Gale Harold:
The Artistry of his Craft

an essay by
Heather/QAF Addiction

It has been only a few short years since Gale Harold set aside his camera and printing materials and took to the stage, embracing a more encompassing world of expression and creativity than the one he had known as a visual artist. By all accounts, the decision has paid off. Even as a relatively new performer he has accomplished what many actors twice his age struggle with on a daily basis - that is, believability.

The late Stella Adler, viewed as one of the foremost influences on contemporary acting, held the belief that acting exists mostly in the imagination. She proposed that an actor must be primarily concerned with the emotional origins of the script, and that his or her main responsibility is to search between the lines of dialogue for the important, unspoken messages. It has been said that as a teacher, she was both a tough critic and a profound inspiration. Adler told her students, "You act with your soul. That's why you all want to be actors, because your souls are not used up by life."1 This beautiful, abstract notion may well be the reason Gale Harold was so drawn to the dramatic arts.

When Gale spoke to theatre critic Jim Caruso about his play Uncle Bob, he recounted how the craft of acting struck him as immediate and visceral, in a way that visual media did not. He began to study acting seriously in 1995, and after rethinking what "drama" was all about, he decided he only wanted to do plays. The artist in him needed a different kind of platform to express his creativity. "That feeling of communication is what pulled me from working with two-dimensional visual arts into the world of the theatre."2

Gale had already been acting for a few years, and even had one season of television under his belt when saw Marian Seldes in The Play About the Baby. At the time he was wrestling with facets of his own character in Uncle Bob. He told Caruso, "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." Marian was an inspiration for Gale, and her performance accentuated for him what it means to be on stage.

visceral. . . something known intuitively, a feeling that was not arrived at through traditional thought pattern, something that appeals to the sensual and animalistic side of humans.

These days, Gale is having a love affair of his own playing Brian Kinney on Queer As Folk. And, like his inspiration, he has taken a brilliant role and brought tremendous life to the character, captivating his audience with matchless talent, charm and grace. He made a smooth transition from the theatre to film and television, displaying impressive, dramatic range. Watching Gale perform is like witnessing Barishnykov execute a flawless ballet. He exhibits total control over every square inch of his body and at the same time, displays a wonderful personality that transcends the mere movements as he claims them as his own. And despite Gale's burgeoning notoriety as the lead actor on Showtime's hit series, the audience leaving the theatre at one of his stage plays is rewarded with the feeling that it has had a revealing glimpse into contemporary drama, not a celebrity's mirror.

Mikhail Baryshnikov
Mikhail Baryshnikov

Gale's acting sensibility appears to be derived from traditional disciplines like Stanislavsky's system which, over the last century, was evolved into the Strasberg "method." These practices borrow elements from Gestalt psychology such as emotional memory, focusing on the development of the continuum of awareness, having life energy freely available and flowing, and having one's actions accessible to consciousness.3 On camera or on stage, Gale is emotionally available, 'going with the flow' as he listens at a level of understanding beyond superficial awareness of his scene partner's needs.

Gale has named Willem Dafoe as another of his inspirations, in terms of the seasoned actor's view of the process, its purpose and its potential. Like Dafoe, Gale believes that the exhilarating part of acting is to travel in someone else's mind and body. Dafoe once said, "In the simplest terms, it's a pleasure to borrow someone else's body and someone else's life."4

Just as Stanislavsky expected of his students aiming for realism in dramatic works, Gale incarnates his role, literally embodying the part. He is fully present and alive in almost any given moment on screen; he makes the life of the characters he plays not only dynamic, but continuous, and has a strong sense of ensemble with other performers. I challenge any viewer of Queer As Folk to find a scene where, even as a member of the background, Gale is not completely in character, adding substance to the canvas and maintaining believability. His facial expressions alone are of the highest dramatic caliber. In a single glance, he says more than some actors could with an entire monologue. Just as the proverbial picture is worth a thousand words, one glimpse of Brian is often worth pages of dialogue.

credibility - the quality, capability, or power to elicit belief

Equally impressive as his credibility is Gale's dedication to the dramatic process as a whole. His work ethic is to be commended; 'professionalism' is a word often attributed to this actor by producers with whom he has worked. I am constantly amazed by Gale's commitment to the craft, particularly with regard to the subtleties he conveys in the merest of gestures. The slight twitch of a finger... the arch of an eyebrow... a change in posture... one expelled breath... these are among many in his notable repertoire. They are the nuances that enrich the character he plays and allow 'Brian' to come alive in subtle ways.

