Fall TV Preview: Wilson Cruz On ‘Red Band Society’ and Guiding The Young Cast

Wilson Cruz in 'Red Band Society' (Fox)

We’ve literally seen Wilson Cruz grow up on our televisions from a teen in “My So-Called Life” to LGBT activist with GLAAD all the while continuing to build a body of work that includes series like “Grey’s Anatomy” and films like “He’s Just Not That Into You.” His latest role is on one of the hottest new dramas of the fall, “Red Band Society.”

The Fox series, created by Margaret Nagle, is set in the pediatric ward of a hospital where a group of young people deal with their respective illnesses but this is a show less about death and more about being alive and all the teen angst that we adults have never forgotten.

The cast is led by Oscar- winner Octavia Spencer and Cruz plays Nurse Kenji Gomez-Rejon, who, as he told me recently, shares a long past with Spencer’s Nurse Jackson which we’ll find out about as the series progresses.

What else will we find out about Kenji and how has it been for Cruz working with a cast of young people who are at a similar age as he was when he played Rickie on "MSCL?" Let's find out.

What will we find out about Kenji in the pilot and moving forward?

Wilson Cruz: We’re going to discover how Nurse Jackson and Nurse Kenji know each other. I used to be one of her patients as a youth,I should say, and she helped me through that. We start to understand why he became a nurse and how that now affects his relationship with his patients.

Would you say he has a loyalty to Octavia’s character or just to the whole hospital?

WC: I think there’s a loyalty to Nurse Jackson, absolutely. There’s a shorthand between them. I am the person who is the least scared of the scary bitch that she pretends to be. She’s a scary bitch with a heart of gold but I know that more than anybody. I get to give it right back to her. Their relationship I think is going to end up being almost mother/son, brother/sister, mentor/mentee.

Zoe Levin, Charlie Rowe and Cruz at the recent TCA panel for the show. (Getty)

Safe to assume Kenji is a gay character?

WC: Yes, at my insistence. This is GLAAD at work. We need more gay characters on TV. We need more LGBT characters of color on TV. I won’t spoil the other thing that we need more on TV of because that’s coming later, but there were certain things that I thought that we had a real opportunity. There were certain stories and topics that we could cover through Kenji and Margaret loved these ideas. We’re incorporating it into his history into the show.

From the pilot it looks like we're in the hospital most of the time. Are we in the hospital all the time?

WC: No. We’re going to be doing flashbacks about how people met. We’re going to see some of their family life. We’re going to see their relationship outside of the hospital, from what I’m understanding.

You're going to be shooting in Atlanta. How is that going to change your life because you've been so entrenched with GLAAD these last few years?

WC: We had an event recently over at Fox and I got to introduce Sarah Kate Ellis, our president of GLAAD, to Margaret Nagle and now they’re like fast friends. So, they are committed to making it work for both of us. I’m going to be flying in and out of Atlanta while I’m filming, which will be interesting.

My concern is this, I don't want to be mediocre at either job. I'm committed to being the best at everything that I do. The minute I feel like I'm not able to give 100 percent, then something's going to have to give. Sarah Kate said if that means that I have to go back onto the board of GLAAD and do my work from there that'll make it easier that's a possibility. But I think we're going to try and make this work as long as we possibly can. I just took on a new role at GLAAD recently. I'm the director of entertainment industry partnership so it's a little easier. It's more focused. I get to work directly with the studios and the networks and the agencies on how GLAAD partners with them in order to do our work better and help them to do their work better. I'm committed to doing that work and I'm committed to still being an artist. I'm so, so privileged and lucky that I get to do both. I don't know how that happened but it did.

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How do you think you've changed as an actor from your first roles? You've done a lot since then.

WC: That’s a great question. I think that when we’re young and we’re performing as young people I think it’s very easy for that to become about you and what you’re doing. I think as you get older you start to realize that this work is so much less about you than it really is about your relationship to the person and the people that you’re in the scenes with. That’s been a big a-ha for me in the last 10 years. I’ve started to see it in my work. I still have an element of performance. That’s who I am. I’m a stage actor. I’m a performer. But what I learned is that my ability to connect to the other people and circumstances in the scenes is far more important to the work than the element of performance.

Cruz will juggle the show with his duties at GLAAD. (Getty)

You’re working with a really young cast who are kind of where you were when you started in “My So-Called Life.” Are you already doling out advice or waiting for them to come to you?

WC: I think anybody who knows me knows that I’m not shy. If I feel like I can be of any help to somebody I will stick my nose in it. I don’t mind that. I’m grateful for the people who did that for me. I think of people like Darrel Cummings, who’s the Chief of Staff at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center and has been in my life for over 20 years now and took on a big brother role in my life and guided me through some really tough times. I’m happy to pass on whatever knowledge I think I’ve gained in these last 20 years. I hope that I’ve communicated to them that I’m here for them to be a sounding board. But you know, I also want them to know that I want to help them have a good time through this process. This is going to be fun. We should be having fun. If it’s not fun then we’re doing something wrong. But I’m telling these kids, “don’t go out and buy a new car. Not just yet, boo-boo.”

“Red Band Society” premieres on September 17th on Fox. 

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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