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Actor Peter Paige, who is undoubtedly best remembered for his flamboyant portrayal of Emmett Honeycutt on Showtime’s Queer as Folk (2000-2005), is just wrapping up a 5 week engagement of Alan Bennett’s Tony Award-winning play The History Boys at the Ahmanson Theatre. When we spoke recently about his career, he detailed the challenges of playing Irwin, the young teacher in Boys, as well as his recording last year of Tom Jacobson’s Bunbury for LA Theatre Works, which is close to my heart as well, as I appeared in the original 2005 production at The Road Theatre Co. In addition to chatting about his ‘pride and joy’ film projects, Paige made a list for me of theatre roles that he is just ‘dying to play’ in the not-to-distant future. Direct, intense and definitely opinionated, his answers to my questions are nonetheless full of the keen intelligence and delicious enthusiasm that makes this man so terribly engaging.

Q: First of all, what did you find intriguing about Bunbury?
PP: I loved all the literary intertwinings and the extraordinary imagination that Tom (Jacobson) applied to all those off-stage characters. I love that sense of someone sort of finding out that he doesn’t exist and being determined to find a place for himself in the world. We can all relate to that: the need to find a place for ourselves.

Q: Had you ever read any of Tom’s other plays?
PP: I think I read Cyberqueer  years ago, but didn’t know Tom. It wasn’t until we were done with (the taping of) Bunbury, that I managed to put together that that’s who it was.

Q: A brilliant writer!
PP: That’s true.

Q: You did a wonderful job with the reading. Tell me, what has been challenging about doing The History Boys?
PP: (laughs) What is challenging? Everything. It’s the hardest part I’ve ever had.

Q: Really?
PP: Hands down, it is.

Q: Why?
PP: He (Iriwn) is as erudite and conflicted a character as I’ve ever seen. His incredible access to knowledge and information, especially knowledge of history…which is a subject I abhorred in school…was the first and most obvious challenge. The much more difficult one was finding a balance between his restraint and his torment, his sort of repressed feelings and all that churning and that need to be heard and to find a place for himself, as in Bunbury… as well as the demands of doing this part on a stage as big as the Ahmanson.

Q: You had some of the creative people from the original UK production assisting you, correct?
PP: The whole behind-the-scenes team has done every…except for our director (Paul Miller) who did the last British national tour, which is now going back into the West End…everyone else has done every single production of the show that’s been done.

Q: You’ve been in very capable hands!
PP: We were indeed!

Q: You’ve probably been asked this question a million times, but here it comes again. What, in your opinion, is groundbreaking about Queer as Folk?
PP: I thought  a)  just doing a show on gay people where they’re not your typical sidekicks was pretty groundbreaking. b) Far more importantly, giving them sex lives, and allowing their sex, which is a big human part of who we are… allowing that to play a role in the dramatic storytelling and the emotional understanding of those characters… is really what the legacy of that show is.

Q: I love the way you kind of detached yourself from Emmett, kind of laying back, playing tongue- in-cheek and thoroughly enjoying your work.
PP: Thank you.

Q: I understand you are totally different from him.
PP: I don’t know that I’m totally different, but I’m different enough. I was acting, which is something that people don’t expect on television.

Q: That’s good, because far too many actors play themselves on TV.

Q: Talk a little about the animated series you’re doing for the Logo Channel.
PP: Rick & Steve, the Happiest Gay Couple in All the World. It’s been great fun. We did the first season (6 episodes) well over a year ago and we just got picked up for season 2.

Q: Congratulations!
PP: …but we haven’t started doing it yet. Rick & Steve…Q. Allan Brocka, (the announcer), a real comic genius, I think. It’s not the kind of job that requires a lot of rehearsal and preparation, but a lot of fun. I have a wonderful time, crawl into the booth once a week, act badly, and they seem to love it.

Q: Talk about your 2 films, that you’ve been promoting around the world.
PP: I wrote and directed Say Uncle, which premiered at Outfest 2 years ago and had a small theatrical release last summer. It’s out on DVD right now and I’m very, very proud of it. It stars myself, Kathy Najimy, Gabrielle Union, Lisa Edelstein, who’s on House, Melanie Lynskey, who’s a genius, Anthony Clark…a really fantastic cast. I just finished directing Leaving Barstow, a very beautiful script written by this 25 year-old wunderkind, Kevin Sheridan, who also stars in the film, along with Michelle Clunie from Queer as Folk. It’s a really beautiful story about a boy who has a fucked-up complicated relationship with his fucked-up complicated mother.

Q: Say Uncle was recently shown for the first time in Madrid, correct?
PP: Yes, it’s been rediscovered around Europe. We keep getting invites to festivals in Europe.

Q: That’s terrific! How do you feel about the progress gays have made in TV and film?
PP: There’s a bit of an ebb and flow. We had a real audience when Queer as Folk and Will and Grace were both on the air…and neither is on now and there aren’t a lot of gay characters of real substance on TV; there are a few. Not to disrespect or disregard the few that are out there, but there do not seem to be a whole lot of them at the moment. That being said, the tide will come again; someone else will figure out a fresh way to do it, and it will continue on. It’s all a pendulum swing.

Q: Who are some of your favorite actors?
PP:...Robert Downey Jr, Emma Thompson, Ryan Gosling. Who else? I’m becoming a very big Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan. There are lots of good ones out there.

Q: Any role that you long to play on stage? A part you would really like to sink your teeth into!
PP: Every actor has the king they want to play in the Shakespeare canon. I want to play Richard II. I’m desperate to do Private Lives somewhere. I’m a huge Noel Coward fan, and I think that play is absolute comic perfection. I’ve always wanted to do Noises Off; there’s nothing that makes you laugh harder than that play.

Q: What’s your attraction to Richard II?
PP: He’s the only king whose conflict is really internal. Every other king’s conflict is external. It’s about conflict with someone else trying to maintain power or grab power, or get power back. Richard gives up power, and I think that’s such a fascinating question. How do you abdicate the throne? What brings you to that? I’m fascinated by that question.

Q: I just had a wonderful idea. Maybe you’ll do Richard II in the new Mark Taper Forum when it opens next season!
PP: Maybe so. (in fun, exaggerated agreement…) I think we should start a campaign!
(we both laugh)

As a footnote, Peter Paige was very good in The History Boys. As a matter of fact, he made my year-end list of Best Performances. Keep an eye out for him onstage, TV and the big screen!



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