Interview with ER’s Laura Innes

After
12 years on television’s enduring hit medical drama, ER, last month
Emmy-winning actor and director Laura Innes finally hung up her stethoscope
as Dr. Kerry Weaver, the hospital’s resident tough-as-nails administrator and
lesbian.

After Dr. Weaver fell for hospital psychiatrist Kim Legaspi (Elizabeth
Mitchell) in the show’s seventh season back in 2000, she then became prime time
television’s longest-running recurring lesbian character.

During the course of her seven years as an out lesbian, Dr. Weaver
experienced the gamut of lesbian story lines: from coming out to
herself to coming out to her colleagues and family; falling for a
lesbian firefighter (Lisa Vidal); having a child with said firefighter,
who subsequently died heroically; undergoing a bitter custody battle
with her deceased spouse’s family; and ultimately finding another love
interest just in time to facilitate her departure from the hospital and
the series. Though being saddled with the lesbian motherhood story line
was more stereotypical than not, ER never shied away from
allowing Dr. Weaver to have girlfriends and openly express her
affection for them — something that doesn’t always occur on TV’s
biggest hit shows.

AfterEllen.com spoke with Innes shortly after she finished directing an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (her episode aired on Feb. 19th) about her groundbreaking role on ER,
the ways that viewers have reacted to her portrayal of the character,
and which girlfriend she’d choose for Dr. Weaver in the long run.

AfterEllen.com: Your character on ER, Dr. Kerry Weaver, was the longest-running recurring lesbian character on prime time television.
Laura Innes:
Don’t
I get some award for that? [Laughs.] That’s right. Isn’t there some
Emmy category for the longest-running lesbian character? I’m sure
that’s true. That’s a good thing.

AE: How much input did you have into the development of her and the
lesbian story line?
LI:
When they first came to me with the idea and said, “We’re thinking
of having the character be gay,” I said, “Oh, OK, that would be interesting
and good in a lot of ways,” and dramatically pretty interesting. And initially
when the scripts started coming out around her attraction to … Kim [Legaspi]
… [who was played by] … the fabulous Elizabeth Mitchell, I was a
little taken aback because I wasn’t crazy about how it was coming out.

Kim and Kerry

It didn’t feel like — the initial scripts to me didn’t have enough …
what’s the word, kind of [an] arc of coming-out, like degrees of comfortableness
and stuff. I just felt like it really needed to be more of a long process for
her to admit to this, that she couldn’t just on a dime decide, “Hey, I’m gay,”
because … some of the reading that I’d done about it, people that I talked
to … [impressed upon me that] gee, if you’re that age and you’re coming
out, it kind of takes you awhile to admit it to yourself, you know?

And for somebody like Kerry who’s so tightly wound and so private and —
I really felt like it was interesting if it was something that was a surprise
to her, and that she was really trying to understand and was spending a lot
of time in denial. And I thought, well, if she goes through all that, it will
be so much more interesting when she finally comes out. And so I think I had
a fair amount of influence in those scripts about the actual coming-out and
her ambivalence and her fear and all that stuff.

A clip of Kim and Kerry:

But then later on, I mean as the show went on, she became a person who was
gay and once in a while it came up, but it wasn’t that prominent in the story
arcs. And then, you know, they kind of reignited it when I had my fireman girlfriend
[Sandy Lopez, played by] Lisa Vidal, and that was all good and fun. And then
the custody battle for the kid, and then it kind of died down again, as everything
does in series television — there are things that come up and then go
away again. And then most recently, it was kind of a little blip relationship
with my other sexy new girlfriend [Courtney Brown, played by Michelle Hurd].

So … as the years have gone on, I’ve had less input about it just
because, frankly, there was less story about it, so … there wasn’t that
much to say about it. On one hand, I liked that she was somebody who
works with you who happens to be gay, and it wasn’t a big deal. On the
other hand, I do feel like there were times when they could have
integrated that story, that content into the show a little more.

But you know, I think she’s great. … I honestly think that NBC and John
Wells Productions — I don’t think they ever got enough credit for what
they did, for putting one of the main characters on a show that was absolutely
the biggest hit on TV, having that character become gay. I don’t think they
really got quite enough credit for it, because it wasn’t like a super-sexy,
sizzling — you know, it was just like a normal person. So I feel a little
bit like they could have gotten a little more credit for that, ’cause …
I hope this isn’t just kidding myself, but I do feel like it affects the way
people think and behave in the world.

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