Luke Macfarlane & Matthew Rhys Interview with AfterElton.Com
You can find this wonderful interview of Luke Macfarlane and Matthew Rhys discussing their roles on Brothers & Sisters amongst other things. Please click on the link below. Unfortunately I cannot post it since Michael Jensen told me not to, so I’m going to link it for now and probably down the road post the whole thing (so that it won’t get lost in limbo).
Edit (5/4/2010): I have now included the full article.
Interview: Matthew Rhys and Luke Macfarlane Aren’t Just “Hollywood Actors”
by Michael Jensen, Editor
February 17, 2010
It’s a warm January day on the ABC studio lot in Burbank, California as I wait for Matthew Rhys and Luke Macfarlane, who play Kevin Walker and Scotty Wandell on ABC’s Brothers & Sisters, to arrive for a joint interview – an interview that’s been quite some time in the making. So after having first toured the set where Rhys and Rachel Griffiths will later film a scene in an art gallery (a scene that will have major implications for Griffiths’ character Sarah Walker), hanging out a few more minutes is no big deal.
Ten minutes pass before Calista Flockhart, Emily VanCamp and Griffiths arrive at the stage via shuttle, while Rhys and Macfarlane turn up a few minutes later … on bicycles. It turns out that this is how they usually get around the lot, which isn’t surprising given how down to earth both men are during our subsequent interview.
It also isn’t surprising that the duo, who play one of the few same-sex couples on broadcast television, also display an easy rapport and chemistry, both teasing and complimenting each other. That chemistry is something viewers noticed almost right away during the show’s first season, and why many fans lobbied for Macfarlane’s character to return after Scotty and Kevin first broke up.
Fortunately, Scotty did return, with the two men subsequently falling in love, dating and then having a commitment ceremony, all of which led to their current storyline where they are using surrogacy to become parents.
Over the next half hour we discuss whether each actor would like to one day be parents themselves, what the success of the show means for them, and for Rhys, who recently made his directorial debut on Brothers & Sisters, what it’s like directing, or at least trying to direct, a cast of such strong women. Hint: It’s a challenge.
AfterElton.com: Your characters came along when gay and bisexual men were starved to see themselves represented on television, especially as couples. Now that you’ve got some time and distance, what was it like dealing with the intense reaction and expectations at the time?
Matthew Rhys: Primarily I was very buoyed by the fact that we had this very positive reaction from the get-go. That’s always very heartening to hear. That’s owed primarily to Jon Robin Baitz and the way he wrote Kevin very specifically from the beginning. There wasn’t meant to be that much emphasis or definition through his sexuality. That’s what was refreshing.
Luke Macfarlane: He was the brother, not the gay brother.
MR: Yeah. The lawyer.
LM: Not the gay lawyer. People do want to know the writers consider storylines. They pay attention to what’s happening in politics and they do want to represent the characters now in perhaps a more … I don’t know. I don’t think it started off that way. As the characters have grown, I think there’s been more attention paid to how to portray them as decent and good.
AE: Do you even think about the weight of the expectations as one of the few gay couples on television? A lot of people tune in to the show specifically to see you guys, and are really invested in your relationship and how it’s going to develop and how they can relate to it.
LM: I don’t think you really can. I met recently with someone who is working on the case in California, the Proposition 8 case, and he said to me, “You know, your names and your characters always come up in our meetings as a representative of good gay people in the media. But I think as an actor, you really can’t take that into consideration. It’s nice to hear, but it doesn’t help our work.
MR: Without shirking, I always think it’s the writers who bear the responsibility. They’re the ones who forge ahead and do it up for us. We’re just very fortunate to say the words.
AE: Do you ever get gay couples coming up to you and saying, “Oh we’re like Kevin and Scotty” or “He’s the Kevin in the relationship and he’s the Scotty” or “You guys should take this storyline and go there with it”?
LM: I’ve certainly heard that, yeah. I’m always like, what does that mean? Are you a chef? [laughs] You always want to know what is it… What exactly…
MR: No one ever really sees themselves as they are. Same thing as an actor, you never know how the character you’re portraying is coming off.
AE: Has the current baby conception storyline, other than teaching how to say the word blastocyte, has it made you reflect on whether one day you’d like to be a parent yourself?
MR: Yeah, I’d certainly like to be a parent.
LM: Absolutely. One step at a time, I suppose.
AE: Are you prepared to work with babies should this storyline actually go somewhere?
MR: Being in the Walker family, we’re already well accustomed to working with babies. It would be a very natural progression.
LM: But it [will be] a very Victorian relationship. Children are seen, not heard.
AE: I was talking to Jesse Tyler Ferguson from Modern Family recently…
LM: He’s a friend of mine. We did theater together.
AE: Then you’ve probably heard him say this, but the baby who plays Lily on the show just cries whenever he gets near her. It’s like, how can I do this?
LM: He’s got to shave that beard. [laughs]
AE: Speaking of Modern Family, I would have bet that you guys would have been the first of the network television gay couples to have a baby, but Modern Family beat you to it. Annoyed at all? Any rivalry there?
MR: Yes. I think we pride ourselves on not jumping sharks too early. [laughs] Whereas Modern Family went for the obvious. Good luck to them. We’ll see where they are in three years.
LM: That baby’s going to grow up. But you know what? More interestingly, I think we’re actually telling the story about how gay people do have babies, and that’s a really interesting story. People don’t know about surrogacy and blastocytes and stuff.
MR: I agree. To me, it’s the journey that’s so interesting, this whole roller coaster. When it happens, it’ll just be diapers and screaming. It’s the journey that’s interesting.
AE: For Kevin there’s a bit of concern about how all but one of his blastocytes didn’t take. Would that matter to you personally that the child be genetically related to you?
MR: No. No, no, no, not at all. I think, just referring back to my previous answer, is that what’s so lovely about this hop-on-motherhood journey is what they realize in relation to those moments, where they’re confronted with those things. Things that a lot of people don’t have to think about, they actually do. It informs them on their path and their personality, which I think is only beneficial.
LM: My family looks like a collection of strangers. They really do. So I’ve always believed that genetics are … who knows. Maybe she’s not really my twin sister. [laughs]
AE: As anyone who pays attention to television knows, TV is really mercurial. Getting a pilot is amazing enough, then actually getting picked up, and then having your show run for a number of seasons is practically a miracle. Ugly Betty was at the top of the heap just three years ago, and now it’s been canceled. What does it mean to you that the show is going so strong three years later?
LM: I think it’s so great for any actor. We’re such creatures who do things intensely for a short period of time and then move on to something else. That’s sort of how we’re built. But I know inside of me, I’ve always had this desire to belong to something a little bit longer. To be a part of this family, both literally and proverbially, it’s just remarkable. I love it. I’m kind of a homebody. I like coming to work and seeing the same faces. I’m not quite as enthralled by traveling all over, knowing people intensely for three months, and then moving on. For my soul, it just makes perfect sense. I’ve done pilots that didn’t go anywhere, I’ve done shows for a year that didn’t go anywhere, but I think I’ve always been looking to be a part of something for a long time. It just speaks to how I’m built.
MR: As usual, Mr. Macfarlane summed it up beautifully. From what I can glean from our success of three years is that we picked a subject matter that is so universal and so ever-evolving and something so many people can relate to, as opposed to shows that are very specific or have very specific storylines. We have something that evolves as everyone’s family does over time. I think that accounts for our longevity.
AE: Since you’re from Wales, Matthew, and you’re from Canada, Luke, does making it in Hollywood carry something extra special?
LM: I think we each get a nice spread in our local newspapers. [laughs]
MR: [laughs] We do. I was home recently, and I’m not going to blow my own horn, but in the local newspaper I’m always prefixed with “Hollywood Actor”. “Hollywood Actor Matthew Rhys.” [laughs]
LM: It’s a funny thing to say “making it.” I certainly hope that I have more places to go. Sure I’ve made it when I look at certain people, but still so far to go. You never quite feel like you’ve made it.
MR: What is lovely is whenever people from home or whatever come to set, and you forget, but when they come on the lot they sort of do go, “GASP!” And you’re reminded of that and you go, “Oh God. Yeah.” A friend of mine just came on the lot and said, “You must live the dream every day.” And in a way, I’d sort of forgotten how remarkable it is, so you are reminded. It’s true. Like Luke says, it’s part of a journey.
AE: This show has a really big ensemble cast, I would imagine that has pluses and minuses. A plus being you don’t have as much responsibility to carry or as many scenes. The minus being you don’t have as many scenes. Would either of you ever be interested in doing a show where you were carrying it on your shoulders?
MR: I don’t know. I’ve met a lot of actors who do that and they’re just burnt. It’s a lot of work. It really is. And you know what acting creatures are like. I don’t know. That amount of pressure and that work load, it’s the antithesis of what we do where we don’t have a lot to do but we get time off. You get the big bone, but it’s a lot of work eating it. … Where did that come from? [laughs]
AE: So it doesn’t really appeal to you then?
MR: I think it would be project specific.
MR: If one came along and you said, “Oh, this is a gift,” then you’d have to.
AE: You have both done a lot of other work. Is television where you feel most at home, least at home, or is it just acting is acting?
LM: I always say this is a bit of a cliché, but I started in theater and I feel very comfortable there. I haven’t had a lot of experience in film, but theater is always the thing I imagine returning to.
MR: Exactly the same answer. It’s where I started. It’s where I feel most alive, really, for obvious reasons — performing for a live audience and everything else that comes with it.
LM: It’s really yours, too, in a way that television isn’t. You shoot something and you have no idea how they’re going to edit it or even if they’re going to keep the scene. When the curtain goes up, it’s your show. You’re totally in control. The director is around the corner drinking beer with his buddies.
AE: With the directing you’ve done, Matthew, is that something you want to eventually do more of, or something you were just trying out?
LM: Before he answers that, he was brilliant. He really was. He dealt with the actors and everyone respected him. He did so well.
MR: I was very nervous, but thank you Mr. Macfarlane. It was something I wanted to try out and there was no safer environment than having been on a show for three years and to step out with a fantastic crew. I thought it was the prefect environment to test the water, dip my toe in, and it was.
AE: Who gave you the most grief? Rachel Griffiths seems like she has a lot of spunk to her.
MR: Rachel, in that amazingly Aussie way where the truth is presented with sledgehammers and baseball bats, is sort of unreal for me, but it’s still the truth so you can’t argue with it. I mean, my God, you’ve got a collection of the strongest women in Hollywood, so trying to cajole them sometimes into a note you think might elevate something to somewhere was sometimes terrifying and sometimes terrifying.
AE: If you survived that, you’re ready for…
MR: …anything. I’m ready for Melrose Place. [laughs]
AE: Dear God, I hope not. Don’t tell anybody I said that.
AE: Going back to the expectation issues of your character, obviously when people care about characters on television, it’s almost like having a relationship. You care so you pay a lot of attention, and you start to nitpick, and focus on the little things. It seems like lately, a lot of people on our site have described Kevin as unlikable in some of the ways he behaves. I think it’s a testament to you as an actor, Matthew, and your personality that he comes across as likable as he does. How do you look at Kevin at this point?
MR: First off, with any character it’s the complexity, the warts and all, that I love. I like the fact that there are those moments. I love the rough with the smooth. For a lot of the time, Kevin seems to be in transition. If it’s not relationships, it’s work, and it takes him a while to come to these conclusions, but like everything else, that’s what makes it interesting for me. Thank God, Scotty is so understanding and loving. [laughs]
LM: Scotty is his psychiatrist.
MR: Yes, he’s the alkaline to his acid.
AE: How is Scotty feeling about Kevin these days, Luke? Is he getting exasperated?
LM: It’s the thing that happens in relationships. This is who he is. I knew that from the get-go. I think on some level, Scotty thrives on that kind of relationship. He is the most comfortable being the person who can be a rock. Some people like that. They feel very useful that way. That’s why he picked Kevin, because he feels very useful to him.
