Mike O’Malley Talks Shaping M-Chuck On ‘Survivor’s Remorse’ and Learning From ‘Glee’

Mike O'Malley (center) on set with (l-r) Jessie T Usher, Erica Ash, Tichina Arnold & RonReaco Lee. (Starz)

Remember back when we first met Kurt Hummel on “Glee” and he had to deal with coming out to his father?  The episodes were groundbreaking for their honesty in not only a teenager accepting himself as gay but also having his working class, macho Dad deal with it, too.

Burt Hummel, of course, was played by Mike O’Malley, and his scenes with Chris Colfer (who played Kurt) still stand out as some of the best in the history of the series. O’Malley, of course, may be known best as an actor on “Glee” (he received an Emmy nomination for the role in 2010) and the CBS sitcom “Yes, Dear” but he’s just as accomplished as a writer, having written on shows like “Shameless” as well as numerous plays.

Ash's M-Chuck may find something out about herself in therapy this season. (Starz)

Of course, these days, he’s busy writing the popular Starz series he created, Survivor’s Remorse,” which is currently airing season two and was just renewed for a third season. The half-hour comedy, about the life of a successful basketball player and his family, stars Jessie T. Usher, RonReaco Lee, Tichina Arnold, Mike Epps, Teyonah Parris and Erica Ash as M-Chuck, the lesbian character who wears her sexuality proudly on her sleeve.

I sat down with O’Malley recently to talk about how he shaped M-Chuck and how his role on “Glee” may have helped inform his approach to having a member of the LGBT community as a main character in his series. (You can also check out my recent chat with Erica Ash here.)

Tell me about how you went about shaping M-Chuck in the first place.

Mike O’Malley: She’s a very bold character. I think when I thought about her, I just wanted this amazing sister who had been raised in a tough neighborhood but who was just loved non-judgmentally by her family. And I think part of my own thinking about writing for her had something to do with my experience playing Burt on “Glee.”

I just want M-Chuck to be M-Chuck. I want her to be going through her life, living her life, making mistakes and her pursuing happiness and her defining characteristic not be who she wants to sleep with or the gender she wants to sleep with. But I didn't know that a character such as that is aspirational to many lesbian women. It's like, wow. I wish I was just that comfortable and that out! And [Erica is] such a terrific actress who's so alive and so present and so real and funny that she just brings incredible humanity to the part.

I wanted to show a family that just loves her because, listen, I grew up in New Hampshire. I went to college in the early 80's and when you're in a theatre department where people are a lot more accepting and forward-thinking, you think ahead of the curve just because of their exposure to things. There are just unknowns and people are afraid of unknowns. One of the things that the experience of working on "Glee" taught me is that positive portrayal of gay and lesbian characters on television impacts people's lives. If I was to tell you the amount of people that came up to me and said 'thank you' and, by the way, all I did was say the lines, right? I didn't write the lines.

Mike O'Malley (l) and Chris Colfer (r) at the 2011 GLAAD Media Awards.

And you and Chris have such a great chemistry together on “Glee” that you felt like you were a father and son. 

MOM: Chris is amazing. But I’m a 48‑year‑old guy. I got three kids. I’m going through my life. You don’t realize that there are people who need a road map for how to deal with this. There’s youngsters who need a road map for how to embrace who they feel as if they are. I can teach my kid how to play baseball because I played baseball. I can teach my daughter math badly because I’m bad at math. But Burt’s experience is everyone has to go through their own upbringing and embrace who they are on their own…I think that having M-Chuck be this person who is loved by her family and not judged.

Tell me about M-Chuck's romantic life this season. I have told Erica I want to see M-Chuck fall head over heels in love with somebody and see what that character's like then.

MOM: She does have a relationship with this woman, Jules. She also takes under her wing a young girl who’s become pregnant. But this domestic violence story line kind of carries her. The show is really about the family and how everyone interacts with the family and I think now that we got a second season under our belt, there’s also a lot of mouths to feed. We have these great actors and this great supporting cast and we’ve got a half-hour show.

We do touch on that a couple times. But I think next year we really want to beef up her romantic stuff. There's a little taste of it here. But, again, I don't want it to just be about her and who she wants to have sex with. It's her own kind of journey of not liking herself for all the reasons that people don't like herself, how she embraces that, her resentment towards her mother. She starts to go to therapy.

[iframe http://www.youtube.com/embed/OhU_-zN-R8E 560 340]

I’ve always liked that there isn’t a special gay episode or preaching about what’s right and wrong with the show.

MOM: I think what’s interesting about people in our generation is that they’re realizing as they look back that there’s plenty of people, the teachers, the coaches that they were [gay]. And it’s fine and it’s just letting people be who they are now. That’s what you want to happen. Just let people be who they are.

I feel like if you ever had a gay male character who was black, in some ways it might have to be treated differently.

MOM: I guess Atlanta has a strong gay culture of gay black men [and] it’s a place where they’re accepted. I don’t know. I’m learning about all of this but I do think that Michael Sam, who is obviously extremely courageous. There’s a guy who plays basketball for the University of Massachusetts who came out recently and he’s a starter. It’s hard to write about these subjects without the subject overcoming everything and so you just have to do it deftly. And I think one of the things we want to try to do is just make it so that it’s not an issue.

“Survivor’s Remorse” airs Saturdays at 9:30pm on Starz. 

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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