by Tracy Baim
Laura Innes has been a constant on the cast of ER, amidst the casting changes and dramatic story lines, her character has remained pivotal for millions of viewers each Thursday night.
But chief of emergency medicine Dr. Kerry Weaver's personal life has mostly been nonexistent, outside of her character's brief flirtation with an African-American character a few seasons ago.
This season, Innes got to join the romantic big leagues with fellow doctors, riding an emotional roller coaster as she deals with her attraction to the hospital psychiatrist, played by Elizabeth Mitchell. Mitchell was a wonderful casting choice, having played such a terrific role opposite Angelina Jolie in the TV movie Gia, based on the life of supermodel Gia, a lesbian who died of AIDS in the mid 1980s.
Innes phoned Windy City Times from Los Angeles during taping of the final two episodes of the season, having just returned from filming a few outside shots in Chicago.
Tracy Baim: Can you tell me the genesis of the lesbian plot line on ER ...did the writers come to you with the story?
Laura Innes: Last year, during hiatus, we were done shooting and the executive producers wanted to meet with me. They said 'We want to pitch a story idea.' They started talking, beating around the bush. I said 'You mean she's going to be gay?' They were testing the waters, and I asked how they wanted to do it. They said with broad strokes. My reaction was ...that sounds very interesting. They asked me to think about it. For this kind of role you have to have the actor really on board. I was initially very enthusiastic, and they let me think about it, run it by my husband and son, to stop and think about it.
Baim: Did they run it by you several seasons ago when your character had something going with a Black man?
Innes: No one ran that by anybody ... that was not a developed character. ... Of course I thought about it [the lesbian role], and I just said this sounds like good storytelling. When they started actually doing the story, initially it was very small bites ...deciding what's this going to be. I said I think this has to be a real exploration of this, something that doesn't feel like a novelty act ...titillating. They had a lot of wonderful ideas ...most of my input was trying to get the script and tinker with it.
For example, the very first scene where the two characters went to dinner, and Dr. Legaspi [Mitchell] comes out, Weaver says 'I don't have a problem with that.' But the original version had no scene ... I said this is the one time she's going to come out, so we need to beef this up a little bit ... . From my perspective, it was within the realm of possibility that she did not know Legaspi was gay ...[Weaver] was in denial and it seemed very real. She had this strong feeling in the hospital ...increased heartrate, etc. I think she really was in denial.
It felt logical to me, that if you were going to ...she lived her whole life identified as straight, and if you were going at this stage, to say I'm attracted to somebody of same sex ... it seemed it would be slow, with denial peeling away like an onion, and also it concurred with the experiences of people I knew who were gay in high school and college, who seemed to spend a long time coming around to that.
Baim: How did you research for this role?
Innes: The reading I did of women who were my age, for example the book Married Women Who Love Women, had stories that seemed to be similar, often a friendship that grew into something else. Almost a schoolgirl excitement of seeing the person. A long time before anything happened, a lot of building up. It felt interesting and dramatic. This was also a good way for the audience, our very mainstream audience, to be brought into it in a simple, small way. They could hopefully understand what she was going through.
In the restaurant scene when [Legaspi] says 'I'm gay,' Weaver says she does not have a problem, but she's in this panic going into this, and my feeling is, as she's sitting across this table, she's just blown away.
Her life has always been about work and career, and she has really put her private life and feelings, and intimacy, on the back burner.
Baim: Other characters on the show, Maggie Doyle, and Yoshi, for example, have been gay but their private lives have not been developed.
Innes: These were always more secondary characters. This is first time a primary character has dealt with [homosexuality].
Baim: How is it working with Elizabeth Mitchell, and what are her plans?
Innes: She's a wonderful actress, and because of Gia, she is just right in there. [Innes couldn't say, because of plot secrecy, if Mitchell's character will remain beyond this season.]
Baim: Can you talk a little about your role with ER, how you have been directing shows and what you would like to do with the show next season?
Innes: I started [directing] about two seasons ago. I originally had expressed curiosity, and the producers said to me I was welcome to learn more, and asked if I wanted to direct ... I never had any experience ... ER is a big show. I did the 'Power' show, with a power outage. It was a big show, it was fun and went well, so they were encouraged, and then we had the same executive producer as West Wing, and he approached me about doing West Wing, and that went well. I have done three ERs and two West Wings. It is very challenging, and going well.
Baim: Will your character be around next season? And will this lesbian plot line continue?
Innes: I will be around for awhile, our contract is good for a few more years, it was picked up for four years last year. The lesbian plot line ... it's been a great story line for me. I've really ... loved doing it, it's kind of opened the character up in a way that no other kind of story arc would have done. My hope is that it increases tolerance and awareness and compassion. It has been really, really interesting.
... ... ...
There are two more ERs left for this 2000-2001 season, and Innes said the lesbian angle is expected to continue as her character slowly begins to deal with her true feelings. She will admit she is in love with Dr. Legaspi, and it remains to be seen how the drama will unfold.
Return to Laura Innes and Elizabeth Mitchell in the Media
Chalupa Discussion Board