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Laura Innes: Warming Up to Weaver
by AMY MATHENY
2004-07-14

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Dr. Kerry Weaver entered NBC TV's ER as one of the more contentious characters in the show's history. Complicated, tenacious, tough. And yet, years later Weaver has transformed each week through the subtle and fierce performance of actress Laura Innes. I sat down with Laura for a long conversation while she was in town being honored by HRC.

Amy Matheny: When you spend nine years with a character, they must become a part of you. Is Weaver misunderstood? Do you feel you've needed to champion her throughout the years?

Laura Innes: Yeah. I think that is definitely true. When I first got on the show, I was out getting a quilt at Mays department store or something, and I wasn't used to the notoriety of the show. So I was just walking around getting my quilt and I heard these two women talking and they were very animated and looked like they were having some kind of argument and they kept looking over at me. And I realized they were talking about me! And my character! One of them was saying 'I just want to slap her across the face' [laughing] and I thought 'Oh my god!' because I never saw her in that way. I just saw her as someone who was a shutdown person who was doing her job very, very well. That it kind of wasn't her fault that she had this particularly uncozy personality.

AM: Is her fuel ambition?

LI: I don't quite see it that way. I mean I do think she is an ambitious person. When they actually got around to the storyline of her coming out, to me, that made a lot of sense. Because I thought, Oh! Here is a person who is fiercely working and focused on this one thing to the exclusion of exploring any other part of herself, and in my mind that kind of made sense … kind of, Wow! That's what's going on with her! She's obsessively involved with work.

AM: So that was kind of an 'Aha!' moment when you heard about the story?

LI: Yeah. And no one had that in the grand scheme. When I got the show that wasn't the plan. But it all fit together. So … I see her more as someone … focused out of fear (rather) than someone who is just ambitious.

AM: Why did they add this storyline?

LI: I think producers of television do things for a lot of reasons. Mostly we are always looking for new stories because (ER) is just this endless machine and needs more stories. So in a way, what are you going to do? Who are you going to hook her up with? Not George Clooney probably. So it was a good way to have that story told and John Wells, our executive producer, has been quite a good advocate. I was all for it. I thought it was great idea and dramatically there's tons of stuff to do.

AM: Her coming out showed the struggle with coming to terms with one's sexuality. It was a very hard arc for Weaver. She didn't arrive there easily. Can you talk about playing that conflict of wanting something and … yet withholding?

LI: I like the way that arc came out too. But I also had to keep going into them and keep talking (to the writers). I just kept feeling like, Boy! This would be incredibly difficult for somebody who has been so repressed and shut down for so long to use those muscles. It's just like a whole different way of living. And, too, dealing with the aspects of ambition and inclusion because she is such an excluded person for so many reasons. It felt like it had to be like, 'Oh my god! Not this too!'

AM: And administratively she is a woman amongst men …

LI: Absolutely. There is a definite glass ceiling. And I also felt as though the character needed to be real and … detailed in a way. And I think it was. I hope it was.

AM: Usually I feel that coming-out stories are glossed over. This storyline actually took an ample amount of time to arrive, so you can believe she actually journeyed.

LI: That is a big deal! And then when she actually came out it was kind of a mistake. She came out in the heat of the moment. There were definitely people that were unhappy, people in the community, unhappy that she wasn't more courageous and that she didn't come out with more defiance. Ultimately she did. But there was all of this mamby pambying around. And I thought, well, that is what would happen.

AM: That's humanity. It's nice to see it perfect on screen but it's messy for all of us. You were first paired with actress Elizabeth Mitchell (Dr. Kim Legaspi) who had played another high-profiled lesbian in GIA as Angelina Jolie's lover. For lesbians watching the show, we were all very aware of who 'Kim' was or who she had the potential to be. What can you tell me about working with Elizabeth Mitchell?

LI: It was great working with Elizabeth. She is an absolutely wonderful actress and gorgeous and I thought, well, Weaver would NEVER get her! [laughing] I thought, my god [laughing] but it's a TV show [laughing].

AM: Why?!!?!

LI: I don't know. She's just soooo beautiful and tall and perfect and out!

AM: You are underestimating the draw of the feisty redhead to us blondes.

LI: [laughing] Well, actually it helped my storyline because I felt like a kid when I was with her, which I thought was appropriate. I kept feeling ... (like) this is like Junior High … because (Kerry) doesn't know what she is doing. This is new. And with Elizabeth, who was so perfect. There was actually another actress cast in that part initially and she was a very good actress, but I went to the producers and I said this woman is very talented and attractive but I don't think she is going to supply the appeal that I really think is important. Because my whole deal is bring people on board. Get people into this. And Elizabeth is so charismatic. So it was great. She was a joy to work with.

AM: In talking to the producers … was physicality discussed? Things have changed so rapidly just in the past five or six years. Did they discuss at that time what you would show, would they kiss, how much affection would we see?

