AE: You’ve said you didn’t realize, until you were on the
producing end of the show, how much was at stake in putting together this kind
of a story. Do you think that’s still the case today?
LI: Oh, I certainly do. I don’t think you’re going to see the characters
on Grey’s Anatomy come out as gay. I wouldn’t be surprised if they
brought on a new character who was gay. It’s about time for that, I would think.
That’s a show that does a lot of interesting things, but I don’t think they’re
going to have any of those characters come out.
AE: So you think there’s a difference between having a new
character who’s already gay versus an established character come out?
do think [that]. In a way, with Weaver it was less risky because Weaver
was — people had such mixed feelings about Weaver. She wasn’t America
‘s sweetheart by any stretch, so in a way there was room for that. But
I don’t think that you would see … a mainstream show … where they
establish these characters that are romantic leads and have them
realize they’re gay or come out. I just don’t think that would happen.
I think it should happen, because it happens in life and it’s dramatically interesting, but that’s a big risk to take, you know?
AE: And that risk, you think, is financial and related to ratings?
LI: Oh, I would imagine. I would imagine. I think ER was such
a strong show, and I don’t think it had any effect on the ratings. In fact,
it may have improved our ratings because all the sudden there were a group of
people who were more interested in the show than were before. I think there
was some positive effect to the ratings, and that’s something that I think the
industry can pay more attention to.
And certainly that’s now all over the place, the positive effect of
having gay and lesbian characters on television. But I think for a
mainstream show that’s a hit show where there’s established characters
— to have one of the characters come out as gay or realize they’re gay
— it feels to me almost like if you have someone you know in your life,
like your child or your cousin, and all the sudden they say, “Hey, you
know what? I’m gay.” There’s a feeling of “Oh my gosh, I sort of
thought I knew you, and now I don’t.” And I think for people there’s a
bit of a transition in trying to understand that person now and accept
AE: I felt like the producers of ER gave Kerry
Weaver equal time with the straight characters in terms of the amount
of physical affection she was allowed to show. Were there ever any
hesitations about going down that road?
LI: I don’t
think there were hesitations. I was happy with the fact that there was
no hesitancy in showing us kiss or, you know, there was a couple of
times when I was in bed with my girlfriends and stuff. I think if there
was any hesitancy, it probably had more to do with my age [laughs] than
my being a lesbian. I don’t know that there are a lot of shows where
you see women in their 40s really getting down too much. So I think
they did a pretty good job in that area. ER‘s not a show that’s particularly into sex scenes anyway.
It’s funny because in one of the more recent episodes with the character of
the news producer who becomes my girlfriend, there was a pretty big kiss between
us. And it’d been so long since I kissed one of my girlfriends on the show,
it’s like, “Oh wow, I’ve got to make sure I bring my breath mints to work today.”
And I didn’t think anything about it, you know, we did the scene and
we kissed and great, it all worked out. But the next day I had people
commenting on it, like at my daughter’s school [someone said], “Wow, we
saw you kissing that woman on TV!” You kind of forget that for some
people — and I think probably more than we’d like to imagine — it’s
still a biggish deal. Like it’s something that sort of … gives them
pause. Even nice, liberal people. And I kind of forget about that, you
A clip of Kerry and Courtney’s kiss
AE: Well, you must have gotten a lot of varied reactions
over the years from both lesbian and straight viewers. How have they
changed over time?
LI: I think like anything, people
just get used to something. Like at first … I guess that the overall
reaction that I got from people that were straight — I mean, strangers,
people I didn’t know — was “Oh, she’s not really gay.” You know … like
it was going to be some little exploit of hers that she’d wake up and
find the right guy.
And that, to me, was pretty telling, ’cause I would imagine that’s
probably what people go through in their real life when they come out:
that someone says, “Well, maybe this is just a sort of phase you’re
going through.” I wouldn’t say that — to my face, anyway, or in letters
that I got — people were very hateful or anything. But there was that …
ambivalence and kind of wishing that I wouldn’t do that sort of
feeling, which was almost worse, you know? It’s sort of like, oh God,
do you really care? Is that really affecting your opinion of me? That
felt very personal, just ’cause it’s a more subtle kind of distinction.
But I certainly received a ton of letters myself and … people coming
up and talking to me — in L.A. and when I’m in other parts of the
country — of a lot of support and enthusiasm. I got a ton of letters
from people who would say, “You gave me the courage to come out,” and I
was like, “Oh God, I hope that works out for you.” [Laughs.] It sort of
feels like a lot of responsibility, but on the other hand, I felt good