Jane Espenson, Brad Bell, Sean Hemeon & Amy Acker on Husbands

Laura chats to the creators and cast of Husbands about the online comedy's third series...

At this year’s San Diego Comic Con, we had the chance to sit down with Husbands creator/writers Jane Espenson and Brad Bell, as well as actors Sean Hemeon and Amy Acker to talk about their new home on CW Seed, passive-aggressiveness, and why Brady and Cheeks won’t be shopping for a crib anytime soon…

Do you think that working with CW Seed is going to affect the format of Husbands in any way?

Jane Espenson: Not currently…

Brad Bell (Cheeks): No, in fact I know that it hasn’t because the episodes are done, so the answer is no.

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So how did you guys get together with CW Seed?

Bell: Well, we got a meeting with them because we had gotten wind that they were looking to acquire properties and content. Before they launched Seed, they had a couple of digital shows that they had “acquired” more than “paid to produce.” And so we went in, and when we went into the pitch meeting, they were already fans; they already knew the show, which was incredibly rare. So we were super excited and grateful and loved the idea of working with them. I mean, when I heard, “Hey, a a potential meeting with the CW,” I thought, “You know, that makes sense…” It was somewhat unexpected, but it made perfect sense.

Amy, you’re from Texas, which sometimes produces women like the one you’re playing. And Sean, we’ve discussed your personal history (as a Mormon who came out of the closet after high school), and I’m wondering how that plays into your characterization as the Mormon baseball player who recently came out and his ex-fiance who shows up at Brady’s wedding to Cheeks.

Sean Hemeon: My experiences?

In an earlier interview, I got the idea that you had girlfriends before you came out. Or are you a “gold-star” gay?

Hemeon: No, no.

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Amy Acker: What’s a gold-star gay?

Hemeon: Gold-star means you’ve never been with a girl, never.

Acker: Oh!

Hemeon: But I am not a gold-star gay. I tried very hard to be straight. Very hard. I had girlfriends.

Congratulations on your failure.

Hemeon: Yeah, thank you. I’m glad I failed too. (laughs) But yeah, had girlfriends. And now, actually, they are my best friends, ten years later.

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Acker: No one got mad at you?

Hemeon: If they are, they aren’t saying it.

Acker: You didn’t tell them while you were dating them…

Hemeon: No, but I definitely knew. And I guess I was, well, cheating, because I was having sex with guys.

Acker: Yeah, that’s cheating.

Hemeon: Yeah, but in my mind… but I don’t consider myself a cheater. You know I couldn’t do that now. That’s how I rationalized it in my mind… wow, this is awful. But you know, at the same time, I was trying to be a good Mormon boy. (Laughs) This is awful…what was the question again?

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Let’s change the question: Amy, are you the villain of the piece?

Acker: I mean, there’s other people who are making bad things happen… (Hemeon laughs loudly). It’s not just me.

Hemeon: She is so lovable, so adorable, and she just makes you want to squeeze her cheeks.

So passive-aggressive…

Hemeon: Oh my God! Which is so awesome because, well, I know so many… you know, this isn’t just a Texas thing. It’s a Christian thing, a Mormon thing. In those places, if you’re angry, you’re not doing your religion right or something, so they all keep the anger in themselves. They hold it in and it comes out as…what’s a word for extreme passive-aggressiveness? Because that’s what it is.

Acker: I had a teacher—I went to SMU (Southern Methodist University, a conservative private college in Plano Texas, and home to the George W. Bush Presidential Center)–she was hilarious actually. But I was thinking about her when this character came up because she taught sewing for costuming and we had to make these black rehearsal skirts. And I remember the guy sitting next to me, and his was just a complete disaster. She came up with just the sweetest smile and then was like, (Southern drawl) “Well, now, that looks like shit…” And that’s pretty much what I come from.

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(To Espenson and Bell): So what do you think? Is Amy Acker’s Claudia the mistress of passive-aggressive?

Espenson: Well, that’s not far off. I think that makes it sound very one-note (after viewing it, I can attest, it isn’t) and you know, Brad always writes characters… there’s a couple of layers under the passive aggressive.

Bell: Yeah, passive aggressive is too simple; it’s more complex than that. And we were actually worried that people might relate to her so much that she didn’t feel villainous enough

Espenson: We didn’t want her to be the hero of the piece.  

Bell: Or for people to not like Brady because they feel so much sympathy for her. So yeah, it’s layered… an onion of a performance. I mean, a good villain doesn’t see themselves as a villain, right?

Espenson: Exactly. I think she is very sympathetic and aware.

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Why did you go that route with her character? Because when we think “gay-bashing,” we tend to think very active and violent and that’s not what she’s doing here…

Espenson: You know, this isn’t really gay bashing at all. This is just a person in their life that has some sort of conflict with them. This isn’t about their being gay. If Cheeks were a woman, she’d be having the same reaction.

Bell: Yeah, it’s not quite that, but even if it were, that’s the obvious choice. And most of the time like we  were talking about in the panel (on Bullying) today, that’s not the way that manifests itself. People don’t walk up to you in the department store and say, “Hey, I think your lifestyle’s really gross!” I mean, you know, sure that happens but mostly the way that it happens is, you know, the father’s tugging on his kid’s arm and saying, “You don’t want to watch that.” It’s more subtle, to the side, behind closed doors behaviour. And it’s the more of a creative challenge to write. “Okay, so they can’t lash out. So how does this manifest?” and it becomes more interesting to see that.