Only by examining the various shades of his personality can we truly come to understand a character as complex as Brian Kinney. It is because of Gale's efforts in this vein that many viewers even realize there is more to the sexual predator than meets the eye, particularly in the early episodes of season one. The enhanced drama which results from the exposure Gale grants is remarkably compelling, and it is what makes us want to dig even deeper, and peel back Brian's self-imposed protective layers to reveal the heart of the man beneath the mask.

Brian's Mask

An audience is exposed to many gradations of a character's personality, and it is often the emotional facets which are the most enticing and which give credence to the work. In order to present this dramatic side to the world, an actor must allow himself to become emotionally vulnerable. This is often a difficult process, because it places that individual in a somewhat tenuous place with his fellow actors, particularly when the scene partner is one with whom his character is intimate. The actor needs to feel safe enough to share his thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, and so on. According to the Sanford Meisner Approach, true availability has everything to do with "listening with the ear of your heart" so that you become intimately connected to everything you get from your partners, and what that induces in you. This kind of availability opens you up to deeper levels of awareness of what is happening with the actors you work with, to your essential point of view, to the environment you work in and to the world around you.5

Gale possesses the skills necessary for creating and maintaining the types of intimate relationships great drama requires. He shares empathy and reflects back what is said, allowing for a feeling of being truly heard and understood. We have seen him demonstrate these strengths with heartbreaking veracity time and again on Queer As Folk with Randy Harrison, in his play Uncle Bob with veteran George Morfogen, and more recently, in Wake with fellow actors Blake Gibbons, John Philbrick, and Dhilon McManne.

Gale's incarnate emotional strength speaks to the stability and positive energy of his psyche and his outlook on life, as well as his capacity to empathize with and build rapport with other people. I believe his intellectual capacity far surpasses the average actor of his age, and that he applies reason and analysis to the world around him on many levels. He seems to be well on his way to understanding the world, and his role in it, and the things that are truly important in his life. His presence of mind has allowed him to make crucial decisions about his career and his personal life. Ron Cowen believes that Gale is incredibly smart, more than just well-educated or well-read. He told Michael Rowe of the Advocate, "...there's something about Gale where it takes a leap from education or keen intelligence to some other place. Genius is a cheap word, especially in Hollywood. But he's really smart."6

Perhaps the thirty-something actor had an accepting and nurturing childhood, which left him emotionally open as he matured. Contrarily, it may have been the conflicts or constricting situations he encountered in the areas of sports and religion (which he has alluded to in interviews, but discussed only haltingly) that brought him into open rebellion, and he was unwilling or unable to contain his passion. I'd like to think that Gale simply had such a strong desire to be an actor that it overwhelmed any inhibiting fear he might otherwise have had. It would seem that discovering his true calling well into adulthood has driven him to work that much harder at turning his dreams into reality. Whatever his reasons, he remains a complex bundle of overt, intense and varied emotions.

To watch Queer As Folk's Brian and Justin interact on screen is to see two men sharing an extremely intimate, exceptionally real, intensely erotic and exciting relationship. Gale has called what Queer As Folk presents to the viewer as being "so verité, so real" because the show is "taking a character and putting him out there as vulnerable as possible to attain a state of revelation. The way it's written is that in every scene the stakes are really high. There's no filler, there [are] no establishing moments. It's all almost at full speed."7

Actor/director Evan Nossoff believes that in spontaneous, natural acting, it is the actor's inner monologue which provides the raw fuel for his or her performance. "If you are relaxed, grounded and in the 'here and now' and allow yourself to be reactive, the inner monologue triggers the reactions that make up your stage performance."8 Gale's strength in this area is apparent when we see him interacting with his scene partners. He looks directly into their eyes, sensing the way they share the energy on stage or set, listening to the sounds of their voices, sensing their shared commitment to the work. The comfortable and intimate rapport between the actors can lead to the creation of the most intensely vibrant or volcanic relationship between the characters.

