Last week saw the end of the first season of The L Word, the first television drama made by and for lesbians and bisexual women. This ground-breaking and thoroughly entertaining show would not have been possible had it not been for the success of it's older sibling, Showtime's first original series, Queer As Folk. Based on a six episode British mini-series of the same name, the American version came into its own when it continued the story of a group of gay men and lesbians beyond the timeline of the original.
Set in Pittsburgh, PA, QAF's ensemble cast is nearly all gay men except for the token lesbian couple, Melanie (Michelle Clunie) and Lindsay (Thea Gill), who gave birth to a son fathered by one of the men. This show broke all the rules when it proved that a gay-themed show could capture a wide enough audience to not only be profitable for the network, but become a critical and popular success beyond the gay and lesbian community.
One of the reasons it became such a hit was because it made the audience privy to the everyday lives of gay men and lesbians together, along with their families, co-workers, and the rest of their community, and because it tackled the politics and issues that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people struggle with in their daily lives.
But many lesbian viewers complained about the fact that once again, the lesbian characters had been relegated to b-plot status, figuring prominently in the first few episodes, but soon fading into the background and settling into motherhood. Although their screen time has grown over the course of the first three seasons, giving us a more intimate view of a loving and committed lesbian couple and their daily lives as they intertwine with their gay friends, they are still very much supporting characters on Queer as Folk.
Actress Michelle Clunie plays Melanie, the feisty and often abrasive half of the couple, a refreshing and very human character whose very unladylike behavior and attitudes have endeared her to the show's fans. I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Michelle for a few short minutes last week at Showtime's big party at the Castro Theatre celebrating the success of the first season of the The L Word and the introduction of Season Four of QAF.
Michelle, it’s really nice to see you here. I am so glad that Queer As Folk made it to four years. Who’d a thunk?
(laughs) Who’d a thunk is right! Who would have thought it would have ever seen the light of day? A lot of people didn’t even think it would make it to the airwaves because it was so controversial and something that no one had seen before. I was surprised it even made it to television, but now we’re here at four years and it has really changed a lot.
Yes, it has changed the face of television. In the four years that you've played Melanie, how do you think your character has evolved?
I think that Melanie has grown up in many ways, and probably it’s also that I’ve grown up a bit, too. In the beginning, she shot from the hip and she was very forthright sometimes not in a very savvy way. She just said what was ever on her mind regardless of who was listening or how it affected other people’s feelings. And although she will always have that – it’s just part of who she is – I think that there's this softer side of her.
Ever since Gus came into her life in the first season, it has really softened her. I think that children just have her heart. And I think it’s a really interesting side to see of Melanie (laughter) because here’s this really tough woman, that when she’s with the baby, she’s just so enraptured, just in love with this little boy. And now that she’s pregnant I think it’s even more so. It's very hard for her actually, I think she struggles to maintain her independence and her point of view and her tough outer shell. But I think these things in her life that bring love to her, just chip away. I think it's really interesting – the conflict.
It is….because I think it was the brashness that originally attracted many people to Melanie.
Yeah, yeah…and I’m in fear of losing that sometimes. That’s why I always throw a little brashness in whenever I feel it’s getting too soft. But I think that’s very Melanie. I think when things get a little soft in her life she throws in a little brashness, it’s just instinctually where the character goes.
Do you think the motherhood story line is going to limit her in anyway?
Well yeah, I have a great fear of that and it’s something that I think about all the time. Does it limit you or does it open you up? That’s the question I guess women have in life as well, it’s very scary. Will motherhood limit you as a woman or will it actually open you up and add more to your life and give you another perspective on life, because you have this great love in your life that no one else can really understand.
So maybe you bring that to every situation you deal with, so when she does go to work or when she does deal with the other lawyers, or deal with social or political issues she always has that other side to deal with. Not only how does this affect me, how does this affect my partner, how will this affect our future children. So I actually think that it will add…I’ll make sure that it will add another dimension to her, instead of blanding her out. If that’s a word, blanding.
That would be really nice to see, because it seems like what has happened to all of the lesbians on TV is that the writers have thrown children at them as a way of desexualizing the lesbians. It’s happened to Dr. Weaver on ER, to Bianca Montgomery on All My Children, and now, it’s happened to Melanie. I know a lot of people are worried, since we just got our feisty women out there… Finally see ourselves reflected in a realistic way…
Yeah, that’s one thing I’m concerned with and I think that this season you will definitely see that the lesbians are very sexually….feisty, and I want to make sure that you keep seeing that. Because that to me is important because that’s what attracted me to the role. To not play your typical character but to play something that was of her own mind, so that will always be there.
What is your favorite aspect of playing Melanie?
Well, you know I love her honesty and I relate to that quite a bit. I like that she is very honest and says what she thinks and how she feels, even if its ugly, even if it isn’t pretty, even if it disturbs other people. And I think that that part of her will never go away, it’s just who she is. And I think that’s very important in this day and age, not only in characters but in people, that people constantly say how they feel without prettying it up or trying to be too diplomatic or too PC.
Or worried that they’re going to upset somebody…
Yeah, or that they’re going to upset somebody, I think you see that with our country now…
You’re always going to upset somebody.
You’re always going to upset somebody, I know I’ve upset a lot of people I’m sure and people want me to shut up about my politics all the time, but I think that’s the problem with the country…that people are afraid to say what’s on their mind or maybe the country is too strung out on Prozac to really care who the President is. You know, that’s how I think: I think we’re definitely living in a Prozac nation and so that’s why we're so complacent when those guys stole the election.
Change usually starts with civil disobedience – you look at the Boston Tea Party, you look at Rosa Parks, you look at gay marriages right now! Gay marriage isn’t going to be given to people we will have to fight for it, so I think that people should continue to have acts of civil disobedience because that’s the only way we create change and hang on to our constitution. It’s twisted, but that’s the only way we actually hang on to it, we gotta fight for it.
One of the things most notable about you is that you’re one of those actors who uses your fame to fight for change. Do you have fundraisers or anything that’s coming up?
I don’t right now. We just got done wrapping the season and the only thing that I got a chance to do during the season was I went down to NY to campaign for Howard Dean. In fact a few of us did. That was very important to me, I was a big supporter of his. I think that he was a great candidate, I just don’t think we were ready for him because he’s not savvy or smooth enough.
Once again we (the country) want people that can tell a great joke and be a shit-kicking Texan. We don’t want somebody that’s really passionate, right? We want someone that looks good in a suit and Howard is just right out there, he’s just kind of like you know….this one girl went up to him and said, “why don’t you smile?” and he replied, “because lady there’s not a lot to smile about right now.” So, I was very happy doing that, it’s sad to see that he’s not going to be the one going up against Bush, but that’s OK, I’ll support Kerry.
But I think that you have to use your power to do something, right?