*Please do not repost any part of this blog. Please see the second to last paragraph about why I have made this request.*
I want to start off this post by saying a little bit about the British Film Institute, which is an organisation I really think offers the most incredible content constantly and is worth every penny of my membership. I go there a lot, and today it brought me something I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to do, which is to see Gale Harold in the flesh.
If I could be indulged one moment to get tediously fangirlish, I have been a fan of Gale Harold since the distant days of Queer As Folk US. First watched because I loved the UK version, I was stunned that the US version could take it and make something even better. While it ran far too long, the first 3 seasons of QAF US are still some of my favourite TV ever made and the thing that made the show so incredible was the unflinching and raw talent of Gale Harold.
About 3 weeks ago, I started re-watching QAF on Netflix and got hooked again. I’ve even been watching episodes before going to work, something I can remember doing back when it was airing. And as a result, started looking up Gale again. And low and behold, last night when I got home from the pub, I was browsing Twitter and this event came up at the BFI. And I couldn’t quite believe my eyes: that Gale was not only going to be in London, but that he was going to be speaking at an event AND that they still had tickets available (including one on the front row that I quickly bought). As a fan in London, and Gale being so very firmly tied to the US, I never thought I’d get to see him do anything. I’m not the kind of person that would go abroad to a convention, so I was very pleased. The event was called Filmonomics and was part of the Birds Eye View film festival.
Filmonomics is a training / masterclass type series and the session yesterday was on confidence. I’d hesitate to say it was the most practical of ‘training’ sessions, but I’m not a filmmaker, so who knows. I will say it was utterly fascinating though because the issue of confidence applies to everyone in all aspects of their life and work. The session was a bit of a ramble through the experiences of each of the panel and how they view confidence as a creative in the film industry. And I apologise in advance for my lack of memory regarding some of Gales comments. At times he got very passionate about what he was saying, which was incredibly inspiring. None of the other members of the panel spoke as passionately, though everyone spoke very personally about their experiences as people working in film. (Also in attendance was Joanna Hogg, Mia Bays and Jay Basu.)
Gale spoke about the process between actor and director. How there is no time for an actor and a director to talk, but how they need to talk before embarking on a project to truly understand what that character is going through. He mentioned the often cliche idea of an actor saying: I don’t really feel my character would do/say this, implying that’s actually the result of poor preparation. He gave the example of how he personally was here in London, which he isn’t usually, talking on a panel, which he never usually does because he hates that kind of thing, all actions out of the norm for him. So when an actor is faced with a character doing something out of character, they have to get to the bottom of that with the director by filling all the blanks about that character before they start.
Joanna started off a discussion about the confidence of being able to negotiate away the obligations of doing interviews and anything that isn’t filmmaking, which she dislikes. Gale and Mia talked about how you can negotiate once reaching a certain point and that often if you stand your ground it can be done, and that privacy is important. Gale urged everyone to watch Lana Wachowski’s speech for the HRC, where she discusses the decision that her and her brother made to remain private for 12 years. Not because of her gender transition, but because of their desire to participate in public civic life. They told the studios that they didn’t want to be public and the studios said they had to, so they made the bold decision that if that was the case, they would no longer make movies. The studios immediately changed their mind and the Wachoskis were able to stay out of the public eye for 12 years and still make movies. Gale seemed to really identify with this idea and seemed to think this was quite possible. Do watch the video if you can, I agree with Gale that it’s incredibly inspiring.
The other two moments that really stood out to me were when Mia asked Gale directly about working on Queer As Folk and the confidence needed to carry a show like that. Gale was very candid about it, prefacing his story with the fact that he was in London. I wasn’t sure if he said that because he felt it was more comfortable to open up over here, or the fact that it was more relevant, but he started by talking about back when QAF UK was on, his ex-girlfriend had got herself a dodgy VHS copy of it that was falling apart. She came to him and said he needed to watch it and they managed to get in 10 mins of Aiden Gillen’s performance before the tape broke, but it was enough to be completely blown away by the whole thing. He was shocked at what he was seeing, but also impressed by it. And when he heard about the US version he couldn’t believe that they could do it in the US, but also that he really wanted to be a part of it.