The power behind this practice of spontaneous acting is that the emotions elicited are based on reality. Authenticity is particularly crucial when preparing for a love scene, especially one that is filled with sexual tension. Above all else, Gale must remain emotionally available and 'in the moment' with his scene partner. "You don't want to let your own self-consciousness block the flow of creativity that's coming out so that you can act and react, and play what the scene is all about," he says. In the moments before shooting the scene, the greatest concern is that self-consciousness will be a limitation. "For me, the only thing that you can do is step off and go for it," Gale told Entertainment Tonight. "And when I did, it was amazing. For those scenes, it's some of the most relaxing and fulfilling work because you really have to forget about everything other than just playing the action and the moment. That really is an amazing sort of freedom because you don't always get to do that. The stakes are not that high usually."9

On his own Website, Scott Lowell talked about kissing some of his closest real life friends while in character and found similar release 'in the moment.' "The weirdness in both instances comes only in thinking about it ahead of time," he says. "Once you're there doing it and you're both 'the characters' it doesn't feel awkward at all."

Kyle and April
April and Kyle in Wake

In "Acting Notes and Anecdotes," Gene Frankel describes acting as a human process, a natural phenomenon which, in his opinion, should be taught universally as language is. "It is one of the highest and truest forms of communication. It permits you to express your insights, your beliefs, your sense of the world around you and the world within you. More importantly, it gives you permission to express the unspeakable, and the unspoken and even the unthinkable." He asserts that talent is not enough, and that one must also have courage... "the courage to travel to those dark dimly lit places where the talent tells you to go."10 While some might see this as unsettling, Gale sees it as a challenge.

In his writings on acting, Cliff Osmond describes an actor with natural talent as someone who enters the acting arena with less resistance or inhibiting fear to the fundamental requirement of acting: creating life, on demand, in front of people, with uncommon emotion and grace, within narrowly proscribed words and deeds.

emotion - a moving of the mind or soul; excitement of the feelings

Whether Gale employs the traditional methods in delivering his performances, or whether he takes a more organic approach to the craft, Brian is believable. He is real.

How close are Brian's and Gale's personalities? Gale says there are definitely similarities, and believes that those similarities are generally what lead to an actor getting cast to play a character.11 Many actors attest that there is always a little part of themselves in the characters they play. One can not rely on an 'essence' to carry a role, however, and most actors would not expect to play the same type of character for an entire career. Jack Eskin of the Eagle-Tribune, who recently praised Russell Crowe's work in 'A Beautiful Mind,' asserts that the secret to acting greatness is versatility. "Instead of becoming a caricature, and relying on a routine persona, a great actor or actress can play any role or any personality type, and do it well."12

Some critics suggest that vanity is an asset to good acting. If an actor is eager to be a success, to be liked by the audience, he will work harder. If he is indifferent to the effects of his work, he will not strive to become the best. Others argue that no matter how good or talented an actor is, the audience feels what sort of a person he is when not in character; this comes from the inherent qualities that make up his personality. Perhaps the reason so many of us find Brian irresistible and are so willing to forgive his faults is because we see qualities of Gale Harold coming through, reassuring us that the actor is committed to the part, and that there is an innate 'goodness' to him.

For Gale, when the writing is strong and the character is very clear, his job is easier because he simply plays what is on the page, adding his own nuances to fully express himself in the character. But there is more to a successful presentation than just performing the role as it is written. A great actor needs to discover his own concept of reality and how to reproduce it. He also needs to understand the text of the script... its obligations, its suggestions, and its possibilities. "The understanding of these elements adds to the actor's ability to convince the audience that he embodies the role," says Osmond, who emphasizes textual analysis of scripts with his students, focusing on strengthening their intellectual and logical capabilities.13 The subtleties Gale conveys when performing suggest that he is acutely aware of these things. He speaks of his character with authority, and eludes to a growth he (Gale) experiences along with the growth of the character.

