Finally, here it is.
When I first fell in love with the show, and even later, when I became a part of the fan community, contributing my words, commenting on others, and eventually running bjfic on Livejournal, I could never imagine myself sitting here today conducting an interview with Daniel Lipman, one half of the infamous CowLip, who wrote and co-produced the show, an adaptation of the previously aired British version, written by Doctor Who's Russell T. Davies.
It was one of those moments you can't prepare for. Quite literally, the opportunity to interview Dan fell into my lap. I met him through chance, and as soon as I realised who he was, I couldn't not pull out every single cheeky card I had in my arsenal and ask (in the nicest way possible) for an interview.
I don't think, looking back, I expected to get anything other than turned down, but not only was I shocked when I was granted permission, but I was lucky enough to have Ron get in on the act too, and offer his insight into the show that changed the very fabric of how America saw homosexuality.
Thinking on my feet, I hastily opened up questions to the fanfiction community I run: a place where fans who love the relationship of Brian and Justin can get together to share their creations about the pair. The response was overwhelming, and it took a lot of effort to prune literally hundreds of questions down into something manageable.
Armed with what I hoped were questions that would not only shed new light on old stories, but also give both Dan and Ron a chance to give voice to subjects they may not have spoken about so publicly before, I sat down to begin.
First impressions count. We all know that. The first impressions I received from both Dan and Ron were that these two warm, open men, truly cared about their creation, and both wanted to take pains, even now with the show over, the DVDs bought, the props packed up and sold on, to show that they put their hearts and souls into something they believed in.
Rachael: All writers imagine their characters living their lives long after they write “the end” - how do you see the characters in their futures, and in particular, will Brian and Justin remain a part of each others lives?
Dan: We felt that by the end of the series we had positioned all the characters on the right track for the future. We always thought the overriding concept of the show was "boys becoming men" -- and in Mel and Linz's case, "girls becoming women." So, by the conclusion of the final season, we felt that we had achieved our goal. Even though the show ended in the same place that it began – in Babylon -- the characters had all grown and become very different people.
Ron: The final scene is not in Brian's imagination – it is a flash forward, a few months later when Babylon has been rebuilt. And that his dancing does not indicate that he has reverted to being an ageing club boy. Michael coaxed him to join him for one last dance and to celebrate exactly what Michael's voiceover and the choice of music says: that despite the bombing, Prop 14, etc., "We will survive."
Rachael: Personally, I think the way it ended was the only way it could have for Brian and Justin at that time, as well as reflecting Brian's interpretation of how relationships didn't have to be 'hetero' to be real. But on the whole, most of the people I speak to hate that Brian and Justin aren't together at the end. Some people are incredibly angry over it, which I suppose goes to show how passionately they feel about the characters. How do you feel about this, and can you explain why you chose to have them part at the end?
Dan: The controversy of the Brian/Justin story in the last episode has always puzzled us. Of course Brian and Justin will see each other again. New York is a brief commuter flight, less than 90 minutes, from Pittsburgh. Some fans seem to focus on that and not what their story is really about. Brian and Justin do not need to say vows to each other to cement their relationship. They're beyond rings (even though Brian sentimentally keeps them), ceremonies and receptions. Just like in their "Covenant" scene, when they declared their own guidelines for living with each other, they know that their relationship transcends rules that others may need. It was, in fact, based on a lyric by Richard Rogers from the title song of his last great musical NO STRINGS: "Let the little folks, who need the help, depend upon vows and such. We are much too tall." Justin going off to New York was a declaration of freedom and a final restatement of Brian's philosophy, that sacrificing who you are for the sake of another or demanding that they sacrifice who they are for you, is not love.
Ron: And although Brian had once considered working in New York, that was before he had his own successful business. And you just don't start up a new ad agency in the most competitive market in the world -- not even Brian. As for Justin, the center of the art world in the States is New York. What young artist wouldn't want to be there?
Rachael: “It's only time,” Brian tells Justin, at the end of the show. It's become such an iconic phrase to the fans, but what does it mean to you, and what did you intend for it to mean from Brian to Justin?
Dan: Regarding Brian's "Its only time" speech: Brian didn't mean that he and Justin would never see each other again. He was merely implying that even if they DIDN'T see each other again they would still know that they were bonded forever. That's what their story was always about. An unlikely romance, an unconventional romance, but a great romance that would embrace them for a lifetime.
Ron: The idea for the speech came from a Shakespeare sonnet we all read in high school --#116. "Love's not Time's fool"...."Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom."
Rachael: That's one of my favourite poems of all time!
Rachael: Are you surprised by how much the show and characters have impacted people, both positively and negatively, all this time after the show has ended? There's still a massive fan community that tries to remain active.
Dan: We are thrilled that QAF continues to engage and enrage. We are deeply appreciative for the fans around the world who watch and re-watch the show. And how lucky we are to have the DVD's!
QAF is a very singular show. We all knew it at the time. Many people said that we opened a door for more gay drama. But we realized that there would never be another QAF. QAF was designed to shake people up, get them talking. We tried to show the truth, blemishes and all -- at least that was always our mission as writers. However, telling the truth and political correctness do not always intersect.
Rachael: Very true. Speaking of political correctness, in an interview, Randy was once quoted as saying he felt that Justin was in an abusive relationship with Brian. What's your take on that?