Gale said that his confidence to do QAF was because of his naivety. That because he was naive about what he was getting himself into, he just went for it. He felt a great sense of responsibility to the role – some of his heroes are gay and as a straight man it was important to him that he gave a believable performance, and do it justice, etc. And he felt that if he was even a fraction as good as Aiden he would take that.
He then moved on to talk about when you lose confidence – when you start with it, then lose it rapidly and how that had happened to him. When QAF started airing, he said everything changed. He told a story about how he’d be out in New York and a guy would come up to him and get all in his face. In those moments, he didn’t know whether that guy was going to come onto him, whether he would say he knew him from elementary school, or if he would knife him. (He had previously mentioned the controversy surrounding the show airing, so I get the impression that Gale had some threats in those days.) These things seriously got to him and he described how he withdrew into himself, lost confidence, how it affected him and that he got into some bad things personally. (I don’t know anything about Gale’s personal life, but I think he was alluding to an addiction.) He finished by saying that if he’d known what he was actually getting into, he would never have done Queer As Folk. He spoke very passionately about the fact he would never have done it, that he would have run far far away, miles away. (I was really shocked and it was upsetting to hear because it’s awful to think that the experience was so bad for him, and that maybe he was suffering in those times when I was enjoying it so much.)
The second personal story that I just want to touch upon is when Mia asked Gale directly about his accident and the confidence to come back after a career break. I knew nothing about Gale’s accident. I’d heard about it vaguely, but knew no details. Gale described how he was working on Desperate Housewives and was just getting over a really bad knee injury. And on the very day that he got over the knee injury he was in a serious motorcycle accident. And that he was in a medically induced coma for 40 hours. He talked about being very lucky to be alive. (He knocked on the wooden table and so did Joanna, who seemed particularly affected by Gale’s story.) Gale was very candid about just how sick he was after coming out of the coma – he had problems remembering things, talking, understanding words, their meanings and contexts. He said it was pretty much agreed that he wouldn’t be able to act again, his career was over. Although, he said, he wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to even participate in society fully again. But, he said, he made a very rapid recovery after he started cognitive therapy and because of all of the support around him was able to get back to his life. He said very absolutely that he wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of the people in his life.
Gale went on to say that one of the first things he did professionally was get back on stage. That he was terrified but that he needed to do it. That getting back on stage wasn’t just about him as an actor, but that on stage was where he learned to be a human being again. This prompted a spontaneous applause from the audience, who were all very touched by how difficult it must have been for him to talk about something so personal.
There was lots of chat over the course of 1.5 hours, but these are the things that stick out to me regarding Gale’s comments. I don’t know if he has spoken about these things before because I haven’t really followed his career closely, so to some the following request might feel unnecessary. But one thing I do know about Gale is that he’s always been very private. To open up in a public event, which was being filmed, meant that he was comfortable in that scenario talking about these things, but I’d like people to respect him by not plastering this all over the internet. So please don’t repost anything from this blog anywhere else. I really don’t want his stories to become something out of context, please just link back here. I thank you all in advance for your sensitivity.
Finally, I heard that Gale recently expressed an interest in working in London theatre and I really hope that he does. As you can probably see from my blog, I am a passionate theatre enthusiast and I think the London stage is about as good as you can get for pursuing the craft. Outside the west end, there are some incredible projects, and if I could choose, I’d like to see Gale working with Rupert Goold at the Almeida or Josie Rourke at the Donmar Warehouse or Jamie Lloyd for Trafalgar Transformed. But even at a smaller level, we have some incredible theatre talent in our fringe theatres. London would welcome him with open arms.