As an actor, Gale is in the business of human behavior. He studies the nature of people by observing and absorbing. He reads, writes, studies literature, and trains in the theatre. He travels. He is an athlete, an artist, and an intellectual. He has diverse interests, and colorful friends. It isn't hard to appreciate the enigma of a man who studied Romance Literature in college, played soccer well enough to earn a scholarship, and who, for one recent Halloween, dressed as the evil, gun-toting rabbit from Sexy Beast.14

With all that he has going for him, Gale is a triple threat to those who find themselves reading for the same parts at auditions. Not only is he a talented actor, but he is also well-skilled at his craft, and possesses a healthy dose of charisma to round it out. It is most often those intangible elements that enable an actor to electrify an audience... the qualities which distinguish an acceptable, accomplished actor from one who ignites the stage. Whatever you choose to call it, Gale is a performer who communicates directly and kinetically with the audience.

When Gale inhabits a role, acting truly becomes art. Each character seems to come so naturally to him it is easy for us to lose ourselves in the story, and overlook the tremendous job he is doing. He achieves credibility by pouring his mind, body and spirit into the part. When strong demands are made on Gale's body and a great deal of physical exertion or adept physical movement is required, he rises to the occasion. Whether it be smashing a plate into pieces, ballroom dancing at the prom, feigning a physical assault, or simulating sex, Gale is up to the task. Such focus comes from being properly centered -- locating the place, which is roughly in the middle of the torso, where all the lines of force of the body come together. It is the "point of convergence of the muscular, emotional and intellectual impulses within our bodies."15 When an actor is able to "center" himself, he achieves a balance, a freedom, and a flexibility he could rarely find otherwise. This is a way of pulling everything together and allowing himself to eliminate any blocks that impede either the body or the voice.

If one looks closely, and truly listens to the artist behind the characters, we see that Gale speaks to us through his acting. Whether it is by his own design, or dictated by the script, there are palpable swells of emotion in places where one might not expect any to be. When Gale heightens his emotionality, and devotes extraordinary levels of energy to preserving the emotional fusion in dramatic moments, it has a positive impact on his performance. Enhanced emotionality and vitality bring about corresponding sensations of altered awareness for the audience.

Creativity isn't found in the centre of our comfort zone. It lives beyond the edge. You must be willing to step out of your protective shell to embrace your creative side. That's where the magic is at." ~Dennis Gaskill16

While his artistic intentions are quite noble, the fact remains that Gale is currently starring in Showtime's most popular series. One wonders how an actor can maintain a sense of integrity about his work while abiding in the Hollywood arena. He is admittedly uneasy with scrutiny, particularly in regard to his private life. Off-set, he eschews the cameras; fame is not something he aspires to. This is intriguing, as it doesn't seem that much would intimidate him, yet that is the power of acting. He does a good job of concealing his weaknesses. This is not to say that Gale is without backbone - quite the opposite. How many young men possess the fortitude and clarity of mind to seriously address their spirituality and challenge the "mentality" of social circles at a young age, to part from friends and family and move clear across the country, giving up what comes naturally in exchange for what they crave to nurture within themselves? Gale did all of this; he maintains the confidence and security to play a gay man in what continues to be a mostly homophobic society.

Playing a gay man -- even a gay man who has explicit sex frequently -- does not bother Gale at all. "There are real similarities to playing any other kind of scene," he says of his many steamy on-screen moments. He knows that the 'grin-and-bear-it' approach does not cut it. While other, less secure straight actors might take every opportunity to assert their heterosexual status and joke about family and friends seeing them naked on television, Gale welcomes questions about portraying a gay man so that he can address not only the mechanics of the acts, but the emotional requirements as well. He revels in the opportunity to play irreverent characters -- those who are critical of what is generally accepted or respected. "I am straight," he maintains, "but if we're talking about 'Queer as Folk', that's insignificant information."17 He was actually reluctant early on to even reveal his sexual orientation to the public.

question mark

Doug Savant, who played a gay man on Melrose Place during the '90s, seems to share a similar philosophy. "The whole time I was on the show, I never said whether I was straight or gay. You don't go out and make your living playing a gay character and then walk down a red carpet somewhere and go, 'Look at the hot babe I'm with. I'm not really gay.' I thought, 'You may assume whatever you like about me' - it would've been immoral to do anything less than that."18

