The Doctor is (Almost) Out on Hit TV Drama, ER
April 30, 2001
When the producers of ER,Americas number one television drama, decided last summer to introduce a lesbian story line, they called Laura Innes, the Emmy-nominated actress who plays Dr. Kerry Weaver, for a meeting. They didnt say beforehand what the meeting was about, and when Innes arrived, they started -- for lack of a better phrase -- to beat around the bush.
"They very gingerly starting saying, Well, we really want to pitch this story line " Innes recalls. Finally, they spilled it: the time was ripe for Dr. Weaver, County General Hospitals fiercely independent (and perpetually single) chief of emergency medicine, to get a little action, lesbian style.
"Wait a minute. You mean Im gonna be gay?" Innes shot back. Then she started to laugh. "Why didnt you just say it?"
With this kind of open-minded ease, Innes set out to research what life is like for middle-aged women struggling with their sexuality. And shes translated all shes learned into a titillating and true-to-life portrayal.
"I think its hard for anybody to come out, especially years ago," Innes muses. "But for somebody to live their whole life, then at age 40, go, Oh my god, Im not who I thought I was, thats tough."
GayHealth.com caught up with Innes to get the lowdown on lesbian life -- and love -- in the E.R.
How did you prepare for the lesbian aspect of your character?
The first thing I did was talk to some friends of mine who are gay and with a gay writer on the show. And then I spoke to a couple of lesbians who work in health care, who talked about the difficulty of coming out in their careers. They said its hard enough to be a woman in the medical profession, and its still fairly difficult to come out and not have it diminish your career -- especially if you dont work in a large city. This was a big issue for my character, Dr. Weaver, who always has this in the back of her mind because her job is such a huge part of her life.
Did you read up on the topic?
The most helpful thing actually was reading. The coming out stories were helpful, though Id say the most helpful book of all was Married Women Who Love Women (Alyson Books). Its an anthology of true stories by women whove come out later in their lives. It was really moving and dramatic because the women talked about feelings that were very sweet and tender, like love, companionship and intimacy. And they had to make very courageous changes in their lives, sometimes leaving their marriages. They had children and career issues, and all kinds of things were at stake.
Did you feel any trepidation playing a gay character?
You know, I didnt. The producers called me in for a meeting, and they asked me to think about it. So I got in the car and called my husband. He said, "It sounds really interesting and dramatic and fun." And then I called my publicist, to see if there was some kind of downside, career-wise. And he said, "You know, I just dont think so. Were at a place now where theres no downside." My only concern was how my son, whos 10, would feel. I sat him down for a talk. And you know what? He absolutely had no idea why I was even bothering to tell him. He was like, "Yeah, and?" He was so far ahead of us in terms of feeling like it was no big deal.
Your character seems to send mixed signals to her love interest, Dr. Legaspi.
Ive learned that the coming out process for somebody Dr. Weavers age is incredibly slow. Theres enthusiasm, a sort of adolescent excitement, and then self-recrimination and pulling back. Dr. Weaver has dealt with this feeling of being on the outside her whole life. So all of a sudden, when it comes to her sexuality, shes thinking, "So Im gonna do this again? Im gonna be another disenfranchised part of society?"
What was Dr. Weaver thinking the first time she and Dr. Legaspi went out to dinner?
At first, Dr. Weaver just goes to have dinner with someone shes strangely fond of. But during the course of the meal, shes thinking, " I want to kiss this person!" The degree to which shes repressed is huge. Later, when she goes out to eat with Dr. Legaspi and her lesbian friends, Dr. Weaver at first is like, "Okay, Im going to go out with these gay women." Then all of a sudden, shes thinking, "I dont want to label myself. I dont want to become part of a subculture." My gut feeling is that Dr. Weaver is trying really hard not to be gay. She puts all this energy into pushing these feelings down and turning them into something else. But she just keeps coming back to it.
Are you saying Dr. Weaver has fallen in love?
Her attraction to Dr. Legaspi is very strong, and I think that shes in love with her, yes.
In what ways do you hope your character impacts your millions of viewers?
Our first concern is telling good, dramatic stories, yet I personally -- and the show as a whole -- have always been interested in issues of tolerance. And tolerance toward gay people is a big one.
One of the things we do is reflect society in a way thats accurate. Were portraying this positive image of Dr. Weaver as a real person whos trying to be true to herself, and who with good will is living her life. Were saying that homosexuality is not something you need to feel afraid of, and its not something thats different from you. Some people happen to be gay, thats all. It really shouldnt be an issue. I mean, a straight man would never, for a moment, be able to even imagine somebody telling him, "No, youre not allowed to marry that woman who you love." But this is the reality for millions of gay people. I would hope that one of the things we do in telling our stories is to create more tolerance.
Some may accuse ER of crossing the line between entertainment and politics.
The truth is, its not about politics. It has to do with the fact that people should be able to live their lives freely. Its ironic to me that there are so many people who feel more conservatively, who are so into libertarian thinking, independence and freedom from government intervention in their lives. Yet these are the same people who tell gay people, "Oh no, you cant do that."
What kind of feedback have you gotten from fans of the show?
The letters I get are very positive. People are enthusiastic and moved and excited to have their stories told, to see some kind of version of themselves reflected in such a mainstream show. People say, "This is really important that youre doing this. Thank you." And I get lots of little postcards that say, "You go, girl!"
Will Dr. Weaver come out to her colleagues in the E.R.?
Well see. I think Dr. Weaver is closer to being truthful about who she is. But the layers of fear are there, and shes terrified about what will happen to her and how people will feel about her.
Can you give us a hint of how Dr. Weavers love life will turn out?
Oh gosh. The truth of the matter is that we dont know whats going to happen for the long-term. All I can say is, Dr. Legaspi is coming back for the end-of-the-year episodes, and theres gonna be some good stuff between us.
Laura Innes and Elizabeth Mitchell in the Media
Chalupa Discussion Board