RANDY HAR­RI­SON

By his own ad­mis­sion, ac­tor Randy Har­ri­son is where he is to­day be­cause of Justin Tay­lor, the twink he played in the US ver­sion of Queer As Folk. That was in 2000, when he was 23. He just turned 40. In New York, Ian Horner spoke to Randy about his new pro

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT -

DNA: Apolo­gies in ad­vance for bring­ing up Justin and Queer As Folk.

Randy Har­ri­son: Oh, that’s fine. It’s okay.

But first, how hard is it for gay ac­tors to be out?

I don’t know how to an­swer that. You see, I’ve al­ways been out, since be­fore I was a pro­fes­sional ac­tor, since my early teens. I can’t com­pare and con­trast be­cause I’ve never been in the closet or a het­ero­sex­ual ac­tor. All ac­tors strug­gle with hard­ship and dif­fi­culty get­ting work dur­ing dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods. I don’t know if the strug­gles I face are be­cause I’m openly gay.

Some of the frus­tra­tion I had early in my ca­reer was from be­ing so strongly as­so­ci­ated with one par­tic­u­lar role but that would’ve hap­pened to any ac­tor. But maybe it hap­pened to me very early be­cause it was Queer As Folk and be­cause I was out. Queer As Folk was very en­cour­ag­ing for young guys who were not out, and was prob­a­bly the first show to do that. There aren’t many shows since then that’ve had that same mes­sage.

No, I don’t think so. There hasn’t been a show quite like it. I’m proud to have been part of it and it’s one of the rea­sons I’m where I am. Also, it contributed to my own san­ity and my own sense of au­then­tic­ity. Mind you, I was out on my own as well.

Many work­ing ac­tors can’t af­ford to come out, which is a real shame.

It is. Some­thing that served me well is that I’ve never lived in the Hol­ly­wood par­a­digm. I didn’t ag­gres­sively pur­sue a big film or tele­vi­sion ca­reer af­ter Queer As Folk. I’m a New Yorker, I’m an EastCoaster, not a Hol­ly­wood type.

I knew that when the show was over, and I did rather well as an ac­tor and got into some cre­ative work and lit­er­a­ture and the­atre writ­ing that I wanted to do. It helped that I wasn’t play­ing the Hol­ly­wood game, which could’ve po­ten­tially dam­aged me.

If I was try­ing to be an ac­tion star I’m sure be­ing a gay ac­tor would’ve been much more of a detri­ment than be­ing gay in re­gional the­atre. That’s just a very dif­fer­ent [he smiles] world.

One more ques­tion about Queer As Folk.

Uh-hm.

Justin was sys­tem­at­i­cally and re­peat­edly be­trayed, lied to, con­de­scended to and hu­mil­i­ated by his boyfriend for four years – why on Earth did he stick with him?

I don’t know. I didn’t write the char­ac­ter, you know! Um… It was a sort of queer co-de­pen­dent re­la­tion­ship. It wasn’t a healthy re­la­tion­ship from a ra­tio­nal point of view but from a se­rial tele­vi­sion point of view it was a beau­ti­ful dra­matic story for a lot of peo­ple. A lot of peo­ple felt it was re­demp­tive and ro­man­tic for both char­ac­ters in some ca­pac­ity. I didn’t cre­ate the re­la­tion­ship. Or the char­ac­ters. It was just my job to play it. Yeah.

Your lat­est pro­ject is called New York Is Dead, which you’ve di­rected. What’s it about?

It’s a black com­edy about two strug­gling New York City artists who are grad­u­ally be­ing forced out of the city be­cause of rising rents and the cul­ture. Then they get mis­taken for hit­men and de­cide to con­tinue telling peo­ple that’s what they are so they can stay in the city. It’s very funny. It’s vi­o­lent, it’s

Cabaret speaks so di­rectly to us­ing hate to gen­er­ate po­lit­i­cal power, and to the con­se­quences of be­ing dis­en­gaged po­lit­i­cally and ig­nor­ing what’s hap­pen­ing.

dark and sort of fun. They’re de­spi­ca­ble char­ac­ters, and there’s a bit of a so­cial com­men­tary about the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion in a bunch of Amer­i­can cities. Why did you opt for just a small role your­self? Too much to di­rect your­self?

Yeah! I didn’t re­ally have any in­ter­est in di­rect­ing my­self in a large role. Di­rect­ing is so much more work than act­ing. I only have bit parts in ev­ery ep, and very dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters. We ended up shoot­ing all my parts in one day and that was the day I felt like I was least able to di­rect well.

Maybe with a lot more re­sources I’d be able to act in a large role and di­rect but we were on a very low bud­get. The first episode is 11 min­utes long. How much more is com­ing?

We have six episodes that are be­tween five and 11 min­utes long. It’s about 52 min­utes of con­tent all up. That first ep, the pi­lot, was on­line dur­ing the Tribeca Film Fes­ti­val. Tribeca screened it twice and hosted it on their site. [The first episode is cur­rently on Vimeo.] How will we get to see it all?

That’s what we’re work­ing on now. The pi­lot is fin­ished. We paid for it. We pro­duced it, I di­rected it, my friends wrote it, we fin­ished post-pro­duc­tion… so we’re look­ing for the best way to get it dis­trib­uted and get the most peo­ple see­ing it as pos­si­ble. When you get up in the morn­ing and you’re go­ing to di­rect, as op­posed to act­ing, what’s go­ing through your mind?

