A very gay Emmy slate

Laverne Cox

NOTE: Edited to reflect more gay characters.

When the Emmy Award nominations came out yesterday, it was nice to see some gay-popular nominations of the list. But when you counted through all of them, an amazing eight LGBT actors were nominated. There are 96 acting categories (more if you count the variety category), so that’s not exactly a majority, but if you add in those who appeared in “gay” shows, or played gay characters, it goes up.

Laverne Cox, of course, became the first (known) trans performer to be nominated for an Emmy (and for guest actress, which is awesome) for Orange is the New Black. But other openly gay performers include Sarah Paulson (best actress in a miniseries, American Horror Story: Coven), three of the five performers from the movie The Normal Heart (Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons and Joe Mantello), plus a second nomination for Parsons as lead actor/comedy for The Big Bang Theory; Jesse Tyler Ferguson, best supporting actor from Modern Family; and Nathan Lane, for his guest appearance on Modern Family. And wanna add Kevin Spacey for House of Cards? Let’s go ahead and call it nine.

JESSE TYLER FERGUSON

Jesse Tyler Ferguson

Performers playing LGBT characters include Taylor Schilling, Natasha Lyonne and Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black; Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart; Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Fred Armisen (for some of the many characters he plays in Portlandia); Beau Bridges as the closeted provost as guest actor in Masters of Sex; Spacey also had a three-way in House of Cards which you can count if you wanna (I wanna). That gives 17 gay actors or gay characters in the race. Congrats!

And congrats especially to former Dallasite Allison Tolman, nominated for supporting actress in a miniseries for Fargo.

After the jump are the major nominees.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘The Normal Heart’ on HBO

Matt Bomer and Mark Ruffalo in ‘The Normal Heart,’ which debuts Sunday on HBO.

In the early 1990s, the AIDS crisis and gay rights became a suitable subject for popular entertainment, with movies and TV shows like Longtime Companion, Philadelphia, And the Band Played On, Tales of the City and plays like As Is, Angels in America and Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. The last one, coming from the most vocal (and often least well-liked) voice of the gay activist movement, was probably the most polarizing. It never had a Broadway opening, and certainly was not adapted for the screen.

By 2012, the world was ready again to deal with Larry Kramer. The play opened on Broadway (and won a Tony), and now — about two decades after the artistic fever-dream of AIDS dramas — the filmed version hits the airwaves.

HBO’s The Normal Heart has been a long time coming, but in some ways, it feels like it didn’t skip a beat. The opening segment, a trip to Fire Island cribbed from the structure of Longtime Companion, is both familiar and new, what with all the full-frontal nudity and explicit sex you wouldn’t have seen 20 years ago. And even better, many, many openly-gay actors in the major roles (among them: Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Jonathan Groff, Stephen Spinella and B.D. Wong). Not gay, but going full-bore as the hero anyway, is Mark Ruffalo as Ned Weeks, Kramer’s stand-in for himself. Ned’s something of a Cassandra, clucking his disapproval at sexual freedom (or is it recklessness?) even before there’s any indication of the coming plague.

Ned meets a doctor (Julia Roberts), who is even more of a downer than he is, insisting that gay sex is killing men and getting them to stop is the only course of action. But “promiscuity is the principal political agenda” of the gay movement in 1981, Ned argues — you can’t just get them to stop. And yet, you have to. To fail is to accede to genocide.

I’m sure The Normal Heart will shock a lot of mainstream sensibilities, and even some disdainful gays who think it both negatively portrays gay stereotypes and glamorizes anonymous sex. But you can’t have it both ways — you can’t complain about its authenticity and chastise it for being too accurate. But HBO made the formula work one year ago, with its equally shocking biopic about Liberace, Behind the Candelabra, and it won every award in the book. There’s no reason to think lightning won’t strike twice.

