Actor, USA's The Starter Wife
Back in July, NBC and its sister cable network USA paraded the stars of the new series The Starter Wife in front of the press at the Television Critics' Conference. I quickly cornered handsome Chris Diamantopoulos at the networks' party, to ask about his experience in this series version of the hit miniseries, where as a straight actor -- in real-life he's married to the fabulous Becki Newton of Ugly Betty -- he's taking on one of this season's highest-profile new gay characters.
As The Starter Wife goes to series, Diamantopoulos' Rodney finally has gotten his interior design business back on track. But his personal life, as always, is another story. He's got a new crush, which would be fine if Felix Jones, the hunky action movie hero, wasn't straight or Rodney's newest and biggest interior design client for that matter. I asked Chris whether maybe this time Rodney can just get the job done without losing his shirt—or his heart.
Must-Hear TV: Chris, first of all -- Becki Newton! You're married to gay favorite Amanda. Is Marc jealous?
Chris Diamantopoulos: Yes, my wife Becki is the amazing Amanda on Ugly Betty. Let us all bow down now. And as fabulous as you think she is watching her, that isn’t the one one millionth of how fabulous she is in person. She’s spectacular.
MHTV: In the promos that USA will be running for The Starter Wife, your character Rodney is right in there -- just as the voice-over says the words "coming out." What can you tell us about Rodney's upcoming life?
CD: Rodney is one of Debra Messing’s character Molly's very best friends. I’m an interior designer, and I find myself in a very clandestine affair with someone whom I can’t name. But what I can say is that if the affair were ever to come out, it would destroy this person’s high-profile career.
MHTV: Well can you tell us -- is Rodney's lover character Felix played by a high-profile actor?
CD: He's played by a wonderful actor. I’d like to think that he’s a high profile actor, but... We won’t be having Mel Gibson on the show.
MHTV: One of the criticisms gay audiences in particular often leveled at Debra's last series, Will & Grace, was that gay character Will never got any action with boyfriends. Will we see Rodney gettin' some?
CD: [On this show] I am shirtless and half naked for more than I’ve ever been in my entire life. In the miniseries, because it was so nuclear about the Molly character, Rodney could have been seen as sort of a satellite, and there wasn’t too much delving into what was going on into his life. [But now that we've gone to series,] the first item of business that Sara [Parriott] and Josie [McGibbon], the creators, worked on was creating real three dimensional characters out of these satellites, and they’ve done a wonderful job. Now, Rodney gets to be one of the girls when he’s with Joan and Molly, but you also see him in his business life, and his romantic life. What I love that they’ve done with Rodney is they’ve created this real gay character. In that yes, he’s gay, but his sexuality is only one part of who he is. That having been said, it’s not like it’s a non-existent part. We definitely see what Rodney wants, and what he wants to get.
MHTV: As far as you know, on USA are there any limits as to what Rodney can or cannot do -- for example, physically, on a date?
CD: That's a very good question. We’re pushing it. I’ll say from an actor’s perspective, they’re challenging me appropriately. They do a great job in the writing of both Debra’s romantic trysts and Rodney’s romantic trysts, and actually Joan’s romantic trysts, creating a dance that makes, I believe and I hope, the audience want to tune in and see more. Showing just enough and then maybe going over the line, and then making you expect more.
MHTV: Pre-Rodney, had you ever played a gay character before?
CD: I have. I played a gay character on Broadway and I’ve played a gay character on TV. I was in The Full Monty on Broadway.
MHTV: Actually, then I must have seen you!
CD: Then you saw all of me. That was good fun. Then in the season 2 premiere of Nip/Tuck I played a gay character.
MHTV: I've heard that even in 2008, agents will sometimes advise an actor not to play gay more than once. Did you experience any pressure like that?
CD: I could be totally wrong, but I think that that’s so passé. I think it should always come down to the writing. If it’s in the writing and you can create something that’s interesting for you as an actor to play, if you can have a good time at work, if you can say something that you feel is the right thing to be said, then that’s how you should pick the role. I forget who it was that said it’s location, paycheck and script. If you can get 2 of those, you’re in a good place. And I always look at the script first.
MHTV: That's what attracted you to The Starter Wife?
CD: Yes, that they’ve written Rodney as a real person. The first time it was a real opportunity to work with Debra, to work with Judy, to go to Australia. "This is great fun." At the time we had no idea that it was going to be a series. Then, when they came to me and said, "We’re shooting a series in LA," the first thing I thought was, “I get to say Josie’s and Sara’s lines again.” And yes, there weren’t many of them in the miniseries, but boy whatever there were were very well crafted. I knew that they weren’t going to let me down. If they were going to create this character for real, they were really going to create a lasting character, someone to whom gay audience and straight audiences could relate.
MHTV: Do you have gay friends relating to the character, or even thanking you for the portrayal?
CD: I have plenty of gay friends, and none of them thanked me for it, that’s for sure.
MHTV: Jealous actors, cursing you for getting the part they wanted?
CD: Absolutely. But they enjoyed it. I think the miniseries really served a function of entertainment. Maybe from Debra’s perspective of being the Starter Wife, there was probably some sort of therapeutic angle for women who find themselves in that sort of situation. But as far as my character, I was there to support Debra. This time around, I think there's going to be something more.
The Starter Wife
Friday, October 10
9 PM Eastern