Saturday, December 19, 2009

Randy Harrison discusses his new role playing the legendary Andy Warhol

The Advocate's Brandon Voss recently interviewed talented actor, Randy Harrison (Queer as Folk), who discusses his new role as late art legend Andy Warhol in Yale Rep’s POP! and his own status as a reluctant “post-gay” pop icon — plus his secret nude photos and the possibility of a Queer as Folk reunion. Below is an excerpt from the interview.

Brandon Voss writes:
When The Advocate last spoke to him for a September 2002 cover story, Randy Harrison had only finished his second of five seasons as gay teen Justin Taylor in Showtime’s groundbreaking drama Queer as Folk but was already planning an exit strategy. “I sort have this image of myself sort of disappearing for a while and reemerging five to 10 years down the road again,” said Harrison, who was at 24 the youngest out actor on television.

It’s been more than four years since the controversial series ended, but the stage vet, who made his Broadway debut as Boq in Wicked, has remained very visible in the theater world. Now 32, Harrison is currently creating a portrait of polarizing pop artist-filmmaker Andy Warhol in the Mark Brokaw-helmed world premiere of POP!, a Factory-set musical by Maggie-Kate Coleman and Anna K. Jacobs, which runs through December 19 at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Conn.
Brandon Voss: When The Advocate interviewed you in 2002, you said that you were scared you might be “perceived as a poster boy for something” because you “never really had any goals of activism.” Considering how much the marriage equality debate has heated up since then, have you found yourself becoming more political?

Randy Harrison: I always have been political, but I’m political personally and not as a celebrity. I’ll go march in Washington with my friends, but I’m not going to go as Randy Harrison the spokesperson because I’m not comfortable playing that role. But I’m active like any human being should be.

Brandon Voss: You also told The Advocate, “Besides the fact that I sleep with men, I have very little sense of being part of the community of homosexual people, for whatever reason. I have a group of six friends, two of whom are gay.” Now that you’re in your 30s, do you feel more connected with the gay community? Or, at the very least, have you made more gay friends?

Randy Harrison: [Laughs] I don’t have any more gay friends! Maybe I feel slightly more connected, but not really. I don’t feel hugely different about it. I’m still not engaged with gay nightlife, but I am a gay person who wants equal rights, so I’m engaged with that. All my friends, straight or gay, are engaged with that.

Brandon Voss: For a Vanity Fair cover story in 2003 called “Gay-Per-View TV,” you participated in a glamorous photo shoot that featured the major cast members of Queer as Folk, Will & Grace, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The L Word, and Boy Meets Boy. What was it like to play such a major part in that watershed moment for our mainstream media visibility when you didn’t even feel a part of your community?

Randy Harrison: For me, it all felt like a fluke. Now, looking back, I can sort of see how that kind of visibility was progress to some extent, but I remember doing that shoot and just wanting it to be over.

Brandon Voss: Are you serious? In one photo you’re inches away from Megan Mullally and hanging on Thom Filicia while Jennifer Beals is serving face in the corner. That shoot looks like it was a blast.

Randy Harrison: Really? Oh, my God, no. My memory of it is that it was stressful and nerve-racking. But I have a difficult time with photo shoots period.

Brandon Voss: Do you wish you could’ve achieved your current marketability in the theater world without actually having to do Queer as Folk?

Randy Harrison: Not really, because the only reason I’m financially stable is from having worked in television. I’m sure Queer as Folk opened up a lot of doors for me, even if it closed some too, so I’m grateful for it.

Brandon Voss: POP! doesn’t directly explore Warhol’s sexuality, but many critics over the years have examined the ways his homosexuality shaped his aesthetic and also posed an obstacle for him to overcome in his career. Some of his contemporaries were angered or intimidated by the frankness of his sexuality in his work, but he refused to butch it up for anyone. Do you relate to that aspect of Warhol’s character?

Randy Harrison: Oh, absolutely. There’s this fascinating book called Pop Out, which is like a queer studies examination of Warhol’s life and career. It’s interesting that Jasper Johns and Bob Rauschenberg were also gay but acted butch, so they wanted nothing to do with Warhol. To me, the most amazing thing about Warhol was that he intentionally played up the “swish” aspect — “swish” being the word that he used — in popism. I have a lot of admiration for that.

Read Brandon's full interview with actor Randy Harrison here.