfast to dinner. And we had to make it believable, of course, because we were telling a story inside of the sex that I mean, I was the driver and [snaps] da dum dum, he was not, but we had to interact with each other in a way that made sense given the circumstances, where he was coming from, where I was coming from, what I knew and what I felt about it all, and so I think both of us just rapidly sketched out the numbers, and then used whatever we could technically to be there, and then try to find some feeling inside of that to fill it with.
David: Much later, I’m told from Dan and Ron, they tried to approach it differently from how they did at the beginning, which was to think of it like a dance, think of it like choreography, rather than just take your clothes off and have at it. Was that your sense too, that there was an evolution of how you were able to do that over time so that it was more thought through?
Gale: Absolutely. Part of it is just getting up to speed. Doing a fight scene, or doing a dance scene, it’s always choreographed, a lot of times primarily for safety, but ultimately so that it’s a beautiful, fluid thing that we’re seeing and that we’re doing. Absolutely, that became a part of it. But it was difficult for me initially to start making demands on the people I was working with, whether they were actors or the directors or the producers, to kind of acknowledge that this is not a fight scene. We should block it and rehearse it like a fight scene, but it’s not a fight scene. So I can get all the way up to the first ten seconds of the fight, or the first ten seconds of the dance, that’s all wonderful, but there’s something else inside of this, and that always takes precedence over the technical aspect of it. So you have to force the technical part of it on top of it. The result is that if you know what you’re doing and you know why you’re doing it and you know the time it’s going to take to get it done, you can relax, because otherwise it feels like I’m on stage, I don’t have any clothes, and I’m going to be here till the end of time. How many times do we have to do it? What are the shots, what are the angles, let’s count it out, and that way we can get in there and we can give it everything we’ve got, and we can move onto the next thing, and get more work done.
David: Turns out you understood the part about hitting your mark almost intuitively, because a lot of it is being able to go onto the next thing.
David: You’ve said that you were very lucky that it was Randy. Those are my words, I’d like to hear you say that sentence and then say why.
Gale: I was very lucky that my partner that I played primary part against on QAF was Randy Harrison. It was fortunate for me for several reasons. First of all, because he’s extremely talented, and he and I, by the grace of God, share some appetites for film and for literature and for music. We got along, partly because we had some of the same tastes, partly because we’re both from Atlanta, we felt like we were comrades, and starting off on that note was a gift, because we could have gone into that world and we may not have bonded. We really did bond, we became friends. We weren’t just working partners. We were friends. We could have a conversation about many things at any time, we would see each other outside of work to listen to records or to watch films or whatever, and it was kind of necessary. Well, it wasn’t necessary, but it was very welcome that we could connect, otherwise we probably would have killed each other.
David: And you know full well it doesn’t always happen that way.
David: One of the things I’ve seen you say, and I’ve only met her for the first time three days ago and I’m still on a high from it, is that Sharon Gless, who chose this part – it didn’t choose her, she chose it – became sort of a mother figure to your character. Talk about Sharon.
Gale: I’m going to talk about the fantastic actor who played Debbie Novotny, Sharon Gless. Sharon is, amongst other things, and I do not use this phrase lightly, she is a badass, in the best of sense. She’s strong, she’s funny, she’s full of passion and heart, and she brought that, times a thousand, a hundred thousand, a million, to the character of Debbie, who was sort of this fearless defender of her son and her son’s friends, and her son’s sexuality and his chosen path, even though he couldn’t commit to it sometimes, she encouraged him to be himself. A lot of that came out from her relationship to her brother, Jack. But Sharon really was the atomic heart of that show, for not just the characters, but for the actors. I feel that for all the work that we did, and the work I was able to be a part of, and the scenes I was involved in, the scene of all those scenes that really catches me the most is a scene that I did with her where Sharon, as Debbie, calls my character out on a lot of fear and bullshit and self-abuse, but then we smoke a joint, and it all comes home again. That’s where I think you can see those two characters bonding, or revealing their bond in a way that my character, Brian, he’s sort of an A-type, overachieving gay man who is a gay man to everyone, he’s not holding back, which, underneath all that, it exhausted him, it drew a lot from him, but he had nothing at home to rely on. He had a dad who wanted to break his neck and a mom who was borderline psychopathological and a sister that was… and so, Sharon’s character Debbie was the rock that even as a kid growing up I didn’t realize who she was, of who she was in my life. And Sharon’s so much like that, she’s such a rock, that I was so able to look at her as Sharon as Debbie as Sharon as Debbie as Sharon as Debbie and feel all those things that made sense for that scene, and we just dropped into the green fields of home.
