AE: What did you think of the whole Newsweek debacle?
SR: I think it’s ridiculous. It’s offensive. It undermines actors’ abilities. It’s what we do; actors and performers are constantly stepping into people that they’re nothing like and I think sexual orientation should not be the deciding factor as to whether you get to play a role or not. There are plenty of actors out there who are portraying straight characters in an amazing way and the actors happen to be homosexual. Neil Patrick Harris is a perfect example of someone who is a smart, funny, talented, classy, hilarious, silly, loving person and oh yeah, by the way, he’s gay. Who cares?
I think T.R. Knight (who played George on Grey’s) said it best when he first came out to the public that it’s the least interesting thing about him. He said that, those are his words. I thought that was brilliant. Because for a lot of people who want to come out and kids who don’t know what to do about telling their parents in the Midwest that they’re gay, I think that it is scary and it does matter and it is interesting. I don’t want kids to think that it’s the least interesting thing about you; no, it’s fabulous! Celebrate it, be yourself, be who you are, be out about it. But it is scary and it is frightening.
In terms of actors and performers who happen to be gay, yeah, it’s the least interesting thing. It’s just as interesting as who a straight person sleeps with — I don’t care. I don’t need to know about that. All I need to know is when you show up for work you’re prepared, you know your lines and you’ve got your character down and you’re going to have fun and do a great job. That you’re going to convince people that you’re playing that role and it’s going to be believable and it’s going to be real. If somebody doesn’t portray a role well, it’s perhaps because they weren’t prepared enough or it wasn’t the right role for them. It has nothing to do with their sexual orientation.
AE: Is there a specific project that would get you to return to Broadway?
SR: A dream role of mine is "Evita," but it might be far-fetched because I’m very tall and I’m not a trained dancer. But I’m working on it! (Laughs.) I would love to do Evita. It’d be a great and very difficult role. It’s a tall order and I’m scaring myself saying it out loud. That role speaks to me. If I were to come back and do an original piece it would have to be a piece that speaks to my heart, has amazing music. Lin-Manuel Miranda — who wrote and starred in In the Heights — I would love to work with him and develop something with him.
AE: What will you be singing at "Broadway Takes the Runway: An Evening of Fashion and Song"?
SR: I’m going to be singing a song from Evita that I’m really excited about. And I’ll be singing a song from The Secret Garden. Four-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald, who also is on Private Practice, is going to be singing, too. Plus Billy Porter and Natalie Weiss, Christopher Jackson and Robin de Jesus and Carson Kressley, who’s on the board, will be hosting.
AE: How did the Al D. Rodriguez Liver Foundation get started?
SR: We’ve been around for two years. Al was my best friend and he moved out to L.A. with me when I got "Grey’s Anatomy" and he moved back right before Season 3. A couple years ago he was diagnosed with liver cancer out of the blue. He was 45-years old and had no insurance. He was an actor, a gay man — he was my gay husband. It turns out he had contracted hepatitis in high school from eating something and it’s scary that it went untreated the whole time.
There was a lot of confusion around it and it was just too late. It turned into liver cirrhosis, which turned into liver cancer. Six weeks later he passed away. Nothing prepares you for that kind of stuff.
The last couple years I’ve been going through the grief process and the foundation was something that was brought up by one of the group’s friends around Al who said we should do a foundation in his memory and try to give back and help those in need like him. We all decided to do it and move our energy into something productive that gives back and celebrates his memory. We’ve managed to screen people and vaccinate people for hepatitis.
That’s really our goal: To provide free screening for the hepatitis virus and free vaccinations. We’re targeting community health centers and clinics, we’re trying to focus on communities that reflect who Al was — an artist, a gay man, someone without insurance, a Latino. We’re being very specific right now but we do hope and want to help as many people as we can.
AE: How can people get involved if they can’t attend the event in New York?
SR: Donate, it doesn’t have to be a lot — it can be a little bit every now and then. Also, forward the information and the website to anyone that you know who might have hepatitis or who thinks they might have it or who has a liver issue.
Really, education around the liver organ is really important. What’s really ironic is that Al never drank alcohol. People often associate liver issues with alcohol, which yes, they exist. But there’s a whole other side of the liver being affected by other things that are non-alcohol related. It’s important to get the message out that there are many ways that your liver can deteriorate so it’s important to understand its function and that when something goes terribly wrong you often don’t find out until it’s too late.
People can reach out and help educate others. We have honorary board members, people who are linked to the medical world who help us out all the time who contribute resources and the latest medical discoveries so if people have connections to that, that’s great. People can get involved in all sorts of ways but more than anything we would love for people to go on the website and contact us and let us know that they would like to contribute and help and we can work together to think of ways.
For more information on the Al D. Rodriguez Liver Foundation, go to aldrodriguezliverfoundation.com.. To purchase tickets for the Oct. 4 Broadway Takes the Runway event in New York, go to broadwaytakestherunway.com.