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FILM/TV Molly Shannon talks about her gay father, LGBTQ projects and new book
by Jerry Nunn
2022-04-08

This article shared 1035 times since Fri Apr 8, 2022
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Chicago Humanities Festival is hosting a very special night at Harris Theater with entertainers Molly Shannon and Jonathan Van Ness in two separate appearances.

While Van Ness has a Queer Eye, Shannon has played queer and unusual people over the years on both the big and little screens. Who can forget her campy characters during her Saturday Night Live run from 1995 to 2001?

This "Superstar" has appeared on television in The White Lotus, Enlightened and Divorce. Film credits include her playing Emily Dickinson with a female lover in Wild Nights with Emily, Mrs. Fisher in Promising Young Woman and she won the Film Independent Spirit Awards for Best Supporting Actress in Other People.

With her new memoir Hello, Molly! Shannon is coming out of the closet to the world about her father being gay and writes about how the LGBTQ+ community has influenced her career in many ways. From a horrible car accident to her life in show business, Shannon explores personal stories that are told from the heart with honesty and humanity.

Windy City Times: Hello, Molly! I just read your book and cried during the coming-out portion of it. What would you like to tell gay readers about your father?

Molly Shannon: He was born in 1926. I do say this in the book, it is unfortunate that he didn't come out sooner, of course. It made me sad that he had to keep that secret almost his whole life.

He was born at a time when it wasn't as much of an option to come out so kept that a secret. Bill O'Neill, his friend that he met in grade school shared that with one another. Bill was called a sissy and my dad defended him, but coming out was difficult back then.

Growing up as a daughter with someone who couldn't come out and be themselves wasn't good for anybody. Straight people have to defend gay people and tell their stories. I am telling my story from a perspective of a child whose father was a closeted [gay man].

I have compassion for his anger and how he felt that he couldn't be himself. I am so happy that he was finally able to come out to me. I think it gave him great peace. I am really happy that we had that conversation before he died.

WCT: Did you suspect he was gay?

MS: I would have a feeling and it would be in the back of my head when I was at NYU. I wasn't aware because my dad dated women. When I was going to drama school at NYU, I would see a picture of Joan Crawford and think my dad would love it, but I never associated that he was gay! It might have seemed obvious to someone else, but he really kept it quiet.

I formed Saturday Night Live characters that were based on him. I didn't say this in the book, but the character in Dog Show was something that Will Ferrell and I wrote together. Miss Colleen is mad because her husband is gay. When asked about liking men, Will's character David Larry says, "Maybe I do and maybe I do!" I was writing all of this subconsciously because my dad had not come out to me back then.

WCT: Your career has reflected many gay projects over the years.

MS: Exactly! A reporter asked my director, Chris Kelly from the film Other People, why Molly does so many gay projects. He wouldn't say because the book was coming out, but he knew my story.

WCT: You mentioned in the book that you grew up with queer friends Debbie and George. Do you still keep in touch with them?

MS: Yes. I am still very close to them. So the coming-out section in the book made you cry?

WCT: Yes. Coming-out stories always make me tear up.

MS: Right? I know and I had all these plans for him. I wanted him to go to gay bars and dance then fall in love. That was in my head, but in real life, he was dying.

WCT: You talk about a gay bar called Traxx in the book and we have a gay bar called Sidetrack that you can visit while you are in town. They play show tunes on over 250 television sets at special times.

MS: That sounds like fun! Traxx, in Cleveland, was always so exciting…

WCT: What happened to your cousin Jack, who was possibly kidnapped after being lured by a lollipop (in Hello, Molly)?

MS: Jack was also gay. I guess I should have put that in the book! Jack was a really good artist and died of AIDS. The lollipop girl did end up bringing him home. She scared the hell out of me. I had just lost my mom and I thought she would take him away and he would never come back. It was terrifying!

WCT: If they made a musical or movie about Hello, Molly, who would play you? Or would you like to go on the road and tell it yourself?

MS: No, I wouldn't play myself. That's hysterical. I have never thought about it. What do you think?

WCT: Maybe Megan Mullally [best known from the TV show Will & Grace]?

MS: She's my friend so that would be great.

WCT: Speaking [of] Will & Grace, who was your character Val Bassett based on?

MS: Val wasn't based on anyone. They just wrote a great part for me. She was always getting into trouble!

WCT: In the movie Other People, you played the mother of a gay son. Did you know immediately that you wanted that role?

MS: I had never met Chris Kelly before that although he was head writer at SNL at the time. I was shooting something else and read the script real quick. It took me two seconds and I knew I had to do that movie.

It was one of the most beautiful movies I had ever read. I loved it and related to it deeply as a mother. It took my breath away and made me cry. I felt lucky to be in the movie!

Jesse Plemons is as nice in person and he was in the movie as my son and so is his wife Kirsten Dunst.

WCT: I saw them walk into the Critics Choice Awards, where I met you. I met Drew Tarver that night who stars as your son in another Chris Kelly project, The Other Two. Have you started shooting the third season yet?

MS: No, we shoot it in the fall. They are still writing it.

WCT: Is your character Pat Dubek modeled after any real-life talk show host?

MS: Not really. She is a people pleaser and enjoys chapter two. She is embracing all of her opportunities, so I try to find ways that she is like me. The writers know how to write for me, so the character fits like a glove. She is easy to perform and I love playing her. She's positive!

She will have to learn how to take better care of herself because she is doing so much. She is having the most fun doing her own talk show.

WCT: What would you like readers to take away from your book Hello, Molly?

MS: I wanted to share my story and I want them to hear it. I hope they laugh, of course, because I love making people laugh. I hope they will feel inspired because I had a hard beginning of my life where I had obstacles to overcome, but I was resilient.

WCT: At the Humanities Festival, you will be reunited with fellow Saturday Night Live cast member Tim Meadows. Do you keep in touch with other cast members from the show?

MS: I am excited to see Tim in Chicago. I do keep in touch with many people from the show, the writers and producers. It is kind of like going to college and such a small world.

I am especially close to Will Farrell; we had kids at the same time. I am doing a show with Vanessa Bayer right now called I Love This for You, on Showtime. We all went through the same thing so it was nice to have that all in common. Everyone has a different story about how it was for them. In the book, I get to tell my version of the story.

See Molly Shannon live on Wed., April 13, at 6 p.m. at Harris Theater Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph St., as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. Tickets can be found at ChicagoHumanities.org and HarrisTheaterChicago.org

To preorder a signed or unsigned copy of Hello, Molly!, visit HarperCollins.com .


This article shared 1035 times since Fri Apr 8, 2022
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