David: You talked about this now, since Brian was someone who was so completely in himself as a gay man, and it’s exhausting to do that all the time and to be that and to have to be that. But every now and again we’d see that vulnerability that made it even more compelling because he didn’t let people in easily. You saw Debbie as Sharon-Debbie, Debbie-Sharon, how much of Brian-Gale, Gale-Brian did that become for you?
Gale: I think that the character of Brian and the way that I played that character, besides the fact that I look like the character because I’m the person playing him, I don’t know how much of myself is in him. I’m not driven like that, I’m not as fearless in circumstances like that, not as overtly confrontational, not as self-aware. His self-awareness was very specific, and that’s the way I felt it coming through me, he had an idea of himself, and he foisted that on people sometimes, or he threw that down as a gauntlet, and he just said “that’s the way it is, and if you don’t like it, fuck off.” And he really used that as kind of a mantra, and I don’t share that with him. I don’t have a reason to. He had a crusade. He had his version of his own crusade that he’d chosen to fight, and he was completely justified in doing that, and that was his survival mechanism, as well as a way to have a lot of fun with people, because he really liked to fuck with people. There was a slight Machiavellian tone to him. I think that’s very evident in his work, in the way he interacts with people, that either he’s asking for money or are accusing him of shortchanging them or not executing the project that he’s pitched for them. So those are aspects that are purely on the page and I was just saying those words.
David: We see this in almost any character that runs more than five minutes, the writers write to how you play it. Did you ever have the sense that you were informing the growth of Brian, that how he evolved came from where you were taking it?
Gale: I don’t know if I could identify something that I remember about where Brian went to during the five years as the character, and if there was anything that was in that writing that was the result of Dan and Ron observing what I did, or any of the other writers observing what I did, but… I don’t know.
David: I want to ask you some specifics because they’re going to be important in how we cut this. One of the things that for all of us who watched the show that was the most difficult to watch and yet unforgettable to experience was when Brian, who is not someone who’s going to do something out of his way that isn’t in his own self-interest, decides to go to Justin’s prom. And we know how that ended. I watched it again the other day; it’s still almost impossible for me to watch. Have you seen it since it aired?
Gale: I’ve seen that scene maybe three years ago, roughly two and a half, maybe three. Like every actor, there’s a bit of watching yourself, watching time, watching the irrefutable evidence that my scene partner is about a hundred times better dancer than I am. [laughs] But we worked it out with editing and camera moves. But that scene, that story line, even then, even now, still, on some levels, it’s above my experience of life. I’ve never gone through anything like that, thank God. No one that I know, that I’ve been so intensely connected to, has gone through anything like that. I think that in terms of the writing and the way that it was structured, making this grand gesture, doing something that he knew, as a character, part of it is fulfilling some aspect of his own philosophy of freedom and truth and honesty, but a lot of it is a spectacle. A lot of it is a pissing contest. And that’s one of the things, inside of that whole part of the story that is really interesting because you have these two men who are sort of falling in love, maybe, or maybe not, but one of them is really getting under the other one’s skin, and you would think that the one who was really getting under the other one’s skin would be the one that would be in control, but in this circumstance, the one who’s in control is the younger one, and I think there was a bit of showing off – “I’m going to take you to your dance, I’m going to show everybody, and that’s going to be it, and if anybody’s got any problems with it, they can talk to me about it later.” Well, the reality of the circumstances comes screaming home in a way that’s so far beyond any expectation that Brian could have. It’s hell on earth. It’s the guilt and it’s the operative word of control is there. I’m controlling my life, and I’m going to make a statement, and then it all just gets yanked.
David: And you didn’t know this was going to happen until you got the script, right?
Gale: I honestly don’t remember when I was made aware of how this was all going to play through.
David: Generally they don’t give you a lot of advance warning.
Gale: Not a lot of advance warning, no. Some, but not a lot. I knew that we were going to go to the dance, because we were choreographing. And when it happened, it just… and that’s why, back to what we were talking about before about why it was a blessing and why I was very lucky to have been cast alongside Randy Harrison to play that, is because if I hadn’t really, really liked him as a person, and really trusted him, and really wanted to work with him, and if I didn’t respect him, because I know how talented he is and I know… we fight over ideas about things, and sometimes he’s right, sometimes he’s full of shit, but we can keep that ball rolling. If I hadn’t felt that way about him, I wouldn’t have been able to dive so deep into my response to what happened to him. Because he was my friend. He’s my character’s lover, but he was my personal friend and someone who was, and still is, very dear to me.