Gale has made varied and interesting choices in both the projects to which he attaches himself and the roles he chooses to play. His desire to work with non-traditional directors like Harmony Korine whose controversial films have received acclaim the world over, and on projects breaking new ground in the field of digital technology (36K, Rhinoceros Eyes) alludes to the purity of his adventurous spirit. He has loaned his talents to various independent vehicles, helping friends in the process (Jennifer Elster's Particles of Truth and Wildwell Films' Wake, produced by Susie Landau-Finch, just to name two). He does what he is passionate about, not what is necessarily guaranteed to "sell." He has said that he would love to try comedy, or even direct an episode of Queer As Folk. One can easily draw the conclusion that while he values the input of those in his 'circle,' he won't let anyone tell him what he should do, nor does he take the 'easy out.' "I wouldn't want to be on a show that was an autopilot default success," he tells a reporter.19 As it stands, Queer As Folk has achieved a more than respectable level of popular success.

Showtime is a network that supports the honest, unvarnished treatment of gay life; their "No Limits" slogan actually means something. For Gale, the fact that Queer As Folk is about gay characters is really secondary to the fact that the show is real, and doesn't pull any punches. He calls it a "slice-of-life" and asserts that in 2002, "gay life is no longer that shocking."20 "I don't think that there's any exploitation going on because the characters are complete. They all have relationships, not only with their sexual partners but they have meaningful relationships with friends and family members," he explains.21 The notion that the actors on Queer As Folk are brave because they are playing gay characters is somewhat patronizing, asserts Peter Paige. If he and his colleagues are to be praised for anything, it is for agreeing to play flawed people in a medium where imperfection is not allowed.

While he appreciates his supporters, personal success for Gale has less to do with public acclaim, and more to do with artistic fulfilment. "I'm sure [fame has changed me] on some levels, maybe more subconsciously. It hasn't been intensely bad or good. It's just different and sometimes very strange." 22 Whatever the future holds, it seems likely that Brian Kinney will not be Gale's last unconventional role. He has already made an impression as a gifted performer, and has demonstrated an impressive range which can only expand the possibilities available to him in the field of dramatic arts.


1. Stella Adler Studio of Acting. "The History." [back]

2. Caruso, Jim. "Gale Force: Gale Harold, famous as the super-gay stud Brian in Queer as Folk on TV, switches gears to play a homophobe Off-Broadway in Uncle Bob." 19/4/2001. [back]

3. Martin S. Fiebert. 1990. [back]

4. Taubin, Amy. "Willem Dafoe Bares His Fangs." December 27-January 2, 2001 [back]

5. School for Film and Television. "Sanford Meisner Approach." [back]

6. Rowe, Michael. "Gale Force." 05/2/2002 [back]

7. Entertainment Tonight interview, 1/12/2000 [back]

8. Evan Nossof. "The Inner Monolog: Your Key to Success." [back]

9. Entertainment Tonight interview, 1/12/2000 [back]

10. 10. Frankel, Gene. "Acting Notes and Anecdotes by Gene Frankel." [back]

11. Jersey's Talking. News12, New Jersey. 06/4/2001 [back]

12. Jack Eskin, Eagle-Tribune. 23/3/2002 [back]

13. Osmond, Cliff. "Philosophy." [back]

14. Vogue Magazine, October 2001. [back]

15. Theatre: The Lively Art by Alvin Goldfarb and Edwin Wilson. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. (1991) [back]

16. Gaskill, Dennis. "Life's Little Goodies: Finding Creativity." [back]

17. DeCaro, Frank. "Gale Force." TV Guide. 16/06/2001 [back]

18. "Melrose Place's Gay Guy Returns" by Daniel R. Coleridge. TV Guide Insider. 9/08/2002 [back]

19. DeCaro, Frank. "Gale Force." TV Guide. 16/06/2001 [back]

20. Rabinovitz, Karen. "Gale Force." Flaunt Magazine, 02/2002 [back]

21. "Gale Force Wins." MetroSource, June/July, 2001 [back]

22. Showtime's Queer as Folk Site. 10/2/2002 [back]

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