Early in her career, she stole our queer hearts as Toni Collette’s freewheeling yang in 1994’s buddy comedy Muriel’s Wedding, but before long, Rachel Griffiths became one of our most passionate allies both on- and off-screen.
In 2001, the Aussie actress starred as Brenda Chenowith, the enigmatic, gender-subverting girlfriend-turned-wife of prodigal son Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) in HBO’s Emmy-winning landmark series Six Feet Under, out creator Alan Ball’s gay-inclusive, darkly comic rumination on life and death. A year after Six Feet Under concluded in 2006, Griffiths made the leap from the Fishers to the Walkers, the family at the center of ABC’s Brothers and Sisters, also celebrated for its LGBT representation.
Now, Griffiths is taking her longtime queer advocacy to the next level with When We Rise, which began airing Monday night and pick up for three more installments tonight. (Read our interview with the show’s writer/director here.) The miniseries seeks to connect with the heart (not the politics) of Americans through real family stories, something Griffiths’ gay-affirming résumé certainly reflects.
Our Chris Azzopardi spoke with the Emmy- and Oscar-nominated actress about her involvement, and her identification with the queer community.
Dallas Voice: In When We Rise, you play Diane, who’s raising a daughter with women’s rights activist Roma Guy, portrayed by Mary-Louise Parker. What are your thoughts on bringing the lesbian-led blended family dynamic to audiences on a mainstream network like ABC? Rachel Griffiths: Brothers and Sisters was on ABC at the same time as Modern Family, and we had Will & Grace [on NBC], so I didn’t have any kind of surprise it was on a network, because ultimately it is about family — it’s about the “we” of gay, lesbian, transgender lives, not the “they” or the “others.” So, for me, to move these people’s lives away from the premium cable niche — I love that by not being on a niche network, there wasn’t a pressure to be noisy in a more sexual way. We’ve kind of moved past having to explore that.
That’s there in other shows if you want it, particularly with women’s lives. We’ve had The L Word, where the women are identified first off in the show by being lesbians. But Roma and Diane’s trouble was, first, [being] women — 51 percent of the population — then the gay/lesbian, then it was understanding the power of how those two movements can come together.
Your roles on both TV and in film suggest that you appreciate portrayals of social and political issues that are reflected through a personal lens. I absolutely love that. I think if people aren’t living in a wider sociological space, they’re in a bubble. Growing up, my favorite movies actually were World War II movies — get motor bikes and outdo the Nazis. I was just really primed by seeing political moments intersecting with personal and moral choices, and the drama of that.