"The Life Of Brian"
by Matthew Myers
At 35, Gale Harold is enjoying the break-through role of his career. He plays Queer As Folk's rebellious, sexy Brian Kinney with a fuck-em-all attitude. Matthew Myers spoke to him for DNA and found him witty and charming in a most un-Brian-like way.
DNA: Outside Queer As Folk, do you have many gay friends?
Gale Harold: I do as a matter of fact. [Laughs] Can you believe it?
DNA: What do they think of your characterisation of a gay man?
GH: Some of them approve and, I think, enjoy it. A lot of them are diplomatically reserved and some of them think it's hooey.
DNA: Does hooey mean silly?
GH: No, it's more like something you find on the farm and walk away from! It's one of those old '50s American words. It's not just silly, it's got a whiff of "bullshit" about it.
DNA: When developing Brian's character, did you draw on any real-life people?
GH: I did at first. I had some people in mind but they didn't really fit the over-all vision so I didn't use them. I didn't have a lot of time to spend on building the character and that was fine because in the end I just played him as Brian the human being, rather than Brian the gay man.
DNA: Are there aspects of Brian's personality that you share?
GH: I can relate to the cultural things. Like, the United States is the most powerful country in the world and we have all this ideology shoved down our throats. In America the difference between what people are telling you and what's really going on is quite transparent. It creates a political indifference in people. People become reliant on self-destructive behaviour as a way of feeling alive. That's true of Brian.
DNA: Since staring Queer As Folk have you gained a greater understanding of the issues facing the gay community?
GH: I don't see the show as an "issues" show. These stories are adapted from ideas by Russell T Davies and I think they're more internalised and personal. It's more about the characters' experiences within the issues. I have come to a deeper understanding of things, though. I think.
DNA: As a straight actor, are the sex scenes a strange experience? Especially that first episode with the rimming.
GH: I read a lot of William Burroughs when I was in high school, so I had to figure out what that was a long time ago! But at the same time, just knowing what something is doesn't necessarily give you the scope to understand it completely. Whether it's rimming... or whatever! I mean, there wouldn't even be 'gay' or 'straight' if we didn't have the ability to conceptualise what we're doing. The short answer is no. I'm acting. I'm performing.
DNA: Do you think the sex scenes are as racy as they're sometimes regarded?
GH: There are people who could watch the rimming scene for the first time and even hearing the dialogue, if they didn't know what rimming was they wouldn't know what the fuck was going on. For a straight person who'd never had any kind of exposure to that kind of sexual activity, they would not know what the hell was happening. But they would know that two people were performing a sexual act. So in terms of performing a sexual act, as an actor, you've just got to put your energy and your commitment into whatever is happening. People will understand that on whatever level they understand it and it will have meaning for them.
DNA: So it's not an obstacle?
GH: In terms of being a straight actor doing gay sex scenes? No, I don't think it's an obstacle. Actually it's a challenge. That's what actors do. You get to walk in someone else's skin. You get to be completely outside of your own experience. Probably that, more than anything else, has been the largest kind of learning curve for me. It's like osmosis because unconsciously I'm learning things just by being in Brian's skin.
DNA: When you auditioned, did you have any inkling of where the show was going?
GH: I knew it would be considered controversial by conservatives, the far political right and certain types of religious people. I knew that it was going to push buttons with those people and that they were going to have a reaction to it. Let's face it, homosexuality has been misrepresented in a religious and political sense in this country for a long time. This relates to your earlier question about what I share with Brian. I think we both see the hypocrisy of the church and state being blended together when it suits someone's political purposes. It's not what this country's about at all.
I had no idea where the show would go -- whether it would be a sustainable program or whether there would be a call for more episodes. I had no idea whether or not there would be any kind of critical response to it that would be favourable enough ti give it some credence. I think most of us were thinking that the timing was good and that people were ready for it. And within some levels of the gay community it had the advantage of the original show having been before it.
DNA: Have you ever met Aidan Gillen, who played the Brian character in the British series?
GH: I haven't, although I saw him in a restaurant once. I didn't actually see him, but my friends saw him as he was leaving. We all thought it was very weird that we were in the same place at the same time. I think he's great and I'd love to meet him.
DNA: Do people mistake you as being gay in real life?
GH: That's happened a couple of times. I've had women try and hook me up with their guy friends and I've been cruised pretty heavily by people who I'm sure weren’t speculating whether I was gay or not but were just cruising. Then there are the gay men who are just like, "You're so not gay, it's stupid!" and "I can't believe anybody would think that you're gay!"
DNA: Does that annoy you, considering what you said about playing him as a human being rather than as a gay human being?
GH: I just try to make him a real person. But I get like the full 180 degrees on that one. Some people don't believe I'm straight.
DNA: You've developed a large female fan base, too. Does this seem strange?
GH: I think that just happens with people who are on television, no matter who you are or what character you're playing. If you're on television you're going to resonate with people. If you're a top in a gay series and you're naked a lot you're definitely going to pick up some female fans, right? [Laughs] It's fantasy by subterfuge -- an anything-can-happen mind-game!
DNA: If Queer As Folk runs for ten years, can you see yourself in it for the long haul?
GH: Oh God! I think that would be pretty silly -- to be Brian five or ten years from now. What could he possibly do? That's the crazy question, trying to read the crystal ball. Would you watch it in ten years?
DNA: Probably. I stuck with Dynasty.
GH: [Laughs] Oh my God.
DNA: That may have been because there was a gay character.
GH: I think there were a lot of gay characters in that show -- they just didn't know it!
DNA: Brian is a very complex character with a very restrained emotional side. Do you think that side is going to be revealed?
GH: I absolutely hope so. I hope that it happens in a way that I can really sink my teeth into. Television, in my experience so far, is like the independent film experiences I've had where you don't have a lot of money and you have to work really fast. For me, it would be challenging, exciting and even a little frightening to open him up. Television is very episodic and things come and go like the weather. I hope that if we do get to open up Brian, it's done in a way that's irrevocable, not just a glimpse. You get little glimpses of him every now and then, but he's never really put in a situation where he's forced to really open up. You know those moments when someone opens up to you in a way that means you can never go back to how that relationship was before?
DNA: Did you ever imagine you'd make the cover of Vanity Fair?
GH: With my head in Carson Kressley's lap? [Laughs] No, I never dreamed I'd do that!
DNA: Are you now inundated with scripts and other film and TV offers?
GH: I don't know if inundated is the exact term I'd use... but yeah, it's been good.
DNA: You're in a new film called Fathers and Sons in which you play the prodigal son who comes home to his dying father.
GH: That was a great experience. The father is very sick and about to die and my character goes back and deals with all the secrets that are lying around the house.
DNA: Are we going to see you in Australia?
GH: I'd love to come! I was there once on holiday for about eight days. I was in Surfer's Paradise and The Gold Coast but I haven't seen the whole country. I'd like to see the west coast and the Indian Ocean, and I'd especially like to check out Melbourne.