The weakness of the play (and now the screenplay, also by Kramer) is the character of Ned, who is so impassioned yet unlikeable that you can’t stand how he’s both right and gets in the way of getting the right thing done. In some ways, it takes amazing self-possession for Kramer to portray his alter ego warts and all, while balancing the competing issues sex-as-liberation and sex-as-death. It was equally hard for the gay community in its day.

But what sustains such competing currents is the emotional tremors the story sets off, which start nearly at the start and rarely waver for the next two hours. The first appearance of a character with Kaposi’s sarcoma … the first realization a seemingly healthy, young, blossoming young man is infected and will die … the first closeted person who could make a difference cowering out of fear of the social stigma … well, even if you did not live through those days, you can’t help but feel rattled. And it leaves you feeling that way.

That’s a ravaging effect of a movie, that sincere, wet-eyed shiver of the inevitable horror faced by a generation of gay men. Director Ryan Murphy (Glee) never lets up. He doesn’t want you to relax. You might miss the urgency, a feeling of self-preservation that, since the invention of the AIDS cocktail, hasn’t been as pressing in society, even the gay community. In many ways, this is the perfect symbiosis of Kramer and Murphy: The radical and the populist. Indeed, if it weren’t already widely known as The Normal Heart, I know the perfect title for it: American Horror Story.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

HBO renews ‘Looking,’ sets premiere date for ‘Normal Heart’

normalheart02HBO knows a good formula when it sees one. Last year, it premiered its gay-themed made-for-cable movie Behind the Candelabra on the last Sunday in May, and it’s doing so again with its latest tentpole telefilm, The Normal Heart. The screen adaptation of Larry Kramer’s Tony Award-winning play about the fight against AIDS (and the ignorance of the Reagan Era) is set to air at 8 p.m. on May 25. The production, directed by Glee creator Ryan Murphy, features out actors Matt Bower, Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, Denis O’Hare, Stephen Spinella, B.D. Wong and Jonathan Groff, as well as Julia Roberts, and Mark Ruffalo and Taylor Kitsch, pictured.

Groff had some more good news this week as well: His HBO series Looking got a second-season pickup. The drama about 20something gay men navigating the dating life in present-day San Francisco will return next season.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Looking’ star Jonathan Groff: The gay interview

Jonathan Groff

Jonathan Groff has had a pretty good week. The animated film he stars in, Frozen, was just nominated for two Oscars and his new HBO series, Looking, debuts on Sunday. So it was a good time for our Chris Azzopardi to sit down with Groff to discuss all his gay projects, idolizing Mark Ruffalo and how Looking freaked out his family.  

Jonathan Groff is remembering a scene he shot for the upcoming HBO adaptation of The Normal Heart. It’s his only part with Julia Roberts, and he doesn’t have a single line with her.

“She plays a doctor and I collapse on the street, and then they take me into her office and she’s like, ‘He’s dying,’” the actor recalls. “So I didn’t get to act with her because I’m, like, hyperventilating on a stretcher. I was foaming at the mouth. She was probably all, ‘This kid is really going for it.’ But she was really nice, very chill, very undramatic and easy.”

The same could be said for Groff. The affable Pennsylvania native got his start on stage, nabbing a Tony nomination for his role in the 2006 Broadway musical Spring Awakening before battling it out with New Directions on Glee, portraying a young David Sedaris in the recent feature film C.O.G. and voicing Kristoff in Disney’s hot winter hit Frozen. Now the actor plays Patrick, the charmingly clueless lead in the new gay-friends-living-in-San-Fran series Looking, which debuts Sunday on HBO. Will there be foam? Probably, but only if it’s at a party.

Dallas Voice:  With Looking and The Normal Heart, it must be nice knowing that HBO is gonna pay your bills for at least the next year.  Jonathan Groff: Right? It’s great. But I’ve already been paid for those jobs in 2013!

