Shining in the Spotlight

'Noah's Arc' star Doug Spearman returns to his D.C. roots to be honored by PFLAG

byInterview by Will O'Bryan
Published on March 15, 2007, 12:00am | Comments

The spotlight that usually shines on Doug Spearman, whose roles include playing Chance on Logo's Noah's Arc, is the kind associated with Hollywood glitz. But on Saturday, March 24, he'll be under a spotlight of an entirely different sort, when Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of the Metropolitan Washington DC Area (Metro DC PFLAG) honor him at their annual gala with the ''Spotlight Award.''

''It's amazing to be from Washington, D.C., and have this happen,'' says the D.C.-born Spearman. ''I feel like 'local guy makes good.'''

Fans of Spearman's buttoned-up Noah's Arc character might be surprised to hear that Spearman was once the life of the D.C. party.


Spearman

''I was there when there was Lost & Found and Tracks and The Pier -- oh, my God, that was D.C.'s answer to Studio 54,'' he recalls, telling tales of watching the Village People perform at Tracks, or throwing a drink across the bar at the Lost & Found. ''I don't drink anymore, but I like to dance and have a really good time. I'm not that guy in the VIP room sitting on the banquette holding court. I like to be in the middle of the dance floor.''

But there are also similarities between Spearman and the upstanding Chance. For instance, Spearman is, in a sense, a responsible parent.

''I have two godsons who I actually helped deliver,'' he says. ''Alec and Lucas live five blocks from me and I'm a dad at their school. You're in a labor delivery room with someone and they hand you a wet baby, still warm, and it changes your life.''

Spearman adds that he'll likely look to parenting when he accepts the Spotlight Award: ''I'll talk about my parents and how wonderful they were, creating an atmosphere for me as a young boy, where I wasn't judged or looked down upon.''

METRO WEEKLY: First, what is the status of Noah's Arc? It seems the show is moving to the big screen.

DOUG SPEARMAN: They're going to turn it into a feature film. We found out Jan. 26. That's when they had to tell us, contractually, what was going on. They told everybody, including the executive producer, Patrick-Ian Polk, that they had changed their ideas about things, that they wanted to take Noah's Arc to the big screen. So this summer we're going to turn Noah's Arc into a feature film, which was news to Patrick, as well. It was like, ''Okay, well, instead of doing a series, we need you to write a movie.''

What that movie's about, how it turns out, is all kind of new information to everybody -- including the person who has to write it.

MW: Still, it's exciting news, right?

SPEARMAN: Who wouldn't want to be in a movie? And it's Logo's first film, so they're going to spend a lot of time and effort getting it out there.

I really owe this network a lot. I mean, they made me a television star and now they're going to make me a movie star. It's nice to go from cable TV to the big screen.

MW: Playing Chance, what sort of fan mail do you get?

SPEARMAN: It's all over the place. First of all, they're just happy that we're there. I get fan mail from both men and women who identify with Chance, who say, ''My friends tell me I'm like Chance,'' or ''I feel like Chance -- you're the one I identify with.''

There's a lot of mail from parents, whose kids have turned them on to Noah's Arc, who use us as a tool to explain what [being gay] is like: It's not all sex and drugs, sex clubs and dancing on gay-pride floats. It's people with jobs, families and careers.

I get a lot of thank-you mail. Thank you for doing this, thank you for being out, thank you for being a representation of an intelligent, well-spoken, black, gay man.

I've had fan mail from guys who left their families because of watching the show. The show has given them the courage to step out and be who they really are, and that's the incredible stuff. That's almost frightening. I can't take responsibility for anything other than being an actor who does his job. But people look at that and they use us as role models.

MW: Do you ever challenge Chance's position in scripts, saying, ''I don't think Chance would do that. He'd do this''?

SPEARMAN: Yeah, but that doesn't mean I win. [Laughs.] For instance, I argued against Eddie and Chance breaking up to begin with, because I think television and dramas do a disservice to people in general when you don't show stable couples. You can have problems and remain a couple. Infidelity doesn't have to be there. I think there's a lot to learn from people who stay married and really work on a relationship and deal with the problems within the relationship.

The other thing is one difference between Chance and Doug is if I'd been in a relationship with someone who'd cheated on me the way Eddie cheated on Chance, I'd stick my foot up his ass. [Laughs.] There'd be no going back and no marriage, but that's just me. That's Doug.