David: And that’s what I mean about going back and looking at it… yeah, you see it as, you know, you’re stepping back and seeing it as an actor looking at a piece of work but there’s got to be a part of you that feels it viscerally.
Gale: Yeah. I still go back and I watch that dance and I watch the attack and I watch the hospital and I saw… there’s all some of that burned into my memory. It’s pretty close to the surface. It always will be, because that was a big deal for me, a big deal for all of us.
David: Were you aware of what a big deal it was for people who were watching it?
Gale: No. Not at all.
David: At what point, and was it during the run of the show or after, did you understand how much of those things that were happening… and there were so many things, not just the gay bashing, not just drug addiction for Scott’s character, not just HIV+ for Bobby’s character or Vic, how much were you aware in the run of the show that these things were resonating for people in the world?
Gale: The stories that were a part of the series that were a step or two deeper that weren’t just surface context, dancing, fucking, laughing, eating… the things that were at the spine of the show – what happened with Ben’s character, what was going on with Vic, what was going on with the attack after the dance and that scene with Brian and Justin – it took a while for how those things affected people outside to make their way back to me. In the beginning I heard some things. A lot of it sounded very rhetorical to me because it was very hard for me to be able to take back and take the perspective. I was still just trying to make sense of everything and trying not to humiliate myself or get it wrong. Maybe after we came back for the second season. Every once in awhile someone would come up to me and say something on the street, and I still felt so unsure of myself in that world. There were a lot of personal experiences or overlays or responses that were generated from the show that when those come back from the person that they land on to you, in other words, the viewer, or someone who’s seen it, coming back and telling you that, it’s hard to hear. It’s really hard to hear. I think that part of that is just instinctual. For me as an actor, I try to maintain some sort of distance so that I can be present when I’m playing the character and not to get lost inside of the middle ground. I think that some of those things where people shared how they felt, sometimes tears of joy, sometimes really upset memories, I didn’t feel like I deserved that kind of information. I shouldn’t be privy to that. It’s a little jarring. While the series was running, sometimes I’d be playing a scene and I’d be thinking “I wonder how this is going to affect people,” because now I’m starting to hear feedback. I just had to block it out. I couldn’t let that come into my mind, because otherwise I wouldn’t be playing a scene with another actor. I’d be playing a scene with an actor who’s being haunted by this phantom of someone who’s a million miles away, and there’s nothing I can do about that.
David: And this is the beginning of the internet. It isn’t yet ubiquitous, it isn’t at the place where you simply turn on your phone. But before we leave Toronto and before we leave Babylon, I’m struck by how prescient the show was for things that would happen a decade later. There’s marriage, and you saw the idea of whether or not marriage is actually a good thing. A lot of people in the LGBT community, particularly gay men, said this is just assimilation, what the hell do we need marriage for? And that was your character’s point of view. And yet young people said we need it because this is who we are. It was driven from the bottom up. When you were doing this, there wasn’t marriage anywhere, barely. There were civil unions in a couple places, marriage in Massachusetts just started when the show was on, Canada was where the marriage had to take place on the show. Did that all enter into your consciousness of we’re telling stories that are fantasies that are going to become fact? Did you have some sense that this portends of things to come when you were telling these stories?
Gale: The stories that we were telling that specifically that became, or that were, in some sense, prescient in terms of them manifesting themselves in real time later… the marriage concept, the idea, the potential, yes, my character called that assimilation. He responded to that with a bit of disdain. For me as an actor, it came from his understanding of his family. Why would you want to mimic the trainwreck that is traditional marriage, regardless of who’s married? It doesn’t matter to me, it could be a parakeet and a caterpillar, it’s going to end in tears. Why are you wasting your time? There’s more fun to be had anyway. But when we were making the show and shooting those story lines, we still felt so outside of the main, just in terms of what else was on television, in terms of what stories were being told on primetime, however that was working, I felt like we were the redheaded stepchildren and all the stuff that we were doing was a private showing. It wasn’t going to be exported to the main population. When it did come through, I didn’t feel like I could participate in claiming any credit for that. When it was happening, it felt like we’re just telling the stories of part of our population that’s downtrodden and locked away and want freedom and want equal rights.