Dan: Brian may have been abusive at times. But that was one of the glories of writing a series for pay cable. It allowed us to create characters who didn't always have to be good or noble, or justify their actions according to broadcast network standards. Our characters could be flawed -- in other words, human. In accordance with our concept of boys becoming men, Brian was still growing up, trying to find his way through this labyrinth of a relationship that he never thought he'd ever have, yet was compelled by, dealing with someone who was tugging at his heart and who wouldn't give up on him and go away. But by the end of the series, I think he had moved beyond his conflicts and inner demons.
Rachael: Some of my favourite moments involved characters dealing with their inner demons. One of my favourite arcs in the show was the season four Justin Pink Posse arc; I felt it was very true to his character, and showed a positive evolution following a realistic reaction to the bashing. However, many fans I've spoken to hate the arc, and feel it's out of character. Can you explain your thoughts behind your ideas for this?
Dan: We're a bit baffled by the criticism of the Pink Posse arc, as well. This wasn't something that we made up out of our imaginations. We always did our research and there actually was such a vigilante group. (Just like the Fairy Gathering that Michael and Emmett attended -- that exists. And those "bug chasers" are real, too.) Perhaps people became uncomfortable by our portraying Justin as being aggressive and vindictive. But, once again, we were not constrained by any network standards.
Ron: After Shanda Leer's brutal attack, which mirrored Justin's own, and Chris Hobbes telling him that he hoped he would get AIDS and die, we felt it was justifiable for Justin's suppressed rage to emerge. The real point of the story, of course, is how long do you turn the other cheek and how far do you go when you stop turning it? One of my favorite speeches, along with Ted's "God loves you just the way you are" speech to Emmett, is Cody's speech at the Gay and Lesbian Center.
Dan: Mine, too, by the way!
Rachael: “No apologies, no regrets” was Brian's tag line - is there anything you regret about the show, or wish you had done differently? If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be and why?
Dan: I honestly have "No apologies, no regrets" when it comes to anything we did on the show. And we'll always be grateful to Showtime for allowing us to tell the stories that we wanted to tell and to explore the territories that we wanted to explore. However, I do have one regret that still haunts me. It's when Michael returns to the Q-Mart and his nemesis, Andrew, forces him to dress up like a clown. I saw the dailies of that and slapped my head with a revelation: Michael should have been dressed like a Big Q! I even tried to re-shoot it, but couldn't justify spending the money for it.
Rachael: My favourite non-main characters are Brandon, Ethan, and Cody, contrary to popular opinion. Which are yours?
Dan: I really don't have a favorite secondary character. I liked them all. We really tried to write them, cast them and give them the same kind of attention that we did the lead cast.
The same goes for the story arcs. I enjoyed working on all of them for different reasons. Stories were designed to compliment and interweave with each other -- trying to keep the audience off-guard by switching from something humorous to something with dramatic impact. Although I suppose the most memorable for me off the top of my head would have to be the "See The Light" thread, the George and Emmett romance and Vic's passing. I also liked when stories ( and characters) would surprise us. Like Ted and Emmett's pairing. It took us into dark places we never suspected when we first conceived it.
Rachael: Can you give me any new anecdotes about any of the actors during filming? Did they play a lot of pranks?:
Dan: We didn't have a prank-playing cast. But you can find some goofs on our seasonal gag reels which, I believe, are offered as bonuses on the DVDs.
Rachael: Finally, there has been a lot of talk about disagreements between specific cast members, and you and Ron, which are rumoured to have soured the last couple of seasons. Hal Sparks has said in an interview that neither he, nor CowLip would work with Gale or Randy again. Can you provide any insight, and which, if any, of the cast do you keep in touch with now?
Dan: As for Hal's remark, I don't know where, when or in what context that was said. But I can assure you that there was nothing sour about our relationship with anyone in the cast. We all had our moments, no doubt, living and working under constant pressure. But as with any family, you may argue at times or have a disagreement and then you make up. The important thing is that we all had enormous respect and affection for one another, which continues to this day. Everyone in our cast is extraordinary – as human beings as well as courageous actors. Just remember, not many people would put themselves on the line the way our cast did – doing what their parts required of them – AND leave their homes and friends to live and work in another country for five seasons. Doing a series is very hard work with long, gruelling hours. It requires a lot of sacrifice. But I've never seen a group of people so connected to each other. And they still are. We don't see everyone as much as we'd like -- but that's the nature of any project in our line of work. For a brief moment in time, you become a family. And then you move on. Still, we keep in touch and we will always share a bond -- like Brian and Justin -- that transcends time and place. QAF -- a journey and an experience like no other.
So there you have it. Never in a million years did I expect to have such an opportunity, especially when my experience in interviewing is next to none, but I suppose if there is one thing the show taught me above all else, it was that time is fleeting, and we only have one life: when a golden opportunity presents itself, grab it with both hands. Don't allow yourself any room to dwell on the 'what-if?'.
Copyright of R Grant, 2010. firstname.lastname@example.org You may link to this article, with full credit, but may not reproduce in its entirety without express permission of the participants.
Thank you to both Daniel Lipman and Ron Cowen (CowLip) who generously devoted their time to speak to me, on behalf of the fans.
Please visit www.bri-tin.com and show your appreciation for the efforts involved in producing this interview. Donations towards site upkeep are appreciated via the Paypal button, and fan goodies can be bought via the store (link at top of page).
Queer as Folk DVD box sets of all the seasons, and as well as season soundtracks, can be bought via Amazon, and all good stockists.