MW: How does playing Chance compare to other work you've done?

SPEARMAN: I wouldn't say Chance is my favorite [character]. Here's what I like: I like characters who strongly believe in something, who have a strong point of view and who will fight for that. Usually that strong point of view gets them in trouble. That's the thing I like most about a character.

The thing about playing Chance is that he's in a series, rather than a play or a film. In a play or a film, you deal with somebody in a very short time span. I once had a character once who jumped from 16 to 60, but it was still in the course of two hours. Every time you're given a script for a television series, when you're a lead, when you're a recurring character, you get something new to discover about the character. There's always the baseline information, but every episode, every scene, reveals something new. Chance is certainly the character I've spent the most time with, but I don't know that he's my favorite.

Actually, my two favorite characters were in plays. One was from A Few Good Men. I played Lance Cpl. Dawson. I loved him because he so loved the military. He so loved honor and truth. He was so pure. He was probably the purest person I ever played. I loved playing that character.

And I did another play called Screen Test about 10 years ago. Doris Roberts, the actress, was the director of the play. I played a make-up artist on a film set, named Bernie. Doris gave me complete and utter license to do whatever I wanted. Bernie loved old Hollywood actresses, so every once in a while I would throw some of that delivery in, because I love ''old Hollywood.'' The play was such a big hit that I would walk down the street, I would go for auditions, and they're like, ''You're Bernie!'' You do a play in Hollywood, and everyone around town knows what it is.


'Noah's Arc' cast on 'Season 1' DVD collection

MW: Have you always been fond of ''old Hollywood''?

SPEARMAN: Yeah, that's how I got started. The reason I wanted to be an actor was because I saw The Wizard of Oz and I wanted to be a flying monkey.

I wouldn't call [TV] the ''electric babysitter,'' but you've got to understand that when I was growing up there was the 2 o'clock afternoon movie, there was the 3 o'clock movie -- there wasn't as much syndicated television as there is now. All they would do is rerun old movies. There was the ''late show'' and the ''late late show.''

My mother was a huge movie fan. If there was something that she thought was important for me to watch, she would either keep me home from school, or make me stay up late. I remember not having to go to school because All About Eve was on at 2 o'clock. My mother was like, ''You're going to watch this.'' My mother was great. She was a huge Crawford and Davis fan.

And my father loved movies. My father loved Westerns. He was a John Wayne freak. My dad used to take me to movies all the time. That was our special thing to do. He'd take me to see things that were completely inappropriate for kids. The first movie my father ever took me to see was a movie called The War Wagon with John Wayne. I don't know if my poor dad ever knew this, but it really kind of gave me a thing for cowboys. [Laughs.]

MW: Speaking of your childhood, you were born in Washington, weren't you?

SPEARMAN: Yes, in 1962, in the lobby of Providence Hospital. Mom was five days early and went into labor. ''Okay, I'm having a baby right now.'' She said she barely made it through the door.

We lived in upper Northwest till the riots. In 1969, we moved to Hyattsville -- a gentle, suburban upbringing.

MW: Did you get into the city much?

SPEARMAN: My dad worked at Union Station, so I would go with him on Sundays. But sitting in Union Station all day would get kind of boring, so he'd let me run around on my own.

By the time the Metro opened up, when I was 14 or 15, they let me take the train in. I'd walk to Fort Totten, take the train in and just wander around. I remember how guilty -- how guilty -- I used to feel taking the train to Dupont Circle, where I had absolutely no business. [Laughs.] I remember the pounding in my chest.

It was a different world. It was the late '70s. And I was adorable, if I must say. There were gay men sprinkled everywhere. I just wanted to blend in. I also wanted someone to notice me and pick me out of the crowd.

MW: You must've been noticed a lot.

SPEARMAN: Yeah, it happened. [Laughs.] It didn't happen in Dupont Circle as much. I used to go to the National Gallery [of Art] a lot because I love art. I would go down there and guys would try to pick me up. There was this one guy I'll never forget -- his name was Jeremy. It was summertime, very humid. He was wearing a very wrinkled seersucker suit. I was standing in front of a painting called The White Hat. So this guy says, ''It's beautiful.'' And I said, ''Yeah, it's a great painting.'' I must've been 17. He was like, ''No, I meant you.'' Whoo! Ya got me! I actually wrote a story about this.

MW: When did you leave D.C.?