David: Peter said to us that he believes that without Queer as Folk, maybe Modern Family, Ellen, some of the others, we don’t get to marriage equality as quickly as we did, even though it seems like it took a long time, when it finally happened, it happened fairly quickly, relative to other kinds of civil rights. Looking back at it now, do you see the impact that it had?
Gale: Yeah, after the fact, after the time that’s passed, it’s much easier to see now there’s hindsight. It’s easier to put the momentum into perspective, and going back to what this project is about, the power of the medium and the power of the introduction of an idea into the medium that’s so powerful. It’s a slow burn for a long time. There’s a piece here and there’s a piece here and there’s a piece here and it’s sort of like a learning curve or some sort of market graph, where [slowly draws fingers in upward curve] here it is here it is here it is, at some point it just gets taken to heaven. The idea becomes too powerful, it has too much weight, there are too many people behind it and there’s too much understanding. There’s awareness. You can’t see truth and reality over and over again and see that those are just other human beings. Those are your fellow citizens, those are people that might live down the street from you, those are people that you go to church with, there are people that you grew up with. It just settles in. It settles in.
David: It’s a modern family.
Gale: It’s a modern family, absolutely.
David: We’ve got one more in Toronto and then I want to leave there, and it was literally the last moment. Babylon – it explodes. I talked to Ron and Dan about this. They thought at the time “well, maybe we jumped the shark, maybe that’s too much, maybe it’s just beyond the pale.” First off, do you remember when you saw that script and you saw what was going to happen, do you remember how you felt about it?
Gale: Part of me, to be honest, was kind of like that sense of, maybe I’ve seen too many procedurals, maybe I’ve read too many detective stories, there’s going to be a copycat. Someone’s going to see something. They’re going to use that as motivation. I hope that’s not what happens here. I would hate for that to be the story point that interrupts the point of the story point of the whole story, which is this is really what’s happening, in our world, on our show. This is happening to our characters. And it could happen, and it will happen, and it’s gonna happen, and I just hope that it happens less than more, and I hope that as many people will make it out as they can. If you’re asking me how I responded when I saw the script, anything that you put into the public consciousness can replicate itself.
David: And again, I’d love for you to say this in the answer, but fast forward to a few months ago, in a place you’re familiar with, Florida, Orlando. It wasn’t a bomb, but it might as well have been. Did that resonate for you? Did it take you back and realize that for those people in that club, it was very much the same sensation that you filmed a decade ago?
Gale: I think what happened in Orlando certainly reminded me of that story line that we were shooting and the club being attacked. It’s that constant shock. If you’re part of an attack, thank God I have not experienced that yet, but for the people that are there, it’s war. It’s war. To a certain degree, we’re a very blessed country, we experience that minimally in terms of the rest of the planet and what’s going on in our world right now. But I was reminded of that I’m just… I’m not strong enough, I don’t think, or clearly cognizant enough of the circumstances to feel anything other than… I think this is everyone’s reaction. It’s horror, it’s terror, it’s anger, it’s preposterous. Why? There is no justification and there’s no logical justification of any justification that you could make or that you could come up with. It’s an evil act.
David: It is. We have one more phase to go. Do you need some water, are you good?
Gale: I could use a little sip of water, actually.
David: Yeah. Ray? Can we get some? Now we have ended in Toronto, and that’s where I want to finish. And as we talked about on the phone, anything you… I’m asking questions, but they’re less questions and more designed to give you a place to jump off from. Wherever you want to go is where I want you to go. That’s a conversation not a interview.
Gale: [is given cup of water] Thanks. Thanks a lot. [downs entire cup of water in one go] Thanks a lot.
Gale: Being on television changed the way I live and my way of being in the world is, immediately, I was able to pay off my student loans. To be honest, the IRS just took the amount of my first paycheck, [laughs] which was good because I was getting far behind. And it allowed me that first job on television, working on television, to find a new family of people, similar to what you find in the theater, but the circumstances were extreme, the story was extreme, sometimes, not every day, but a lot of the times the stories we were telling were extreme. My character was an extreme character. His attack on life was not light. He was full bore all the time, and so a lot of the scenes that I played were a part of that, told that story that was a lot of work, a lot of hours, a lot of confusion, about whether or not I was doing a good job or not. But I was somewhat pulled up by my bootstraps because I was a working actor. I was an adult who could pay their bills and give something to something. That was the immediate impact. I think the secondary impact I still feel now, but there became attention that came to me from strangers who assumed that I was the person who was in the glass box, that I was a bad version of the person in the glass box, that I was horrible, that my performance was sub-human or whatever it was. I mean, there’s all these kinds of things, because once you put yourself out there, you put yourself out there, and you’re fair game for whatever. Speculation about whether or not I was a closeted, internalized, hiding gay man and playing the most in your face, out there gay man on television and how preposterous that would be.