In the Looking pilot’s opening scene, after a phone call interrupts a hand-job hookup, you tell your friends you worried it was your mom calling. Has your own mother seen the show?  My mom has always been really supportive of my work. When I was doing Spring Awakening she took bus trips of people to come and see the show — like, seriously, 40 people on a touring bus up from Pennsylvania. That was before she had even seen it, so she was shocked when she saw the sex and the nudity and me hitting Lea Michele with a stick, but she obviously enjoyed it … because there were three more bus trips after that! So she overcame the awkwardness of seeing my butt on stage, but ever since they cast me in Looking, the big question in my family has been: “Are they gonna watch it or not when it comes on TV?”

When I came home for the summer to Pennsylvania, I brought the pilot home on DVD and I just said, “I don’t know if you wanna watch this or not, but I feel like if you do watch it, you probably won’t wanna watch it with me in the room.” I think that really freaked them out.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘The Normal Heart’ at Stages Repertory Theatre

The Normal HeartLarry Kramer is so well-known for his tireless AIDS activism (and for being a general son-of-a-b*tch) that people forget that he is, in fact, a writer. Kramer’s magnum opus, The Normal Heart, is more than just the semi-autobiographical tale of a firebrand activist struggling during the early days of what what would become the AIDS crisis. It’s a masterpiece of language – an exploration of what pulls people out of their everyday lives and into advocacy.

Stages Repertory Theatre presents a staged reading of The Normal Heart Monday, November 28, from 7:30-9:30 pm. Tickets are $25 with proceeds benefiting the University of Houston LGBT Resource Center.

The Normal Heart centers on the relationship between Ned Weeks, a thinly-veiled stand-in for Kramer, and his brother Ben. It’s the early eighties and a mysterious illness, spoken of only in hushed tones as the “gay plague,” is ravaging the gay men of New York. Ned is desperate to fund an organization to care for the sick and fight for support from the city, but when he turns to his brother for financial help the unspoken homophobia that has long strained their relationship springs to the surface.

Meanwhile Ned’s organization has ousted him as a leader in favor of a less controversial (but closeted) candidate after Ned’s confrontational style alienates members of the mayor’s staff. Ned’s friend, a wheel-chair-bound doctor who knows more about the illness than anyone else, also finds herself thrust into the role of activist when the scope of the impending pandemic becomes clear.

Brimming with questions of how to balance confronting power with gaining power, the role of friendship and love in creating change, and the ever tenuous relationships between LGBT people and their families, The Normal Heart is just as relevant today as when it premiered in 1985.

For reservations to the staged reading call 713-522-2204.

—  admin

The Tony nominations (and what’s gay about ‘em)!

Despite a boondoggle of a webcast (at least on my end, three browsers and two computers could never load it), the Tony Award nominations did come out this morning, unlike Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which ended up not being eligible for any because it has not officially opened yet despite previews starting last November.

It’s sometimes harder to quantify snubs and surprises since many shows close before the noms and live performances are organic things, but the lack of noms for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert has to be seen as a poke in the eyeball, as well as overlooked noms for Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, which moved from Off Broadway to Broadway last season.

On the upside, the success across categories of The Book of Mormon, the show from South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, seems like an indication NYC theater is keeping its edge.

Of especially note to the gay community:

The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s Reagan-era play about the AIDS crisis, got its B’way debut, but peculiarly was nominated for best revival of a play. It was also nominated for two gay actors, Joe Mantello (leading) and John Benjamin Hickey (featured), as well as best direction and featured actress Ellen Barkin.

The Book of Mormon, with a lot of gay content, received a record-tying 14 nominations.

Catch Me If You Can, adapted from the Tom Hanks-Leo DiCaprio movie, got four nominations, including one for out producer Hal Luftig. It did not get nominated for its score, the last slot going instead to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown with Patti LuPone, which closed after a handful of performances. LuPone didn get a nomination, as did her Gypsy co-star Laura Benanti.

• The revival of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, with gay actor Sir Brian Bedford as a cross-dressing Lady Bracknell, got three noms.

The awards will be presented June 12.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones