Playing a gay man on a weekly dramatic television series places Robert Gant (more often referred to as Bobby) in a miniscule club of actors who do the same thing. Playing an out gay man living with HIV who has an active physical relationship with his boyfriend, places Gant in a league of his own. While breaking barriers on-screen, Gant took the path less traveled in his own life, and after some serious soul searching, came out and declared his sexual orientation to the world last year. Back for a second season on QUEER AS FOLK, Gant, a former lawyer, has gained a huge fan base of those who relate to what his character is going through on the show, as well as those who just like to watch the hard-bodied actor take his shirt off, week after week. RedZone spoke with the 33-year-old actor while he was on hiatus from the popular Showtime series.
RZ: Congratulations on having your character renewed for another season. You're one of the QAF family now.
RG: Yes, I'm really really excited about it.
RZ: If the show continues to be a big hit could you see yourself in this role for many more years?
RG: If that's what the universe has in store for me, then absolutely. I definitely could see it--I love the show, I love everybody I work with. I've never had this kind of experience on a job before. I've worked for the most part in comedy and that tends to be pretty lively and happy go lucky, but this is definitely the best bunch of folks and I think it has a lot to do with the subject matter and why people came to the show. There's sense of another purpose to this show than just providing entertainment. And that's why they asked us to do an hour of LARRY KING, which says a lot about what the show is doing--its groundbreaking nature, its political aspects.
RZ: Do you think QAF still has this big weight on its shoulders to do politically correct things?
RG: I think it has weathered it all pretty well. I think one of the interesting things about my character--at least based on what the feedback is--is for those that were or are critics of the show, they seem to respond really well to Ben, because he represents something a little different in the community, a different point of view, a different stage of evolution. I think some of what was frustrating for some people was that the show was more narrowly representative of the community at large, but the reality is it couldn't really do more than that at its outset. You can't represent an entire people with one television show with a tight budget and a limited time to tell its story.
RZ: It's a shame there isn't more of a wide array of shows depicting the gay community, so that QAF could share the burden of responsibility.
RG: Right. There just isn't. There are two shows, and one is a sort of a whitewashed sitcom, which is very funny and very entertaining. It's wonderful and serves many terrific purposes. But it is more about entertaining mainstream America. There was a time when there was a huge spotlight on people of color, when there was only show on television for that audience, and we are now experiencing that time with sexual orientation. So of course anyone interested in the historical nature of television, and change, are taking notice.
RZ: Which must make you feel part of something that people will look back 10, 20 years from now as something groundbreaking.
RG: It does. I don't think about that a lot, I think it flashes through my mind on occasion, but I'm really trying to stay in the present with what I'm doing. I feel a responsibility to do the best work possible and it's exciting to me because I'm really grateful to be able to work dramatically.
RZ: Have you had dramatic training at all?
RG: Yes.I work with a really amazing instructor in LA, Howard Fine. I've been singing, dancing, acting since I was a little kid. I joined SAG when I was 10 and was doing national commercials then. In school I did a lot of plays, musicals. I was in musical groups--barbershop quartets, pop singing groups, etc. Then I went to college and did more musical theater; I was in a 12 man a cappella group, did the same thing in Law School. I always had a performance predisposition--it was always the thing I loved. I was just too afraid to pursue it. It was always my passion; I just didn't think my passion would pay the bills. That was what I was led to believe. I was always too afraid to go for it. I think I had some vision of waiting tables for 30 years. And fortunately that hasn't been my fate thus far.
RZ: But you did give the traditional profession thing a shot.
RG: I was always scholastically inclined--hyper-analytical and maybe even a little argumentative, but all of it seemed to point toward the law. And there was a prestige factor which was important to me as well. So I went to Penn undergrad and then Georgetown Law. I got a job with the biggest law firm in the world, Baker and McKenzie (1600 plus attorneys worldwide). I think 4 or 5 months after I got there, they closed their doors on the office I worked in. I got a big severance package and I ran for the hills. I remember they hired an outplacement firm and I met with them once. I remember asking, "Law is really great, do you have any studio jobs?" What I really wanted to do was act, which is why I think I wanted to go into litigation, because it was the closest thing to performing. The reality is most of my time was spent in the library doing research.
RZ: You mean it's not like it is on THE PRACTICE. Which I'm sure you wouldn't mind doing as well.
RG: True. But you know what, I'd rather be on this show. For the longest time I was most interested in profile, money, ratings and I guess it is part of my particular journey, evolution, but relatively speaking, what I've experienced on QAF has helped further my reevaluation of this whole thing. At one point, I think I wanted to be an actor for a lot of childhood reasons--to be affirmed, be in the spotlight--but at some point as I grew up and went through a lot of therapy, I reevaluated why I was doing what I was doing and whether that really made sense. Fortunately I found a new level of appreciation for it and it had a lot to do with going internally and being authentic. Those things are really important in my life. I found that my chosen career was perfectly in keeping with my journey. The same has happened in terms of the kind of work that I'm interested in doing. QAF, particularly my character, really touches people's lives. It doesn't just excite them and entertain them--that's a terrific thing as well--but QAF goes to a different level. I get to talk about things that most actors don't get to experience and I wouldn't trade that.
RZ: You just mentioned that your character really touches people's lives. How do you know that?
RG: Because people come up to me all the time. I've gotten a lot of emails and phone calls and people approaching me on the street. With some people I look at them and get the sense that they've probably battled for a long time with medications because of some of the physical effects. And even though we don't actually talk about it, there's a look of affirmation, of almost pride of getting a voice. What the show does is give a voice to the voiceless--relative to what's out there. It's not that it hasn't existed at all, but it seems to be different here, in that the nature of the show causes it to be reaching the people who are actually having these experiences. It is tackling it from a different place than perhaps the few other depictions of men with HIV on television shows before have--from within the context of a gay relationship and the level of intimacy. I've heard about the gasps when Michael and I started to--all the things that flash before peoples minds--the fears, the joys so I get people coming up to me all the time saying they are really glad the character stayed and they really appreciate it.
RZ: You must feel really grateful for this opportunity then.
RG: I'm really grateful I was able to find the other side. To do this role, I needed to strip away a lot of the musical theater background and other more external performing and get into real acting. I tend to be a bit of a go-getter, so I launched into it whole heartedly with Howard [acting coach] and started stripping away some of those layers so I could get down to some of the simpler layers because that's what Ben is all about.
RZ: Did you ever in your wildest dreams think you would ever play a gay man with HIV?
RG: I do think about the oddness and amazing way life works. Because I seem to have been prepared at each stage for something I didn't know was coming. I think life does that sort of thing. We rarely understand why we're going through something we're going through, until all of a sudden something happens that makes us go "oh, I got it."
RZ: How do you feel about all the attention you're getting?
RG: It's an odd thing about having an awareness of being recognized, being stopped in the mall. I'll walk by people and they'll just say "hi" and I'll be like 'oh shit, that's a friend of mine,' and it hadn't clicked over yet that they are saying hi to the character. I think it is really neat. All I can do is stay grounded. I realize that people are excited and feel a joy about this character. So, I walk down the street feeling loved and looking to meet those joyful expressions with a smile. What happens sometimes as all this attentions starts coming is that you want to recoil a bit and protect yourself, but I think there's another way to look at it. It's not so much that people want something from you--which some do--but there are also people who are just genuinely excited and enthused by what this is creating in their life experience. One of the neat offshoots of playing this character is that I was asked to be the Grand Marshal of the Colorado AIDS Walk. Talk about touching my heart--I was really grateful for that. I keep thinking I need to be in service more, and I thought about going and volunteering for Project Angel Food in LA, but I just get so caught up in the work. And it's easy to forget and then these opportunities present themselves and it's perfect. Of course I will need to create healthy boundaries for myself and make sure I maintain things for myself. As long as it feels right, I don't see any reason to say no.
RZ: What was the reaction of your friends and family when you told them about this role?
RG: My parents: at first they weren't going to watch. It's one thing to deal with someone else's kids, but for THEIR son, they're like "what is this show you are doing?" I think they have to come to terms with a lot of their own prejudices. I think I just didn't want them to see me doing some of those things because it is so graphic. It made them feel uncomfortable. However, Mom said she really wanted to see the show, so I sent her tapes. My Dad really just doesn't want to see me kissing another guy. Everything in its time. This is how change happens, in little stages, one family at a time. And my family is no different. I've been talking about the quality of the work and the show and I think they are really interested. It's amazing to watch them grow. I think they would probably prefer seeing me on FRIENDS Oh yeah, I actually was on FRIENDS.
RZ: Knowing Hal Sparks, he probably provides a little levity during the intimate scenes.
RG: One of the hardest things is to stop laughing. The guy is really funny. He does hysterical impressions. He does this monkey imitation which is the funniest thing. It kills me. He'll do that right as we are going into a really emotional scene. He is actually a very hard worker, but he makes fun of the fact that I pull him away when he is kind of goofing around, so that we can discuss the scene. Hal is a bit of a prodigy, a very smart guy and he has such a powerful mind, that he works from more of a thinking place, and what I try to do in a scene is work more from a feeling place, so we go off and kind of work that way. He's really come to respect me working on my process. I think in the beginning he was more apt to throw out one-liners, but now I think he notices my boundaries and when I'm in that place where I really need to focus. So it's nice. I'm really grateful to be working with him. We're sort of like brothers I think.
RZ: Now there's an opening for an incest joke if I ever heard one.
RG: [laughs] Exactly.
RZ: You were on the cult hit POPULAR for a season. How did that come about?
RG: I think I sort of replaced Chad Lowe. I originally came on as a guest star. It's funny, I came on as a guest star on CAROLINE IN THE CITY as well and ended up doing nine episodes. That character and Ben couldn't be any different.
RZ: Are you focused at all about mixing up your resume when you're not playing Ben?
RG: I really do want to do some indies. I think I'll know it when I see it.
RZ: Your people are working on it.
RG: [laughing] They're LOOKIN'. But I'm also looking to just hang out and take care of myself.
RZ: Well, you definitely are in shape. Which I would imagine is an expectation for this role.
RG: It really is an expectation for myself. I have to take my shirt off and have so much of America seeing me and scrutinizing my body. So, I'm like, 'I better go hit the spin class and the treadmill and the weights.'