Wilson Cruz, who calls himself an ‘actorvist’ on Twitter, is clearly no dummy. Even though he had just returned to New York City after living in Los Angeles for the last decade or so, he quickly returned to the City of Angels when he got a phone call to guest star on ABC’s hit medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. The episode, entitled “Start Me Up,” airs this Thursday at 9/8c on ABC.
I caught up with the always energetic and welcoming Cruz the other day to talk about wearing a kilt for his role (and whether he went au natural as is the custom), how important it is for a mainstream series like Grey’s to continually include gay characters and stories as well as reuniting with Lukas Haas, who he starred with in the film Johns.
Jim Halterman: What can you tell me about the character you’re playing this week and the storyline?
Wilson Cruz: Basically, I play the partner of a man who has a horrible accident after our domestic partnership ceremony. We’re rushed to Seattle Grace so what started out as a dream day turns out to be a bit of a nightmare.
JH: I hear you have a great monologue about our current state of gay marriage that is a in the episode. What can you share?
WC: I received the monologue and all the scenes about two days before I actually shot it. I agreed to do it sight unseen because it’s Shonda and it was Grey’s and I’m a huge fan of the show. Shonda and I have actually met a number of times and she and I have actually talked about working together so when I got the phone call I said ‘Absolutely yes. Whatever it is I’ll do it.’ When I received the scene, I was blown away because it was a monologue in which it could be played a few ways and I’m glad I got to tackle it. I felt that the monologue could have been played in a way of someone feeling sorry for himself in a position of weakness but my take on it was where we – me and the community – are at at the moment and it’s not about feeling sorry for ourselves or feeling like we’re pleading for the rights that are rightfully ours. We’re in a place now where we are demanding our rights and demanding our right to be married and to have our relationships put side-by-side with other relationships, My take on the monologue was really about the frustration that we feel as a community in a sense that we’re still fighting and we’re still having to explain that our relationships are just as valid as anybody else’s.
WC: I got to work with my dear friend Sara Ramirez, who I’ve known since we were on Broadway at the same time – she was doing Caveman at the same time I was doing Rent. I’ve been an enormous fan of hers since then so I was very, very lucky that I got to do my scenes with her.
JH: So a lot of familiar faces on the set, huh?
WC: The last time I’d seen Shonda was at Sara’s birthday and she said ‘Someday we’re going to work together.’ And, ya know, I’ve heard that and I was so appreciative when she said it to me but people hardly ever follow up on things like that but, to her credit, Shonda Rhimes is a woman of her word. She called three weeks later. I had just moved back to New York and I packed up my bags and went back to LA.
JH: I heard someone is wearing a kilt on the show. Could it be you?
WC: [laughs] I am in the kilt. I have great legs so I’m okay with that. I’m comfortable in a skirt as much as people like to see me in them but it was my first time in a kilt and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I will say this – I am a method actor so I’ll let you decide whether or not I was true to the kilt in the historical sense.
JH: Well, now I can’t concentrate on the rest of this interview! [both laugh] Are you interacting with any other characters on the show?
WC: Also, Kevin McKidd (who plays Dr. Owen Hunt) is in one of the scenes and Jesse Williams (Dr. Avery).
JH: Those are some good-looking guys!
WC: Yes [laughs] but I was very focused on my husband, or I should say my domestic partner. And the crew, I have to say, the crew was unbelievable. Sometimes you work on these one-hour dramas and they kind of run right over you and you have to keep up. This director – Mark Jackson – and his crew really allowed me to do my thing and let me follow my instincts and guest stars never really get to do that so I was really appreciative of that.
JH: Why do you think it’s important for a mainstream show like Grey’s Anatomy to have gay characters and storylines?
WC: It’s not just about the fact that they have gay characters on them. It’s the situation in which these characters are put in. It’s one thing to have a courtroom drama and they can just say the judge who is presiding over the case is gay and that’s fine and we’re out, thank you very much. But what I think is important about what Grey’s does is they actually deal with real-life situations and real-life emotions and relationships and that’s how we change hearts and minds. Personally, one of the strongest things we can do as part of our movement is to tell our stories. That’s how we get people to understand our lives and how we get them to understand our struggle. Grey’s Anatomy is doing an enormous job for us by allowing us to tell our stories and this is just another way of doing that. The storyline between Sara Ramirez and her partner on the show, Arizona (played by Jessica Capshaw), has been amazing. It’s an interracial couple, as well. The more people hear our stories and see our lives, the easier it is for them to empathize with our struggle and that changes the way that people see us as a community and we get to change laws.
JH: What prompted the move to New York? Career? Personal?
WC: It was a number of things. With my career, I really wanted to come back and do more theater. It’s been 11 years since I lived in New York! My brother lives out here and I’m a New Yorker. I needed the change and I wanted to do some traveling and it’s easier to do that from here than in LA. I think I’m one of those people who cannot stay in one place very long. I love New York and I still have my place in LA and I’ll be available to work there whenever I need to. As an example of that, not only did I go to LA to do Grey’s Anatomy but while I was there I did an independent film with Lukas Haas called Meth Head in which I play Lukas’s partner and he destroys his life with crystal meth. It’s an intense, intense film and I think probably one of the most important projects I’ve ever been a part of. To be working with Lukas again after 14 or 15 years after Johns, was incredible. He’s an amazing actor and I think this could be a really important movie for him. It not only tells the story of how the drug destroys the person who’s taking it in but the lives of the people surrounding that person.
JH: And, because we all want to know, are you a single man in New York or are you unavailable?
WC: Let’s just say I’m dating. [laughs]
Check out Wilson Cruz on this week’s Grey’s Anatomy airing Thursdays at 9/8c on ABC. You can also follow Wilson on Twitter @wcruz73