David: How’d that feel?
Gale: Surrealistic, basically. It’s an impossible conversation to have. You know that I’m not the guy that’s on the show, right? I’m not that guy. And even if I was that guy, I’m not that guy. And even if I was that guy that I’m not that guy, how would you know if I was telling you the truth anyway? So this extreme debate that we’re locked in right now, we’re basically just wasting time. This conversation is never going to end up anywhere, so watch me on the box, and direct all of your concerns, compliments, criticisms, to him, because that’s him. It’s not me.
David: How often did that happen to you?
Gale: More then than now. I’ve been interrupted at dinner, sitting at a table with a woman who clearly I’m having dinner with, by a gay man who wants to come and put his crotch in my face and stand right by my table and mad dog me from the top, I guess either because he wants me to get into a fight with him, or kiss him, or ask him on a date, or ask my date to leave and he should take her seat. It put me through my paces. Can you really do it, man, can you really do it? No, I can’t really do it, because I’m not at work, but that was part of it. And then part of it has been how could you ever play that part, man, how could you do that? How could you do all that gay stuff that you did? Once again, not getting the message that I’m making something, I’m creating something, I’m just a cog in a machine that was built by someone else that I like and I’m trying to contribute to. It has nothing to do with you, and whatever you think about it, you’re welcome to it, but it has nothing to do with me.
David: No one ever, and I’m guessing now, but I think I’m right – no one goes up to Michael C. Hall and says “how could you be Dexter?” Why would you treat people that way? Because they know that’s fantasy, not fact. But yet, when it’s sex, it’s something different. Why?
Gale: The reason why people cannot sometimes so easily differentiate between the actor and the person that they’re seeing being portrayed, for instance, Brian Kinney and all the sex that he had and all what were considered by some deviant and by some perverse and by some anti-Christian and some sinful and some probably Communist or whatever they think it is. Sex is sex. It’s palpable, it’s visceral, it’s a physical expression of things that we either have in our imagination or in our heart or in both places at the same time. And so to see another person engage in that in a way that seems that they’re believing what they’re doing, that they’re supporting what they’re doing, that it’s not just a physicalization, it’s not just a pantomime, it seems like that person who is that character believes what that character is doing, is actually true, but that’s just the game anyway. When you put sex on top of it, or you put that inside a sexual act, it’s supercharged. And then when you have a sexual political aspect to it, which, we’re still living in that world, there’s still a sexual political aspect to gay or straight, it’s very hard for them to extract me or themselves from that. And it’s very difficult for them not to judge me as a person, as to how I fed into that, into that world or into that character’s world.
David: When you stopped playing Brian Kinney, did your feeling about that character change in any way?
Gale: After playing Brian Kinney as a character, the way that my feelings about him have changed is that I wish I could go back and do it better. Not all of it. I’m not reminiscent, or painfully reminiscent, or whatever the phrase is, I’m not lonely for the times I spent with him that were very difficult and somewhat, sometimes embarrassing. But I wish I could have played him stronger. There are aspects of him that I understand more now, just with age and time, looking back. There are certain points that I wish I had made more clearly, and there are certain points I wish I hadn’t hit so hard. I just want to go back. I want to fill in some of those colors. Some moments of finesse that I didn’t get to.
David: But there’s never a moment, or has there been a moment, when you’re having dinner with a woman in a restaurant and someone sees you as Brian Kinney and not Gale Harold, that you say, “goddamn, I wish I hadn’t done that.”