And I’m wondering…so many of us have the experience of falling in love with the gay boy, and then we find out that he’s gay and we have various reactions to that. Are we going to get into that or is it more personal to her situation: ‘I’m from the South and he left me pretty much at the altar and I’m going make his life hell’.

Espenson: You are so in the area of the story so that to make a distinction sort of says what the story is.

Bell: I would say the latter. But I think that it’s that you could see what that experience is in the performance, be it the first of those options or the second. I think that it is open to interpretation. Which gives me an idea for a whole other episode.

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Back on the subject of passive aggressiveness for a moment, this is a tool that a lot of gay men have used to deal with the bashing and the general prejudice and bigotry.  Do you see Cheeks as being passive aggressive? And is part of his challenge to sort of work out of that with Brady because, you know, Brady isn’t that person.

Bell: I don’t see Cheeks as being passive aggressive.

Well, he’s also just aggressive…

Bell: He’s aggressive aggressive.

Espenson: I’m reminded of “Did you say wait, or fate?” That line was sort of open to interpretation.

Bell: Open to interpretation. I think it rides that line. And I think part of the fun and the charm is never knowing (how aggressive he’s being). We had a take, which I never liked that was much more pointed… “Oh, I didn’t hear you.” And I didn’t like that because I don’t like that character type. We actually don’t really have characters like that. Even Claudia, who Amy plays, is not that mean. It’s not that evident.

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Espenson: As I said, she’s sympathetic. We try to make our characters like each other and be positive and have the conflict come not because the person is bad…

Bell: Right.

Espenson: But simply because there’s a conflict of interest.

Bell: Although I will say that, maybe when pushed, to make a point, Cheeks can be passive aggressive. I think we get to see some of that. But he will do his best, and then, at a certain point, he’s like, okay, we’re done now.

Espenson:  I think Cheeks’ Achilles heel is probably a certain lack of empathy. But the great thing about Cheeks is that you get to see him have those moments of revelation of going, “Oh…” I think that Cheeks is a great character because he is flawed but lovable.

It was suggested in the San Diego Comic Con panel that Brady may be less committed than Cheeks. Is that really true?

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Together: Nah…

I think what Sean (Hemeon) was saying is that dealing with this stuff with Claudia has sort of made things real for him. This isn’t just something that was done on the whim, but that this is a life choice he’s made and that finally hits him.

Bell: I think they are both going through that.

Espenson: Well I think that’s been a part of the fact that they only been married for a very few weeks and they’ve only known each other for three months.

Bell: And yes, they’re starting to learn.  Brady has learned some things about Cheeks that he didn’t know.

So Cheeks has a checkered past, is what you’re saying?

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Espenson: (laughs)

Bell: And Cheeks is learning about Brady—they’re both learning about the other and going, “Oh, is that a thing? I didn’t know that was a thing…”

Espenson: So it’s getting real for both of them.

So I am sensing, based on something from our last interview, that Brady and Cheeks will not be having a child anytime soon and I would like to give you a little soapbox to stand on to talk about that.

Espenson: Yeah, because we’ve got thoughts on that.

Bell: Okay, part of the thought on that… children in gay stories, I think that it is very important to show that. That is a very important story, adopting and the family and all of that good stuff…

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Espenson: The having of the babies and the milk and all that.

The New Normal

Espenson: Yeah.

Bell: I think that part of that is to make them (gay people) more relatable to straight people. You know: “What straight people have. Oh, yeah, all straight people have babies, so let’s give them a baby!” I think it puts the focus on raising their baby, and shifts that focus from them being hot for each other and them having sex.

Those stories also tend have very large ensembles with other characters that have “B stories” that are about straight things and, you know, we’re not interested in that. We want to show a story that is not on either end of the spectrum: it’s not, “they are totally safe because they are parents and it’s also not twenty-somethings doing drugs and having sex with people whose faces they haven’t seen. Brady and Cheeks are not Queer as Folk, and they’re not Modern Family. And those are both wonderful shows that we both love, but this is a different story that is somewhere in the middle.  This is about two young men who are married and are hot for each other and that’s what they want.  I think at one point before we talked to you about the pilot of Mad About You where they have a quickie in the kitchen. And you don’t see a lot of gay men having a quickie in the kitchen, you know, especially in the first episode of the show. And our intent was to make that show.

Espenson: And you know, there’s a reason why they didn’t have that baby until season six or whatever. It was a story about young newlyweds, and we’re a story about newlyweds, and the race to make them safe – by giving them a baby…

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Bell: It’s skipping a step…

Espenson: It is skipping a step. These are stories that need to be told.

Bell: They go from the partying-using-drugs-gay-club-world to diaper-changing daddies. And it just seems odd that, with marriage equality in the headlines,  those are the two stories that you get.

Jane Espenson, Brad Bell, Sean Hemeon and Amy Acker, thank you very much!

Read our interview with Amber Benson here, and our take on why Husbands deserves your time, here.

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