In this summer’s LGBT film festival hit, 2 Minutes Later, Philadelphia actress Jessica Graham, who describes herself as an out bisexual woman ("70/30 women to men," she joked), plays lesbian detective Abigail Marks. Graham, who had recently moved to Los Angeles, got the role after meeting with the film’s writer and director, Robert Gaston (Open Cam).
"What kind of character would you really like to play?" he asked Graham when they met.
"Somebody who’s tough but still feminine. Somebody who has issues, but isn’t rocking with her head in her hands the whole time," she replied.
Gaston smiled. "Let me tell you about Abigail," he said.
Graham got the part of the high-heel-wearing, gun-carrying lesbian private eye who buddies up with shy, semi-closeted insurance investigator Michael Delmar (Michael Molina) to investigate the disappearance of his twin brother, Kyle.
"I was just thrilled," she told AfterEllen.com. "Not only is it a cool project, but it’s shooting in my hometown. I get to go home and be like, ‘Yeah, I’m here for a filming.’"
Before moving to Los Angeles, Graham co-founded both Theater Catalyst’s Eternal Spiral Project and Stonegraham Productions (producers of *girl*, Philadelphia ‘s longest-running lesbian party). She has also appeared on the stage and in a handful of small, independent and short films, including the 2006 lesbian short film Inclinations.
Graham packs a whole lot of sexiness into her role as an indomitable lesbian P.I. in 2 Minutes Later. How much Jessica was there in Abigail?
"Robert had a really clear vision for this character, and it just worked out that I had the same thoughts about her," she said. "I wanted to pump up her sexuality, because I think women are supposed to be less sexual, and I don’t think that’s the case at all. Perhaps, yes, they might not think of sex as often as men do, but we’re very sexual beings, too, and I wanted her to reflect that. I think that’s part of the reason why the gay male audience loves Abigail so much. They love her. I guess because she’s got that edge."
Graham’s been busy since moving to Los Angeles. In addition to her role in 2 Minutes Later, she starred as Fay in Devil Girl, a supernatural horror film about a young woman who gets stranded in a small town when her car breaks down while she’s driving cross-country.
"I get to drive around the desert in a ’69 Chevelle and, again, chase the bad guys. But in that movie I’m wearing cowboy boots and jeans instead of high heels and a dress," she said, laughing. Graham calls her character "sexually ambiguous," and explained: "She has a sex scene with a girl, and a make-out scene with a guy. She’s tough, but she’s young. She’s kind of a cool, ambiguous character. I really liked playing her a lot."
The move to Los Angeles shook up more than her career. "I’ve always been a relationship person — either in a relationship, or dating a couple of people, or whatever it is," she said.
"But for the last six months of my life, I’ve been completely single and not in a relationship, and wow. The self-awareness that comes about when you step out of that relationship dynamic has been amazing, so that’s been a big part of it for me, too. Getting to know myself and being my own girl, I guess. I always think of that Tori Amos song, ‘She’s been everybody else’s girl …’ I’d hear it and go, ‘Someday that song is not going to be about me,’ and today it’s not! It’s a big deal."
Noting that her last relationship was with a woman, Graham said that she, like many actors, has struggled with how open to be about her sexual orientation, including when she was approached about an interview with AfterEllen.com.
"Honestly, this is something I’ve thought about a lot because the question is coming up with people and me and press," she said. "I’ve been getting this question, ‘Am I an out actress,’ and I’m unsure as to how to answer it.
"When people ask me at the festivals during the talk-backs, at the question-and-answers, I’ll say something witty like, ‘Well, I’ve played straight roles and I’ve played gay roles, and you can figure it out from there.’ You know, make everybody laugh. But when it really comes down to it, if I’m really honest about it, I could say that I’m a gay actress and get lots of gay press and get more play in the gay industry, and there’s that, but that’s not the full truth. And so I don’t want to do that."
After a pause, she went on. "I could say that I’m straight, and not risk cutting myself out of the mainstream. But the real, honest truth is I have been madly in love with three women in my life, and had long-term relationships with them. Madly in love. Maybe a little too madly. And lived with women. But I’ve done the same thing with men. I’ve been in long-term relationships with men, and been madly in love with them, too."