You might not know this from the character she plays, but Maeve Quinlan loves lesbians.
The statuesque blonde, who plays conservative Catholic mother Paula Carlin on the hit show South of Nowhere, has two lesbian roommates and a lot of gay and lesbian friends. So what's a nice, gay-friendly girl like Maeve doing playing one of the biggest homophobes on cable TV?
She's relishing every minute of it.
Quinlan plays the woman lesbians of all ages love to hate–the homophobic mother who'll do anything to prevent the star-crossed love affair between her daughter, Spencer (Gabrielle Christian) and her best friend and resident wild child, Ashley (Mandy Musgrave). Quinlan recently spoke to AfterEllen.com about why she's happy when viewers don't like her character, filming the dramatic coming out episode, and her own personal investment in combatting homophobia.
AfterEllen.com: Did you know that you're becoming a lesbian icon—a sex symbol for the lesbians who can't help themselves even though your South of Nowhere character is a raging homophobe?
Maeve Quinlan: (laughs) I know that people love to hate her. The girls [Mandy Musgrave and Gabrielle Christian] made sure that I started a MySpace page, and I'm so glad that I did. I'm getting amazing responses about what the show is meaning to people—of all ages.
At first, the comments were, “I hate you, I want to slap you in the face” (laughs), but that's good because it gives me a chance to say, “What you hate then is what she's representing—ignorance, intolerance, homophobia.” But the flip side of it is that it's all she knows. And that's the great thing about this show, there's a clear journey for everybody in it—not just two or three characters. Paula has one of the most interesting stories.
AE: In the most recent episode, Paula walked in on an intimate moment between Ashley and Spencer. What was it like to film that scene?
MQ: This episode has been a long time coming and I think it's something that Paula has sort of known in the back of her head but is in complete denial about. It's almost like she needs to be clobbered over the head to really see it.
This woman is a pretty intense character who has surpassed the glass ceiling in her own profession, she's a mother, she loves her children and is incredibly protective—she thinks that she's really doing the right thing in trying to keep the family together. But sometimes there are things that you just need to let go and accept—and she's not willing to do that obviously. It's a deep reflection on her. She's been suppressing this so much that Friday night's episode depicted the thing that she's been dreading and the fear that she has to face.
I'll never forget how, when we shot it, the three of us were really intensely scared about it—in a good way. We knew this was going to be a magnificent episode, and I knew exactly how I wanted to play it, which was I honestly felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. She's kinda getting kicked in the head, but she's getting kicked in the stomach. And it's not just what she's seeing, it's everything. She's internalizing this as her life. Everything that she had planned for her family, for her daughter, has just fallen apart. She's such a controlled person, and now this is a whole new world.
For the next part of the season, she really has to face the fact that she's either going to have to accept this situation to a degree—as best she can—or she's going to lose her daughter. And it's the first time that she's really had to face something like that. She usually gets what she wants, she wills things to happen. And she has no control over this situation.
Even with the affair, that was an easy cop out for her—when everything's hitting the fan and she's so stressed out, Paula decides to have an affair. It was something that was comforting and that she knew from before, but she turned her back on that. She made a mistake, and you don't see Ben again. She's one that tries to control everything, and that's what's amazing about that episode; it sets the course for the next part of the season for Paula's storyline. It's not up to her anymore. She's the one that's going to have to learn a little bit more about herself.
I imagine this woman grew up in a very religious family, with very high expectations and she's in another world now. It's a different generation, high school's different now. And love is love. She's going to have to learn a lot. In the episodes to come, she has to bottom out in order to accept what's going on.