Articles

Gale Force
Source: TV Guide
By Frank DeCaro
June 16, 2001


Spending the spring in a Manhattan hotel so hip it hadn't officially opened yet is exactly what fans of ‘Queer as Folk' would expect from Brian Kinney. But for Gale Harold, who plays the fashionable sex machine on Showtime's controversial hit about group of gay nearly-thirtysomethings, this New York sojourn hasn't been one big orgy of sex, shopping and swank.

"It's been slightly frustrating," Harold says, using a word not present in his instantly gratified character's vocabulary "Th city is right there in my face, and I can't enjoy it because I'm so wrapped up in the play." The play is an off-Broadway revival of "Uncle Bob," a 1992 AIDS drama in which Harold is appearing as a sexually confused nephew who barges into the life of his dying, bitterly funny uncle (Oz's George Morfogen).

But Harold isn't complaining too much. He wanted to do a play or a film during his hiatus from Queer as Folk, and as it turns out, he's doing both before returning to Toronto in August to shoot 20 more episodes of the show for next season (the current season runs through June 24).

For the handsome leading man, who looks younger than his 31 years, the past year has been more action packed than the backroom at the show's fictional dance club, Babylon. An unknown actor who began performing only four years ago, Harold has become a hot commodity—and a heartthrob in the gay community—by baring almost all for the cameras as a hedonistic advertising hotshot who humps and bumps his way to gay yuppie nirvana.

The son of fundamentalist Pentecostal churchgoers, Harold is certainly not Brian. But he is just as cocksure, just as mysterious and just as deep. "He's intense, and he likes that people think that about him," says costar Randy Harrison, who plays Brian's underage boyfriend, Justin. "He seems more intense than he really is, though. Gale's sillier and laughs more than Brian does. He's kinder. And I don't think he's quite as manipulative."

Looking as if he just rolled out of bed, wearing an untucked light blue linen shirt, gray pants and sneakers, a cap, sunglasses and several days worth of stubble hiding his face, Harold arrives at Manhattan's 60 Thompson hotel carrying coffee, a half-eaten bag of blue corn chips, a cell phone and a spiral notebook. Between puffs on American Spirit cigarettes, he explains how landing his role on Queer as Folk came at a point when he d all but given up on having television career. "A week and a half before I read for the part, I told my agent, ‘Don t send me on any more TV auditions; it s all so trite, "he recalls. But that was before he read the pilot script for the show that would change his life.

Series executive producers Daniel Lipman and Ron Cowen were having trouble casting the role of the sexually predatory Brian Kinney when Harold showed up at the eleventh hour. "We kept pushing back the shooting date, and people were getting tense," remembers Lipman. "But when Mr. Gale Harold walked in, Ron and I looked at each other and absolutely knew," says Lipman. "He had a certain kind of cockiness. But he s very, very charming underneath all that. He has his own direction and agenda. There s no bull---- with him."

"[Gale] does things because he wants to, not because he feels obligated," says Michelle Clunie, who plays lesbian lawyer Melanie Marcus. "If he doesn't feel like showing up someplace, he just won't show up. But on the last day of shooting, he brought flowers for everyone. And when I broke up with my boyfriend and I couldn't quit crying, he just held me. He's a gentle, enigmatic and aloof spirit."

For Harold and the rest of the cast of mostly unknown actors, the hype surrounding the New York premiere of ‘Queer as Folk' last November was a watershed moment. "It was overwhelming," says Harold. A sign in Times Square touting the series and bearing a picture of his face the size of a garage door stopped him in his tracks. "When I saw the billboard, it was like, ‘Jesus Christ! They really believe in this thing and proved it with the money they poured into promoting it."

"It was a shock to his system," says Harrison. "All of a sudden you re being treated like you're a star." Harold, it seems, has not yet learned how to handle the press, but when he screws up—not showing up for an interview, for instance—he somehow manages to get away with it. "Someone who looks like him, it's hard to be that angry with," jokes Harrison.

Of course, the question many want answered is this: Is Harold as gay as the character he so convincingly plays? When ‘Queer as Folk' premiered last fall, he was not discussing the matter. "I didn't have a career when this show started. I had nothing to talk about.

I had no interest in discussing my sexual preference," he says.

Unlike his fellow cast members, Hal Sparks and Chris Potter, who vehemently asserted their off-screen heterosexuality; or Harrison and Peter Paige, who are gay on the show and in real life, Harold remained mum until now. "I am straight," he maintains, "but if we're talking about ‘Queer as Folk', that's insignificant information."

"When we met him, Brian and Gale just fused," says Lipman. "Gale has such sexuality as a person that it's kind of daunting. How many people could be as open or fluid and bring that to a character? It doesn't have anything to do with being gay or straight." Adds Cowen. "He s breaking new ground for bringing sexuality to a performance, and not just gay sexuality. I don't think any other actor has ever done what he s doing. I think it s kind of historic."

To Harold, the speculation about his sexual orientation, even though he often has a girlfriend and is rumored to be dating Clunie, is nothing new. "When I was in high school, people asked me if I was gay. It's like if you're not slobbering on every woman in sight, you're hiding something," Harold says. That he liked reading WilliamS. Burroughs and Oscar Wilde didn't help.

A decent student—"I wasn't a slouch, but I wasn't a Mensa society member"—Harold remembers his youth in Atlanta as a time of "T-top Trans Ams and rock and roll." A middle child— he has an older sister and a younger brother—Harold excelled at soccer and landed a scholarship at American University in Washington, D.C. After one semester, he relocated to San Francisco and, at the city's Art Institute, studied photography, screen-printing and film. He didn't finish the program there, either. "I got so much in debt that I decided to pull the plug and work," he says.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1997 and, encouraged by a producer friend, took acting classes that led to roles in West Coast stage productions of "Me and My Friend" "The Misanthrope" and "Cymbeline." "I'd always been interested in film, but being an actor had never occurred to me. I never thought I'd be on television." The fact that he landed on such a hot series his first time out, he says, makes him "ridiculously lucky."

Although critically lauded and well rated, ‘Queer as Folk' has been the subject of much debate in the gay community. "Some people say it's not real life. That it's over the top and almost fantastical, with an overabundance of fabulous gay circumstances," Harold admits. "But I feel lucky to be on something that people watch and may love or may hate. I wouldn't want to be on a show that was an autopilot default success."

His parents are divided when it comes to the show. "My dad watches—he's supportive," Harold says. "He's not involved in the churches anymore." Harold's mother, still deeply religious, doesn't watch the series. "My mom and I come from completely opposite philosophical perspectives. But she's supportive of me as a human being and an actor." The role of Brian Kinney, however controversial, has opened doors for Harold. "The difference now is that I have access to scripts because I've gotten some exposure," he says. Certainly, it's more exposure than many actors have ever had on television.


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