When the US series of Queer as Folk first screened in December 2000, actor Peter Paige knew it would create controversy. The cast had been filming the new series for months, and with the sexually frank scripts and explicit nature of the sex scenes it was unlike any other show the actors had ever worked on.
Queer As Folk‘s first 20 minutes featured the notorious rimming scene and more humping than the most passionate of couples would probably have in six months.
While US critics met the series with a mixture of acclaim and shock, it was the reaction from a number of Paige’s closest straight friends which stunned him most.
What the show did was put gay sexuality in the mainstream in a way that had never been done before, and give people a basic understanding of how it all worked, Paige said from his home in Los Angeles.
But I can’t tell you the number of people who, after the first episode screened, said to me in all seriousness, -˜I didn’t know gay people could have sex face-to-face.’
These are smart, liberal people with lots of gay friends, and yet they had no idea of how gay men have sex. My response was, -˜So, you thought we’ve been doing it doggy-style the whole time? All it takes is just a little bit of flexibility,’ the openly gay actor laughed.
But that first episode really took chances, and we made sure we did not shy away from it. We knew we could not be timid or do the typical American thing and water it down. I have to admit that the first 20 minutes of the show even makes me uncomfortable, but I also remember thinking if we could get through this, then everything else would be a piece of cake -“ and I think it was.
The complete first season of Queer As Folk has just had its Australian release on DVD. While the fifth and final season finished screening on SBS in December, the cast completed filming 12 months ago.
Paige, 36, played the flamboyant Emmett Honeycutt for all five seasons, and says it is now with a sense of perspective he can cast a critical eye over Queer As Folk.
He believes history will judge favourably the tale of a close group of gay and lesbian friends living in Pittsburgh at the beginning of this century.
I do understand the criticisms of the show and no TV show is perfect, he said.
Certainly, Queer As Folk had strong episodes and seasons and we had weaker episodes and seasons. But I think we did something really brave and it will be remembered as such, and as the show which changed the face of TV. Well, maybe not solely, but we injected something into the mainstream that will be difficult to undo.
Paige’s character Emmett rode a wild adventure through the series. He began as a window dresser, then became an internet porn star, party planner and finally a TV presenter, with an odd assortment of lovers along the way, including an older gentleman who died while they were having sex in an airplane toilet. The one thing Emmett never changed, however, was his outrageously camp manner and high-swish style.
Emmett refused ever to apologise for his high-camp ways and, while Paige believes this is why the character became so enduringly popular, he admits it did take time.
I found it really hurtful in the first season when Emmett was dismissed as a dizzy queen. I thought audiences were not paying attention, he said.
What I saw in the script was a queen, but a queen who likes himself -“ and we had not seen that on TV before. The queens on TV had been self-loathing.
Yes, Emmett is effeminate and a queen and flamboyant, but he also likes himself and has great strength. He is also a wonderful friend. After a season or so, almost everyone came around, and I now hear how much Emmett meant to people. Pardon my ego, but I think Emmett exhibited extraordinary strength again and again.
Since completing the show Paige has appeared in the new TV series Related, and he has also written, directed and starred in the movie Say Uncle, which deals with a gay man who befriends some neighbourhood children and is then accused of being a child molester. The film also stars Kathy Najimy and will screen at the Mardi Gras Film Festival on 27 February.
A lot of my energy has gone into that and I have been doing the festival circuit with it, so it has been busy, Paige said. He does admit, though, that major work offers have been difficult to come by since completing Queer As Folk.
I do find I have to jump through hoops that other actors would not have to jump through, he said.
The combination of playing the queen, being on Queer As Folk and being openly gay is a trifecta of stereotyping which has allowed some casting people to say, -˜He’s not right for this.’ So we are doing a lot of pushing, but that’s all right as it was all worth it.
Queer As Folk: The Complete First Season is available now on DVD through Warner Home Video.