Gale: There hasn’t been a moment in a restaurant when I was having dinner with a woman where I thought “goddamn, I wish I hadn’t done that.” There was one time when there was some very rude behavior that was pushed on me, but that wasn’t the response that I had. I didn’t regret… I don’t regret doing that, ever. I sometimes am frustrated by the effect that certain people speculating about who I am as a person, and therefore what is true for me, and therefore why am I doing what I’m doing, sometimes that can bleed through to the people that I’m with, and it affects them and it hurts them or it makes them suspicious. And that’s just the roll of the dice. I can’t change the past, I can’t prevent people from speculating, and I can’t ever change what a bunch of anonymous people out in the interneck or whatever it is… whatever they’re going to do is whatever they’re going to do. Sometimes, is it irritating? Yes. Am I shameful, or do I regret doing it? Hell no. Never. Never.
David: So back to how television has changed the way you are in the world, and one of the things it’s done is that… you strike me as someone who, even from a very early age, you live inside yourself, and that’s just who you are. A lot of people wear themselves on their sleeves, some people do not. It must be hard to be someone who… you could be across the street, and people spot you and pick you out of a crowd. You lose anonymity when you have that kind of ubiquity that television gives you. What about that part of it – forget about the role now, just the fact of being a public person who didn’t set out to be one.
Gale: Being a public person, the ubiquity of television, and all that anonymity going away… initially, there’s a shock. It’s a difficult adjustment that takes some time. I’m not an extremely extroverted person. I don’t want all my stuff out on the street all the time. But the counterpoint to that is that the only reason that my stuff would be out on the street and that people would recognize me is that I was able to find a spot in the world that I want to live in doing the work that I want to do, so the payoff is not so bad. Sometimes it’s extreme, and it can be invasive, and it can be slightly destabilizing and it can make you uncomfortable, and it can be borderline seemingly dangerous sometimes because some of those impulses aren’t managed very well. I’ve experienced being starstruck myself. I can remember standing about seven feet away from Lou Reed one time and feeling like my knees were going to disintegrate into my shoes. And that’s a feeling that I had never experienced that before, but when it overcomes you, it overcomes you. And if I have ever had even a slice of that kind of effect on someone because something that I was involved in generated a reaction based on enjoying the work that I’ve done, that’s fine.
David: I’m not going to call bullshit, but I’m just going to tell you, you know this, you saw it the other night at the restaurant, that that’s the millionth time that’s happened to you in a decade, that people have told you how much that part affected them. Good, bad, and indifferent, but it affected them, it moved them, it touched them in a way that they had to tell you about. I know when you were doing it, it was almost better to block that out, but now it’s ten years on. What happens when you hear that, when someone says, and any examples are welcome, what are some of the ways that people have said that Brian Kinney has affected them that you’ve heard?
Gale: There have been people that have approached me to tell me their experience of watching Queer as Folk and specifically what watching the character that I played in that project meant to them at times, and sometimes it’s kind of embarrassing. I get a little bit freaked out. He was such a marauder of the nightclub world that some of the things that they refer to, it’s not the most comfortable conversation to have with a complete stranger. But many times, and more so than not, it’s thanking me somehow for pushing a message forward and helping them believe that there was more to the picture than what was readily available at the time. It’s been a long time since that show came through and the effect is lingering to some degree, but it feels good. It feels good to know that some people, some places, sometimes, have looked upon the work that we did and I was a part of that and felt something real that they could relate to and that they could feel good about.
David: And all of that is, if you will, the global. The very specific part and power of this show that set it apart from anything that preceded it and arguably anything that has succeeded it, is sexuality. It’s a very strong component of owning your sexuality, not hiding it, not apologizing for it, and particularly Brian not apologizing for it, but a lot of people. Peter made the same point. Effeminate man, but unapologetic about it. That’s really what I want to, pardon the phrase, drill down to, is that, is the sexuality of that role, that was something that I don’t think anyone could have anticipated. I think it was Sharon who said the other night to me, was that the only question she had was “are you actually going to film what I’m reading here, because I don’t believe it’s ever going to make it to air.”
David: Well, it did, for years. That’s the part that was life-affirming for a lot of people and life-changing for a lot of people. How about for you?