LI: That didn't happen with me. They are not conversations that I am included in … I am sure that there are people paying attention to that. I would go to them and go, Look, come on. They have to at least kiss. Give me a break. So, they were always riding that fine line. I mean ER is a huge mainstream show and it's a very successful and well done show and I think they wanted to have this happen (for Weaver) and keep (all the fans) on board, which they did. Now, there is an upside and a downside to all of that. The downside is that creatively the sexuality is expressed very minimally and always has. But the sexuality for the show in general is very minimal [laughing] nobody is getting too much. But we did talk about that they have to kiss and it can't be on the forehead or something.

AM: You needed that for a chain reaction in the character as well.

LI: Yeah, it's an area that is carefully handled, probably too carefully. It's always that feeling of balancing. I really, REALLY am motivated by having people get over whatever that weird fear (of homosexuality) is that they have. And they HAVE it. I talk to them and they have it. So I keep feeling if maybe we just get in the door a little bit. I have an Aunt who is a wonderful person but was her whole life very homophobic. It didn't matter what you said or did. She had an experience where she met her hairdresser's lover who got sick and she LOVES her hairdresser and would always say 'Bob is such a great guy' and she went through this experience with Bob and it was over. It was gone. She wasn't afraid.

AM: Because ER continues to be one of the most watched shows, your character is the most viewed lesbian ever on network TV. How do fans react?

LI: I think there are conservative groups who are unhappy and will never be happy. And I think there are some … whose reactions were 'huh? No … she's not really going to be a lesbian, is she?' …palpably uncomfortable. By that, I mean when I was on a plane people would say things like, 'I don't want that shoved in my face.' There was this resistance and discomfort. I didn't get much outright hostility about it, but I think the network did and still does. But what I have noticed over the years is that people … got used to it. The people who are into it have always been into it and their only complaint is give us more ... . Which is a valid complaint but it is also a show with 11 people.

AM: There is an intimacy with TV. You are coming into people's livingrooms. After I came out to my mom, she watches your show, and she would talk about your storyline … and we could share that.

LI: I think it creates a kind of shared experience that makes people more accepting and comfortable. It so perplexes me why people are so fearful and hung up. I can't believe still people are like that. I've come to (the place) I just have to honor where they are. I can't just hate them and demonize them.

Part two of Matheny's interview with Innes will continue next week as they discuss what it is like for Innes to be a lesbian icon trapped in a straight woman's body.

by Amy Matheny

Dr. Kerry Weaver entered NBC TV's ER as one of the more contentious characters in the show's history. Complicated, tenacious, tough. And yet, years later Weaver has transformed each week through the subtle and fierce performance of actress Laura Innes. I sat down with Laura for a long conversation while she was in town being honored by HRC.

Amy Matheny: When you spend nine years with a character, they must become a part of you. Is Weaver misunderstood? Do you feel you've needed to champion her throughout the years?

Laura Innes: Yeah. I think that is definitely true. When I first got on the show, I was out getting a quilt at Mays department store or something, and I wasn't used to the notoriety of the show. So I was just walking around getting my quilt and I heard these two women talking and they were very animated and looked like they were having some kind of argument and they kept looking over at me. And I realized they were talking about me! And my character! One of them was saying 'I just want to slap her across the face' [laughing] and I thought 'Oh my god!' because I never saw her in that way. I just saw her as someone who was a shutdown person who was doing her job very, very well. That it kind of wasn't her fault that she had this particularly uncozy personality.

AM: Is her fuel ambition?

LI: I don't quite see it that way. I mean I do think she is an ambitious person. When they actually got around to the storyline of her coming out, to me, that made a lot of sense. Because I thought, Oh! Here is a person who is fiercely working and focused on this one thing to the exclusion of exploring any other part of herself, and in my mind that kind of made sense … kind of, Wow! That's what's going on with her! She's obsessively involved with work.

AM: So that was kind of an 'Aha!' moment when you heard about the story?

LI: Yeah. And no one had that in the grand scheme. When I got the show that wasn't the plan. But it all fit together. So … I see her more as someone … focused out of fear (rather) than someone who is just ambitious.

AM: Why did they add this storyline?

LI: I think producers of television do things for a lot of reasons. Mostly we are always looking for new stories because (ER) is just this endless machine and needs more stories. So in a way, what are you going to do? Who are you going to hook her up with? Not George Clooney probably. So it was a good way to have that story told and John Wells, our executive producer, has been quite a good advocate. I was all for it. I thought it was great idea and dramatically there's tons of stuff to do.

AM: Her coming out showed the struggle with coming to terms with one's sexuality. It was a very hard arc for Weaver. She didn't arrive there easily. Can you talk about playing that conflict of wanting something and … yet withholding?

