The Weekend Australian
November 27, 2004

Gay Abandon
by Sophie Tedmanson

He may look and sound the same as his character in Queer as Folk, but Gale Harold is no Brian Kinney. Speaking on the phone from Toronto, Harold is at first extremely cautious about what he says, thinking carefully about each answer, but then making an arrogant, sarcastic remark -- just like Brian would.

When this is put to the US-born actor, he laughs: "Oh god, no."

But don't get me wrong, Harold is by no means arrogant or sarcastic, just a complex-sounding actor weary of separating his real-life persona from that of the character he plays.

Brian is the guy you want to hate, the good-looking bloke who treats people badly but is still loved by everyone. He forms the nucleus of the group of five gay men whose lives fascinate us in SBS's Queer as Folk (based on a British show of the same name, but apparently the remake is more popular).

Billed as "an honest depiction of gay life," the show is packed with sex, drugs, friendship, love, sex and plenty of nudity, and frequently deals with gay political and health issues.

The fourth season -- the fifth is being shot in Toronto -- involves many new adventures and we also get to see Brian coping with a serious health issue. Harold says the situation does not soften the hard-nosed character, who remains unruffled even in the face of heart-breaking or life-threatening issues. Will we see a softer side of Brian? "Probably not," says Harold.

"The show is just [episodic] by nature, so developments tend to come and go, so we don't really go there [in this plot] with the angst or the fear. Anyway, Brian isn't the kind of person who is visibly affected by anything."

Initially, it is said, the US producers had a hard time finding anyone who was willing to audition for Queer as Folk. Harold, however, says he wasn't concerned about taking on such an explicit role in his television debut. "I don't think it necessarily carries such a fearful price tag career-wise for someone to do that," he says, adding with a laugh, "But then, maybe they weren't offering people enough money."

While he enjoys playing a complex character, Harold admits Brian's overt sexuality and fondness for nudity can get a bit much at times.

"I find it difficult," he says. "And it has a sort of developing effect on me as an actor. It's not something [I fear doing] as a means to an end -- to develop an idea or a storyline -- and there are times [when] the sexuality and explicit nature of the show really does make sense in terms of the subject matter of where we're trying to go.

"But for TV the real danger is that once you've titillated someone, you want to then start giving them what they want -- and when that starts to figure in the structure of what we're trying to do, or what's going to happen in each episode, you start to feel a little bit exposed for no reason.

"And it becomes kind of a different experience, which [as an actor] nobody wants to do, or to do in the nude for the majority of the time that they're doing it. It's just totally distracting from everything else, right?"

Except for the viewers.

The show enjoys a cult following in the US as well as Australia, and Harold is equally popular among men and women -- including, he says, some "Very devoted fans from Australia."

When told he is known among my (straight, female) friends as "hot Brian" and that a woman on a Vogue Australia forum claims she has "Gale Harold withdrawal symptoms" when the show is off the air, he lets out a hearty laugh.

Fame, he says, "can be flattering, but can definitely be frightening, too."

The good news is that Harold plans to stick with Queer as Folk for the time being, "until something seriously changes."

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