AE: Non-actors like to think that actors spend a lot of time discussing their characters and the dynamics of the relationship. Do you two do that? When the whole baby storyline came up, was there ever a time where you said, “Let’s talk about this,” or does that come from the writers?
LM: I love talking to the writers about where they’re coming from. Often, that’s the most useful way to have those conversations about characters. You can say, “So what is he thinking here?” I tend to do a lot of that, but not necessarily with the other actors so much. That’s sort of an acting thing. You keep your secrets to yourself. You don’t always want to share them with your scene partner.
MR: Do you [keep secrets]?
LM: I’m playing that Scotty is straight. [laughs]
MR: And that he’s trapped! For me, it’s very rare. When something pops and I go, “Oh, I really disagree with that, then I’ll… It’s rare though that something’s not working on the page.
LM: I don’t know if I should mention this, but I said to Matthew once, “I think they might have you do drag.” And Matthew was like, “No. No. No. Kevin would not do that!” Which I think he’s actually right about, you know?
AE: I wouldn’t argue with that.
LM: But come on. Who wouldn’t like to see Matthew do a hilarious drag act? That’s what all the writers are thinking.
MR: Yeah. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t ever want to see myself in drag, and that’s what it boils down to.
AE: Luke, you do that really fun cooking blog on the ABC site. Do you go out and shoot all those pictures at one time? Do you come up with the ideas for the posts or do the writers?
LM: I write about half of them and then John writes the other half. We keep coming up with ideas and then we panic and go, “Oh God! We have to write another one this week!” Literally, the idea came from having dinner with my friends and I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if ABC bought dinner for us?” Then I was like, “I’m going to go ask them if I can do reviews of ten restaurants.” Of course, that didn’t happen, but they were like, “That’s a great idea. Write a blog.” It’s actually been a little more work than I originally anticipated.
AE: Both of you guys have been featured on our Hot 100 list. Luke, last year you actually came in at #3. Matthew, you’ve made the Top 25 before, but now you’re down to 34. Gareth David-Lloyd passed you…
MR: Well done, darling.
LM: Where are you going with this question?
AE: He has to campaign!
MR: Oh. Vote for me?
MR: Uh…. I don’t know. I feel rather crushed by all that, especially young Gareth.
AE: Okay, I’ll let you off the hook. Matthew, you’re a big rugby fan. Gareth Thomas just came out. What was your reaction to that?
MR: I was, this sounds very patronizing, but I was very proud of my nation. I was at the rugby game immediately after he came out, and he was our Welsh captain. It was a huge club match the day after Christmas, so it’s a big game, and we’re all there, and they didn’t start him. He came out and he got a huge round of applause. I was really quite moved by it.
AE: Not to sound corny, but that actually kind of gives me chills.
MR: I got such a chill when it happened. All these tough, rugged … it’s still a working man’s game. It’s not the game it is in England and Scotland, so for all those men to give him a huge round of applause when he ran out, because he ran out on his own.
AE: Why do you think he got such a positive reaction?
MR: I think… I don’t know. You can dress it up as anything, but I think it was an appreciation and acknowledgement that he did a very brave thing in a very difficult environment. For all the bullshit of what being a man is, what he did was a very manly thing.
AE: This will be good because I don’t think Americans understand just what he means to Wales.
MR: He’s our hero. Plus, he looks like an animal, which is what’s so fantastic about it. He’s a huge mountain man.
LM: Is he single?
AE: Actually, he is.
MR: Yeah, yeah. He was here in LA, as well, recently. We were on hiatus or otherwise we would have met up.
AE: Any other projects you’ve got coming up that you’re working on?
MR: No, not really. I did a little movie while we were on hiatus called Patagonia that will be coming out in a little bit, but that’s the only thing in the pipeline.
AE: Luke, anything coming up?
LM: I’ve been working on this interesting solo theater piece with my writer friend Keith Bunin who is a writer on In Treatment. Hopefully, this hiatus we’ll be able to do some more. That’s about it.