SPEARMAN: February of 1989. But I didn't leave for L.A. -- I went to Boston for three years. I was senior creative producer at Channel 7 in Boston, WHDH.

MW: Was it just for work, or were there other reasons you moved?

SPEARMAN: You mean like a man? I went because I had a job offer. The man was in New York. [Laughs.]

MW: Anybody we'd know?

SPEARMAN: No. He's married now, a minister in a church, so I don't think I should use his name. Do you know the scene in Noah's Arc where Chance drives the minivan into the side of a house when he finds out Eddie is cheating on him? I actually did that in D.C.

MW: You drove a minivan into the side of a house in D.C.?

SPEARMAN: No, I drove a Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible into the side of a townhouse in Southeast.

MW: Someone was cheating?

SPEARMAN: Yeah.

MW: Was anybody hurt?

SPEARMAN: Just the Cabriolet.

MW: Did you do any acting in D.C. before you moved?

SPEARMAN: Probably not since high school. I went to High Point Senior High School in Beltsville, Md. I had this fantastic, openly gay drama teacher, Frank Anzalone. I talk to Frank all the time. He gives me a critique after every episode of Noah's Arc.

Frank always encouraged my interests. Frank made us read every freakin' play, starting with the Greeks. We had to know the history of theater. We had to know another language. We had to read the newspaper. We had to know how to dance, how to fence. Frank gave us the kind of training that you would've gotten under the Hollywood system, the old studio system. You had to know history, math, politics. You had to read everything an author wrote. If you were doing a play, you had to read all his other plays. He was thorough.

MW: Regarding the upcoming gala, have you had much experience with PFLAG?

SPEARMAN: I've always been a supporter. I've always thought it was an amazing organization.

With my parents, it wasn't a big surprise. My dad knew [I was gay] by the time I was 4. He caught me wrapped up in the curtains, twirling around. My parents gave me a lot of hope and they gave me a lot of strength. And the two things they never screwed up with me were sex and religion. I was never told I was going to hell because of who I was, and I was encouraged to be me, no matter what. My mom not only bought me Barbies, she made clothes for them. My parents weren't crazy about any of the girls I dated, but every guy I brought home they loved and took in and really opened their hearts. I was amazed at my father, in particular, because he was a ''man's man.'' He was the black version of John Wayne. And for him to put up with Mark or Philippe or any of those guys I dragged home, was amazing.

MW: Does this progressive quality run throughout your family?

SPEARMAN: I think my parents were probably more progressive, more open than most of the members of my family.

Going through puberty, I just buried myself in books. One of the paperbacks I bought at the time was The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren. My grandmother saw me reading it. She picked it up, flipped over the back cover and read it. She was incensed. She called my mother. I could hear my mother on the phone, and she was like, ''Let him read it!'' Because my mother normalized things like that, I did a book report on it for English class in the eighth grade. I got it back and it said, ''You were very brave.'' I got an A-minus.

MW: Did you face any oppression outside the supportive environment at home?

SPEARMAN: Did I ever get any shit for being gay? Not really. Anita Pippin in the eighth grade turned to me right before the end of class one day and said, ''Are you gay?'' I giggled, and then the bell rang.

I was popular in high school. I always had a girlfriend. I tried to do what everybody else was doing, but I had crushes on boys. We had our little boys' club -- all the gay boys in my school, we knew who we were. I had a white girlfriend I took to the prom, and that got me more crap than anything else.

I was out to have as normal an ''Archie comic book'' experience as possible. Mickey Rooney screwed me up, because I watched those ''Andy Hardy'' movies and I set out to be Andy Hardy. And I did a pretty good job, because Andy Hardy liked to go into town and talk to sailors. [Laughs.]

MW: Have you been recognized in ways similar to this Spotlight Award before?

SPEARMAN: I do volunteer work, I get out there and I'm involved, but this is the first time anyone's said, ''Good for you. We're going to give you an award for this.'' But I've been doing community work probably since the late '80s when AIDS and HIV took over the world and all these organizations were starting. I felt like I had to do something, especially since I came out when I was 17 and that was a completely different world. I can't say I've been a saint for the past two decades, but I've seen a lot of friends die, I've had boyfriends die, my best friend's been positive since we were in our early 20s. I had to do something. I had to help.

For more information about the Metro DC PFLAG Honors Gala and Silent Auction, visit www.pflagdc.org/gala/, or call 202-638-3852.


Call 202-638-6830 to advertise here in Marketplace