Actress Ellen Barkin is making her regular television series debut this fall on The New Normal, playing Jane Forrest. Part of the plot from the show revolves around gay adoption; Jane is the mother of the surrogate for the couple.
While she has guest-starred on hit television shows like Modern Family this year, Barkin has focused primarily on film work from her major debut in Diner to The Big Easy, Sea of Love and Ocean's Thirteen. Her film last year, Another Happy Day, once again brought her critical acclaim.
Barkin's Broadway debut The Normal Heart won her a Tony last year.
She blasted a Utah TV station on Twitter for making a decision not to air The New Normal, calling it "blatantly homophobic."
Windy City spoke with her the after that tweet about the new NBC show.
Windy City Times: Hello, Ellen. I guess the last time you were in Chicago was for the Rosie O'Donnell Show.
Ellen Barkin: I was. I love that city.
WCT: First off, what attracted you to The New Normal?
Ellen Barkin: For me, personally as an actor when I read the pilot script, aside from thinking it was like to be sent out as an example for how to write a pilot, I just thought, "Oh, Ryan Murphywith his big beautiful brilliant brainalong with Ali Adler, have come up with a way to reach out to a very divisive country about some very, very important issues."
I guess the big overriding issue is, "What makes a family?" And they've done it with an enormous amount of love, sensitivity and more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
WCT: Your character is similar to Archie Bunker [from the TV classic All in the Family] in many ways. Why did you want to play her?
Ellen Barkin: I think any actor who wouldn't be interested in bringing Archie Bunker types back into the conversation at this point in our history would need to have their head examined. So, the appeal was great. She is whip-smart, she is extremely well-informed and extremely articulate.
This isn't a stereotypical liberals' version of someone who doesn't disagree with their positions, whatever they are: anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-any ethnic, anti-foreigner xenophobic character. She is not that. She's informed, she's passionate about our commitments and they are informed positions.
Like all TV series, no character is fully revealed in the first episode or the pilot episode or the second the episode. I would beg that audiences stick with her and hear her arguments, which are just extremely intelligent, they come from her heart, from her gut, and they come from her own life experience.
WCT: With the title The New Normal, do think this show could make gay people more of the norm in society?
Ellen Barkin: God, I hope so. I think that's one of the main purposes of the show. I hope that everyone starts maybe opening up a tiny bit and are able to redefine what normal is. And, you know, like Archie Bunker, he was very un-PC but every now and thenlike, I remember the Edith Bunker rape episode and you saw a humanity in Archie, where it wasn't just coming from hate. It's not just hate. It's fear of the other.
Look: With all of the divisiveness that is going on in the country we live, so much of it is based around just fear of the other. Anyone who does not look like me, walk like me, talk like me, have sex like me, they're the other and I'm afraid of them. And hopefully we will learn that it's just not scary. There's nothing to be afraid of.
WCT: Were you a fan of Ryan Murphy's past projects?
Ellen Barkin: I have to say I was a huge Nip/Tuck fan, so you know Ryan Murphy had me at Nip/Tuck. With American Horror [Story], like, I had never in my life seen a horror movie until about four years ago. I never saw Jaws; I never saw The Exorcist. I'm terrified of horror movies, and I became addicted to American Horror. I couldn't go to the bathroom by myself in the middle of the night. I have yet to watch the last episode because I'm too afraid.
WCT: Do you think Ryan is changing television with these types of shows?
Ellen Barkin: I think it's obviously Ryan is presenting worlds to mass audiences on network television that they might not be so accepting of that all of a sudden they love, because Ryan Murphy knows how to entertain. So the world of Glee, for instance, you know if you just like told somebody what that show was about they might say, "Well, this is not for me." Then, you watch Glee and you're just wildly entertained.
WCT: How was it working with NeNe Leakes, who has now been on both Glee and The New Normal?
Ellen Barkin: I love NeNe. I love that woman flat-out. She's fantastic. She's a real life force. She's a very strong presence. She's a very hard worker. She's there to work and to learn.
WCT: How do you feel about the response on your Twitter?
Ellen Barkin: I felt good about it. On both sides of the spectrum I felt that, yes, it is their right to Barnes & Noble something, but I do think it's a form of censorship, and to ban a show because [of] "explicit characterizations" and "inappropriate behavior and dialogue."
I did look at [Utah station] KSL's line-up. And I don't understand why a show that I happen to love, like Law & Order: SVU, is not in family-viewing time. That's what they kept talking about. Why that show? I hope nobody is allowing a 10-year old to watch. [The New Normal is] about a very loving, committed, same-sex couple wanting to raise a child, [and SVU] is explicit and offensive [with] rape, murder and child slavery, in very graphic detail.
I did take a position on that, and being responded to by both sides meant that people paid attention. And I think that that is what matters. Whether you agree that KSL should ban the show and let your children watch a TV show where they use words like "anal tearing" and "vaginal tearing" and "child slavery," that's okay, but not watching two men kiss each other and cry because they've decided to raise a child togetherI don't get it.
If you read my Twitter feed, it would pale in comparison to what I get back.
WCT: So what is your connection with the gay community? You are becoming a gay champion, defending us on Twitter now.
Ellen Barkin: Well, thank you. I have a hard time answering that question because I know there's a big fight to be fought here, but if I considered the gay community a separate community, I don't think I'd have a community. This has been a part of my life since I was in junior high school. I went to an artistic high school in New York now called LaGuardia. It was a very mixed community, with heterosexuals and same-sex couples. I was raised by liberal Democrats, and we were very much working-class Jews in a very mixed ethnic neighborhood.
I'm for anybody who's being ostracized and treated with inequality.
WCT: Well I, for one, appreciate it. Mazel tov and good luck with the show!
Ellen: Barkin: Thank you.
Flip over to NBC for The New Normal on Tuesdays each week. Visit www.nbc.com for details and listings.