You have a lot more con­trol as a di­rec­tor, it’s much more of a lead­er­ship role on set. You need to know the ma­te­rial and you need to make a ton of quick de­ci­sions. You need to earn the re­spect of your crew and the ac­tors in ev­ery mo­ment, con­stantly.

As first-time di­rec­tor, what did you take away from it; what did you learn about your­self?

I learned a ton about my­self! There’s lots of dif­fer­ent ways of be­ing a leader on a set. It’s re­ally like you’re run­ning a com­pany. As an ac­tor, I’m used to hav­ing a lot more time, es­pe­cially in the­atre, to be col­lab­o­ra­tive, to work with peo­ple to fig­ure out ideas, to run things past peo­ple. As a di­rec­tor on set when there are lim­ited re­sources and time you need to make the de­ci­sions quickly. It was re­ally in­for­ma­tive for me.

Who else is in New York Is Dead?

The main cast is Matthew Wilkas and Jenn Har­ris [who starred in Gayby to­gether]; and Ana Gasteyer [The Good Wife, Satur­day Night Live], Jemima Kirke [Girls], and John Early [Other Peo­ple]. We landed Bebe Neu­worth [Cheers, Frasier, Madam Sec­re­tary] be­cause Jenn Har­ris and she had done a show to­gether and they adore each other. She was ex­tra­or­di­nary to work with. It was such a thrill to have her on set and she nailed her role.

Matthew and I have been in New York for 17 years each, work­ing all over the coun­try in the­atre and film and tele­vi­sion, so we’ve met a lot of peo­ple and made a lot of re­mark­able friend­ships with ac­tors and di­rec­tors and ed­i­tors and cin­e­matog­ra­phers so we def­i­nitely called in ev­ery friend we had and we were very for­tu­nate to get most of them. We called in a lot of favours.

How long were you in Wicked on Broad­way?

I was in it for five weeks – that’s it. I was a va­ca­tion re­place­ment for Christo­pher Fitzger­ald who was the orig­i­nal Boq. Stints are not usu­ally that short but I just went in dur­ing sum­mer when he was hav­ing a break. I think I went into it the week af­ter the Tony Awards. I did it with Kristin Chenoweth [orig­i­nal Glinda] and Id­ina Men­zel [orig­i­nal El­phaba] and most of the orig­i­nal cast.

Sure, five weeks is not very long, but it’s long enough to have a blast?

Yes! It was great. It was very fast. I’d never been a re­place­ment be­fore so to join a show where the track was al­ready set I re­ally had to work. I re­hearsed by my­self, with the stage man­ager, the dance cap­tain, the mu­si­cal di­rec­tor but not with any other ac­tors. Then I had to go in on a Fri­day and my first per­for­mance was on the fol­low­ing Tues­day. It was a process I’d never done be­fore. But it was re­ally fun and the cast were won­der­ful and helped me. Even though it was at the be­gin­ning of the run, that show was al­ready like a finely-tuned ma­chine. It was crazy to be part of.

You’ve done the­atre all over the US – how does Broad­way com­pare?

To be hon­est… I just fin­ished 14 months tour­ing the Round­about The­atre’s pro­duc­tion of Cabaret

[in the lead role of the Em­cee] and we played a lot of big tour­ing houses that are much big­ger than most Broad­way houses. Broad­way is def­i­nitely an achieve­ment, it’s part of so many kids’ dreams and I was happy and proud and wanted to per­form on Broad­way and still do… but I think the most spe­cial thing about do­ing Broad­way is touch­ing the his­tory of the Amer­i­can the­atre, the his­tory of Broad­way, and be­ing a part of that com­mu­nity, which is ex­tra­or­di­nary. I want to per­form in a lot of ter­rific the­atres around the coun­try and around the world. Let’s dis­cuss Cabaret; it’s a cru­cial piece of the­atre for to­day, would you agree?

True!

It’s fright­en­ing to be draw­ing par­al­lels be­tween Hitler and, er, other po­lit­i­cal lead­ers.

It’s hor­ri­fy­ing. We were tour­ing through­out the en­tire US elec­tion last year and we were per­form­ing on the night of the elec­tion and it was hor­ri­ble. Cabaret speaks so di­rectly to us­ing hate to gen­er­ate po­lit­i­cal power, it speaks so di­rectly to the con­se­quences of be­ing dis­en­gaged po­lit­i­cally and ig­nor­ing what’s hap­pen­ing.

As an artist, I felt I was do­ing as much as I could to send a very im­por­tant mes­sage dur­ing the elec­tion year. It felt like a won­der­ful act of re­sis­tance to get up on stage ev­ery night and do that.

Did the Cabaret au­di­ences take that mes­sage away with them?

I think the au­di­ences were open to it, very clearly. Dif­fer­ent peo­ple see dif­fer­ent things but I think most peo­ple saw very clearly what the show is about. I love the show. I loved the role. I’d love to do it again. I loved us­ing the show to send a pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal mes­sage. That’s what art is all about… well, one of the things. MORE: Check out the pre­view and first episode of New York Is Dead on YouTube and Vimeo.

…AS THE EM­CEE IN CABARET.

RANDY HAR­RI­SON… WITH HAL SPARKS AND GALE HAROLD IN THE US VER­SION OF QUEER AS FOLK.

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