Gale: The sexuality in the show, specifically as it is connected to my character and what my character portrayed in his life and how that story was told and how that connects to sexuality…sexuality, sex, the act of sex, fucking, making love, whatever, it’s just part of what human beings do. It’s what we do. It’s what squirrels do. It’s what butterflies do. We do it with a lot more flair, you might say, maybe not, and a lot more imagination, and a lot more philosophy, and a lot more religion, and a lot more obsession, but it’s still just something that we do. And we do it because we need to make more people, certainly, on one level, but we also do it because it really feels good. And it’s a power game, and it’s a game of expression, and it’s a game of life, of “I’m alive now. I’m not gonna be here for much longer, in the grand scheme of things, I wanna be here.” And I think for me, what Brian… a lot of the way that I looked at him was wrapped up in that. Brian, the way that I understood him, and the way that I let him get inside me, was… it was very simple. It’s very simple. I’m alive. I live in Pittsburgh. I like men. Not just as friends. I’m also a human being. And my gear works. So I want to have sex. I like to have sex a lot. That’s the story. Now, I’m good at what I do, an advertising exec. I have decent taste. I’m crass. I’m snarky. I’m very sarcastic. And a lot of people make me want to kill them. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m a man, my sex organs work, I’m not attracted to women for whatever reason, I didn’t create the human race so I don’t know how that works, and maybe someday somebody will, but for the moment nobody does. I just know what makes me excited or gets me up or gets me down or however you want to put it. That was Brian. He wanted what he wanted and he was going to get it, and he didn’t care. It’s not because he didn’t care about other people. It’s because he had equated reality with satisfaction and he was acknowledging his animal side. And not to say the animal side is better or worse than the intellectual side or the spiritual side but it’s a side, and it’s one of the things he enjoyed expressing. So we just have to be honest with each other. Everybody, whether you like it or not, has sex in your brain, somewhere. And hopefully it’s in your body a lot, too. So, get over it, right? Just get over it. Just do it. Be safe, but just do it.
David: You just got us sponsored by Nike.
Gale: [laughs] Right.
David: Thank you for that. The difference though, with QAF, and the difference with what you just said, was you used every word but shame. It was sex without shame. That was something new for gay people to see. There was no apology for it. There were complications from it, there were difficulties, there were all the things that human beings feel, but there was no shame, and that was something new. Did you understand that?
Gale: I think our portrayal of the characters that were in the show and there was this was a show about a group of gay men and women and their families, of course it’s going to incorporate their sex life, and so we’re going to see that. We’re going to see it much more so than many other shows at that point have shown us, but I think at the time I wasn’t quite clear on the impact it was going to have. All I know is that if you walk down your street and you pull the facade off all the houses on your block, you’re going to see stuff. You’re going to see the truth. You’re going to see things that people are hiding, you’re going to see the things that people aren’t hiding, they’re just not doing it in public. But it’s an equalizer. It’s a democratic equalizer. What we showed brought something that had been repressed and constrained out into the public, out into the front. We put it in the front of the room, and we said “this is what our characters do. This is what they believe, this is what they don’t believe. This is how they screw up, this is how they do well, this is how they do poorly. But their sexual identity is part of it.” And people out there that are watching this show and if you see some aspect of yourself in there, you’re going to see your sex life, too. I didn’t realize at the time how far-reaching that would be, and I’m glad that it was able to let people feel a little bit more at ease with their desires, and the things that moved them.
David: A lot more than at ease… It’s funny, we interviewed a kid who was on Glee earlier today, and the big thing that he did was, he was closeted, he kissed a guy in a locker room, and called his dad when he got the part and said “this is in the script today, and I’m going to do this,” and his dad said “that’s great!” Did you get positive regard from the people in your life? Were you supported by the people around you as this was happening?
Gale: Primarily, yeah. I was never overtly ridiculed from people that I knew. No one that I knew ever gave me any grief about it. I think the people that I had known in my life that would have done that, I had been removed from them for years so they didn’t have any input in my life anyway. Some of the people that I knew were fascinated, and trying to figure out how could you do that, how do you get through the day? But no real ridicule from friends, from people that I respected. I have heard myself and my performance ridiculed by people. I’ve heard them do it in my presence when they weren’t aware that I was there, even when they knew I was there. But that’s the way it is.
David: You won’t hear that from anyone on this side of this chair. I will say that I think the way that it resonated for you when you saw the UK version is what happens now, because most Americans have not seen the UK version, they’ve seen this one. And you know that this is still going on. This is something that I didn’t know until Peter sat in that chair and told us that the largest gathering place for gay people in China is the QAF US web site. As you know, the Chinese culture and the government are not terribly gay-friendly.
David: But QAF US is where Chinese gay people go, watching the show, to see themselves, to find common ground.
Gale: [smiles widely] That’s good.
David: That’s a billion people. So… this is going to go on for awhile, and thank you.
Gale: Thank you.