If you think you've been here before, you're wrong. Yes, Leap Years is another television series featuring an attractive ensemble of characters blowing sideways through life, searching for love and happiness. And yes, one of those characters just so happens to be a gay man. But before you turn the channel there is something you should know: Showtime's new series is the creation of Queer as Folk's Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, the two men responsible for bringing bathhouses and back rooms into the livingrooms of unsuspecting American audiences.
Added to that is the show's unusual premise which serves up plenty of surface hook and flash: Leap Years features story lines that have its characters, well, "leap" into the past ( 1993 ) , the present ( 2001 ) and the future ( 2008 ) in an attempt to explore how people change over time and whether or not...at their core...they ultimately remain the same.
We meet the group in 1993, post-college, at a lively east Village party thrown by Athena Barnes, an aspiring actress. Among the guests is Gregory Paget, a young intellectual critic and wannabe filmmaker...also known as a "kissing friend." He is there with Josh Adler, son of a real estate tycoon, and Joe Rivera, a burgeoning lawyer. Beth Greenway, a schoolteacher, who knows Athena from yoga class, rounds out the ensemble.
Chaos ensues when a gunman crashes the party, which seals their fates as life-long friends and lovers. Garret Dillahunt portrays Gregory, a character who goes from being a confirmed heterosexual in the early '90s, to a somewhat confused bisexual, to a full-fledge homo, who seven years later, is in love with a man in a uniform, a New York City cop named Patrick Logan. Look closely enough, and Dillahunt is someone you probably recognize. He had a recurring role on the ABC series Maximum Bob, and he's guest- starred on several high-profile television shows including The X-Files, Millennium, and NYPD Blue, among others. His New York theatrical debut, Mad Forest, paired him with Calista Flockhart as lovers ( "She's seen me naked more times than almost anyone!" ) . And most recently, he appeared in the Windy City in Steppenwolf Theatre's production of Side Man.
"The thing that gives me the most joy about 'Gregory' is how complex and confused this character is," says Dillahunt, during a phone interview from Toronto, where the series is filmed.
"Gregory is interested in exploring these new and strange desires that are in him. His willingness to search for the truth and to make a grab for it, his quest for love ... these are all things that I can relate to."
Dillahunt admits that before he was cast in Leap Years, he had never viewed an episode of Queer as Folk. "I finally saw three or four episodes and I was blown away," he says, sounding genuinely star-struck. "I remember thinking: I want to do nude scenes [ too ] ! But Gregory is not "out" for much of the show and the characters in Queer as Folk are much more sure of their sexuality and what they want.
In Leap Years, [ the writers ] really moved away from stereotypes by creating this character and showing how he thinks as a heterosexual, as a bisexual, as a closeted man, and as an openly gay man." While Dillahunt is a confirmed heterosexual ( though he admits to have a fairly well-tuned gaydar ) , he has no problems kissing another man on stage or in front of the camera. In fact, he visibly winces at the mention of the Hal Sparks' ( Queer as Folk ) interview where the actor once compared kissing a man to making out with a canine. "It's just lips," he says with an audible sigh. "I have kissed so many men ... especially when I did Angels in America in San Francisco, which was the first production after the show's Broadway run. I would hate to play someone I hated so much. Why, as an actor, wouldn't you want to play a whole person! He's not asexual, he gets laid! And it's important to show that."
"Hollywood is still quite homophobic," he continues. "I guess I'm living in a bubble, because I just don't see what the problem is. You know, we just had gay pride here in Toronto and there are all these letters to the editor in the paper written by these very annoyed people who are saying that if gay people want to be treated equally, the have got to stop dressing like women. And I'm like, are we still on this? Is this still a problem?"
Dillahunt's only reservation about taking the role of Gregory was the fear that he "might do it wrong." "I was nervous because I didn't want to offend anyone and I didn't want to portray the kind of exaggeration that you sometimes see in movies or TV I wanted to honor my [ gay ] friends. I didn't model this character on anyone I know. I just see him as a man, like any other man," he explains.
And like any other man, Dillahunt admits to possessing a dirty mind. When asked to describe one of the funniest moments on the set of Leap Years, he refers to a scene where he and a male production assistant are "making each other feel good." In between takes, someone off-camera remarks to Dillahunt how difficult it is for guys to fake orgasms, and the next thing you know, a spoonful of mayonnaise is flung onto a nearby television monitor. Boys will be boys.
Fake orgasms aside, Dillahunt is confident that Leap Years will ring true with audience members, specifically his character's quest to define his identity. "I like that when Gregory comes out he stays with his friends and he doesn't hide. I have friends who just will not come out! We all know they are [ gay ] and we all know they would be so much happier if they came out!"