Much Ado about Sean Maher
While actor Sean Maher has appeared in high profile projects like Joss Whedon’s cult fave "Firefly" series (and the "Serenity" feature film spin-off) as well as the just-cancelled "Playboy Club" series (where he played a closeted gay character), he made headlines recently for publicly coming out as a gay man for the first time in his career.
Unfortunately, that good news was clouded a bit when shortly after his coming out NBC abruptly cancelled the drama, based on Hugh Hefner’s popular nightclubs in the 1960s, due to low ratings after just three episodes had aired.
After bumping into the always cheery Maher at a recent GLSEN event in Beverly Hills, EDGE’s Jim Halterman jumped on the phone last week with him to reflect on the rollercoaster ride he’s endured over the past few months, why he thinks "The Playboy Club" didn’t last, as well as details on the just-announced Whedon project that currently has Hollywood abuzz and features Maher in a villainous role.
EDGE: It was great seeing you at the GLSEN event but it made me wonder if it was a different experience for you being at an event like that now that you’re 100% out?
Sean Maher: Yeah, it was very freeing and it was very liberating. I think it also just kind of reaffirmed for me how proud I was of the decision I had made. It felt great to sit there at the event and hold Paul’s hand and not have to worry ’Is anybody looking for me?’ Actually, it was the first event that we had gone to together so it was very freeing in many ways.
EDGE: How long have you and Paul been together?
Sean Maher: It’s going to be nine years!
EDGE: That’s a long time in gay years!
Sean Maher: You know what’s funny is when we first started the adoption process, we were less than five years and our lawyer said, ’I gotta let you know that you’re not really considered a long-term relationship yet.’ We were like, ’What are you talking about?’ And he said, ’You’re considered a long term relationship when you’ve reached five years.’ We were like, ’But we’re gay! We’re in gay years relationship!’ It’s just interesting.
Playing a sexy villain
EDGE: The news just broke about Joss Whedon’s "Much Ado About Nothing" and your part as Don John. I know you’ve worked with Joss before but how did this come about?
Sean Maher: He just simply emailed me. I was in Chicago at the time working on "The Playboy Club" and I came back to the hotel and I got an email from Joss and he said ’I’m pulling together this small, indie film adaptation of ’Much Ado About Nothing.’ Trying to put together a cast. I’m looking for a sexy villain. What sayeth you?’
I said yeah. It was a no brainer for me. As terrified as I was and I really was terrified because I had never done Shakespeare and I think when it’s Joss you want to make him proud. I love him so much so I always want to be the best that it can be so I did feel a lot of pressure to dive headfirst into a play that I wasn’t 100% sure I knew the ins and outs of, but once we started rehearsing and started getting around the dialogue and the characters and the dynamics and the relation that he had and then it didn’t feel like work at all.
It went from being one of the most challenging, terrifying experiences to not feeling like work and in the end incredibly exhilarating and magical. I kept saying to him, ’I’m so happy I’m doing this! This is just so much fun!’ His wife had said she hadn’t seen him this happy in a long time. We were all there, we weren’t getting paid much money at all and we came together because we love Joss and obviously love the idea of this project and everybody cleared their schedules for him. Everyone came together and everyone was just dedicated 100% heart and soul. It really was a very special thing to be a part of.
EDGE: You shot the whole thing in 12 days but was that a plus or a minus?
Sean Maher: That’s the thing. I think because it was such a short period of time there really was not a lot of wiggle room for error on the actors’ part so we needed to come to work and know our words like the back of our hand and knowing everything in terms of the dynamics between the characters and coming to work and just being ready to go.
Realistic & intimate
EDGE: When I go to the "Much Ado About Nothing" website, the picture is a guy in a lake in scuba gear and a martini glass which makes me think this isn’t a traditional telling. Is that the case?
Sean Maher: I’m actually in that picture underwater getting ready to come up because I’m in that scene. So I’m holding my breath underwater.
That’s obviously a still from the scene so it is a little bit of, obviously, Joss’s twist on it. He didn’t change any of the text but we shot the whole thing in black and white and he wanted to draw it in from being anything too theatrical. He didn’t want big Shakespeare. He wanted us to make it as realistic and as intimate as possible and use the dialogue and it really takes each actor knowing exactly what they’re saying with every word and every line and every paragraph, which is hard to do and to do Shakespeare right where the audience understands what’s happening is difficult.
’Playboy Club’s’ failure?
EDGE: I had the chance to also talk to Chad Hodge [creator of "The Playboy Club"] at the GLSEN event about the show having such a short life. What are your thoughts on why the show didn’t really get a chance by the network?
Sean Maher: I’m not even sure. I’ve seen so many theories in my day and gone through so many cancellations so a part of me stopped trying to figure it out what happened. It really was something special we were doing. I think...and I’m not an expert on the market...but I don’t think the time slot was working in our favor and I do think people had the wrong perception of what the show was about. If I had a quarter for every person who told me, ’I love the show! I had no idea there was singing in it!’ I probably could fund the next few episodes.
It was amazing that nobody knew what was going on in the club. It wasn’t just sex and girls in bunny outfits. I thought Laura [Benanti, who played mother-bunny Carol-Lynne] kicked ass on this show! She worked her ass off every single episode and I think everybody was drawn to this Tony-award winning actress who is just electrifying and magnificent and nobody knew there was singing in the show! I think the small things like that where there was such a misconception of what the show was about absolutely hurt it.
And, you know, you never know what could’ve happened if we had been given a chance to survive another week or another few weeks. I think it was such a big show and it was expensive so they decided to pull it sooner rather than later.
EDGE: You and your on-screen wife Leah Renee (who played Alice, a closeted lesbian married to Maher’s character] obviously forged a good friendship during the short time you worked together.
Sean Maher: We finished the sixth episode, I came back to LA, the show got cancelled the day I started rehearsing Joss’s movie and I never got to say goodbye to anyone. Like say goodbye to the set, the crew...and I was dying to see Leah so it was so nice to see her [at the GLSEN event] and have some closure. She’s someone I will now have in my life because we did have such a strong connection.
It’s sad, especially when they were writing such great stuff for her and I. We just connected in such a lovely way and I think the writers were responding to that and they were writing some really, really amazing stuff for she and I. It’s a shame.
EDGE: "Much Ado About Nothing" is going to hit the festival circuit in the Spring. What else is going on?
Sean Maher: I don’t’ know! I’m waiting to hear on one other project and I should know more this week and if that doesn’t work on, then I just enjoy some downtime, enjoy the kids for awhile and get back into the rat race.
To check out the Much Ado website, visit the "Much Ado About Nothing" website. You can follow Sean Maher on Twitter @Sean_M_Maher.
Watch this feature about ’Much Ado About Nothing’: