We seem to be entering a new era in television where having a gay character on your show doesn’t mean that that character is relegated to a storyline that is tied to his or her gay ness or making a statement about the LGBT community.
In many ways, we're getting exactly what we've always wanted, which is to exist in the world portrayed in our television shows just as we exist in the real world. We're not all defined by our being gay and now we're seeing gay characters on television treated the same way.
Take the addition of Joey Gutierrez on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Introduced in the first episode of the show’s current season, the way audience members found out the character, played by Juan Pablo Raba (who was also seen this year in Netflix’s “Narcos” series), was not only a new inhuman who didn’t yet know how to control his new powers but that he was also gay.
Since the start of the season, Joey has been working on controlling his powers and, as he stated in last week’s episode, he could be a real asset to S.H.I.E.L.D.
I talked to Raba recently about playing the character and while he wasn’t able to give us too much of a clue of what is coming for Joey, he did talk about his first time playing a gay character.
So it’s safe to say you knew Joey was a gay character when you first came in for the role?
Juan Pablo Raba: Yeah, of course. The day that we closed negotiations, they told me it was a gay character and I said, “That’s cool. That’s great.” In the audition, they are very careful with the material, it’s very sensitive. So I did the audition and there wasn’t any information anyway.
Have you played a gay character before?
JPR: No, I haven’t. It’s the first time.
We do find out Joey just got of a relationship but did you need to know a lot about his backstory even if it was more than the audience would know?
JPR: Well, actually, here’s the deal. It’s no big deal. It’s not like I’m going to have to create a character around him being gay or have that be the way he behaves. It’s just a regular character, a regular Joe, Joey, and that’s the way this whole character is going to happen. This could happen to anybody.
But it's fun because I think for [Joey], it's like starting a new life so it's one of those characters where you don't need to make a backstory because he's going to have to behave in a new way anyway. [Joey is] discovering all these powers and you're going to have to leave your life behind so you're creating a new persona. You're just meeting the character as the story develops.
I loved the moment with Chloe Bennett in your first episode where Joey says his inhuman secret is akin to when he was in the closet about being gay. What did you think when you read that exchange?
JPR: I really thought it was beautiful and I really wanted to be emotional in that part. I have a lot of friends who were really miserable until they literally came out to their parents and to their family and I know how they were suffering and how difficult for them it was so I wanted it to be emotional.
Chloe was amazing. She was such a good supporter and she really helped me understand a lot about the emotional part of what it means to lose your life. So I think we really connected in that scene where she said 'We're inhumans, ya know?' She was really deep about it and I had the feeling that this guy is really losing his whole world. It's a life that he worked so hard to have and feel comfortable with but now everything has changed. So that scene I wanted it to be really emotional and to be honest with her.
Here’s the scene Raba was talking about…
I always think when you're using your powers, it must be like a kid playing. How was it to act out those scenes?
JPR: It’s like playing! It’s like being a kid and that’s the core of acting, right? What we do is we play and we play with each other and we make believe and it’s amazing because I remember being a kid and imagining that I could fly and that I had powers. And then you add the technique where you have to act like you’re scared and you don’t know what’s going on and everything is falling apart and it’s really exciting.
How had it been doing scenes with Adrienne Palicki and Chloe Bennett and just being in the world of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”?
JPR: It’s absolutely surreal. It’s one of those things that you dream as a kid. It’s a dream come true. I knew about the show but I wasn’t really watching it but then when I got cast I binge watched all the episodes and now I love it! I think it’s amazing…I think it’s one of those jobs where you’re constantly learning and meeting new people and, if you’re lucky enough and you work hard, you get to know your audience and it’s very exciting and very cool to be with these guys. They’re a great group and they’re funny and love what they’re doing so I’ve really enjoyed it and they’ve been very supportive all the time.
It's nice that we're at a time where you can have a gay character and it's not what the role is all about. You also don't have to worry about it as an actor and it not being a stigma or having to be cautious about doing a gay role. What are your thoughts on that?
JPR: Look, I grew up in a very normal household where there was no question about sexuality or preferences, so to speak. I was raised to always be a free person and to defend freedom of other persons and friends and family members. It would never have been an issue for me and I never would’ve thought that that would be something that would affect my career. I would always see it as an experience and an experience to grow as an actor and learn more about yourself.
I think that's what we do as actors. We think we know a lot about our character but then once we really get to play it that's when we find out about other people and compassion. It's great to be playing it now at this place and time for the community. Gay marriage is being accepted all over the world. It's great to be a gay character in the Marvel universe. It's really an honor.
“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs Tuesdays at 8pm on ABC.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.