LI: I like the way that arc came out too. But I also had to keep going into them and keep talking (to the writers). I just kept feeling like, Boy! This would be incredibly difficult for somebody who has been so repressed and shut down for so long to use those muscles. It's just like a whole different way of living. And, too, dealing with the aspects of ambition and inclusion because she is such an excluded person for so many reasons. It felt like it had to be like, 'Oh my god! Not this too!'

AM: And administratively she is a woman amongst men …

LI: Absolutely. There is a definite glass ceiling. And I also felt as though the character needed to be real and … detailed in a way. And I think it was. I hope it was.

AM: Usually I feel that coming-out stories are glossed over. This storyline actually took an ample amount of time to arrive, so you can believe she actually journeyed.

LI: That is a big deal! And then when she actually came out it was kind of a mistake. She came out in the heat of the moment. There were definitely people that were unhappy, people in the community, unhappy that she wasn't more courageous and that she didn't come out with more defiance. Ultimately she did. But there was all of this mamby pambying around. And I thought, well, that is what would happen.

AM: That's humanity. It's nice to see it perfect on screen but it's messy for all of us. You were first paired with actress Elizabeth Mitchell (Dr. Kim Legaspi) who had played another high-profiled lesbian in GIA as Angelina Jolie's lover. For lesbians watching the show, we were all very aware of who 'Kim' was or who she had the potential to be. What can you tell me about working with Elizabeth Mitchell?

LI: It was great working with Elizabeth. She is an absolutely wonderful actress and gorgeous and I thought, well, Weaver would NEVER get her! [laughing] I thought, my god [laughing] but it's a TV show [laughing].

AM: Why?!!?!

LI: I don't know. She's just soooo beautiful and tall and perfect and out!

AM: You are underestimating the draw of the feisty redhead to us blondes.

LI: [laughing] Well, actually it helped my storyline because I felt like a kid when I was with her, which I thought was appropriate. I kept feeling ... (like) this is like Junior High … because (Kerry) doesn't know what she is doing. This is new. And with Elizabeth, who was so perfect. There was actually another actress cast in that part initially and she was a very good actress, but I went to the producers and I said this woman is very talented and attractive but I don't think she is going to supply the appeal that I really think is important. Because my whole deal is bring people on board. Get people into this. And Elizabeth is so charismatic. So it was great. She was a joy to work with.

AM: In talking to the producers … was physicality discussed? Things have changed so rapidly just in the past five or six years. Did they discuss at that time what you would show, would they kiss, how much affection would we see?

LI: That didn't happen with me. They are not conversations that I am included in … I am sure that there are people paying attention to that. I would go to them and go, Look, come on. They have to at least kiss. Give me a break. So, they were always riding that fine line. I mean ER is a huge mainstream show and it's a very successful and well done show and I think they wanted to have this happen (for Weaver) and keep (all the fans) on board, which they did. Now, there is an upside and a downside to all of that. The downside is that creatively the sexuality is expressed very minimally and always has. But the sexuality for the show in general is very minimal [laughing] nobody is getting too much. But we did talk about that they have to kiss and it can't be on the forehead or something.

AM: You needed that for a chain reaction in the character as well.

LI: Yeah, it's an area that is carefully handled, probably too carefully. It's always that feeling of balancing. I really, REALLY am motivated by having people get over whatever that weird fear (of homosexuality) is that they have. And they HAVE it. I talk to them and they have it. So I keep feeling if maybe we just get in the door a little bit. I have an Aunt who is a wonderful person but was her whole life very homophobic. It didn't matter what you said or did. She had an experience where she met her hairdresser's lover who got sick and she LOVES her hairdresser and would always say 'Bob is such a great guy' and she went through this experience with Bob and it was over. It was gone. She wasn't afraid.

AM: Because ER continues to be one of the most watched shows, your character is the most viewed lesbian ever on network TV. How do fans react?

LI: I think there are conservative groups who are unhappy and will never be happy. And I think there are some … whose reactions were 'huh? No … she's not really going to be a lesbian, is she?' …palpably uncomfortable. By that, I mean when I was on a plane people would say things like, 'I don't want that shoved in my face.' There was this resistance and discomfort. I didn't get much outright hostility about it, but I think the network did and still does. But what I have noticed over the years is that people … got used to it. The people who are into it have always been into it and their only complaint is give us more ... . Which is a valid complaint but it is also a show with 11 people.

AM: There is an intimacy with TV. You are coming into people's livingrooms. After I came out to my mom, she watches your show, and she would talk about your storyline … and we could share that.

LI: I think it creates a kind of shared experience that makes people more accepting and comfortable. It so perplexes me why people are so fearful and hung up. I can't believe still people are like that. I've come to (the place) I just have to honor where they are. I can't just hate them and demonize them.

Part two of Matheny's interview with Innes will continue next week as they discuss what it is like for Innes to be a lesbian icon trapped in a straight woman's body.


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