June 2017 Cover Story: Superhero Envy And The Joy Of Being Out
Move over, Deadpool: Luke Macfarlane wouldn’t mind playing a gay, caped crusader
By Nelson Branco
It’s Pride month—and London, Ont., native Luke Macfarlane is proud of himself for managing to be out as an actor in Hollywood and still manage to work steadily for almost a decade. Coming out in an interview with The Globe and Mail in 2008, Macfarlane wasn’t sure at the time of how news of his sexuality would impact his career—especially during that recession-plagued era.
The Lester B. Pearson School for the Arts and Julliard graduate said at the time, “I don’t know what will happen professionally.… That is the fear, but I guess I can’t really be concerned about what will happen because it’s my truth. There is this desire in L.A. to wonder who you are, and what’s been blaring for me for the last three years is how can I be most authentic to myself.”
Macfarlane first caught critics’ attention with his performance in FX’s gritty US army series Over There, which was produced by NYPD Blue/L.A. Law showrunner Steven Bochco and focused on the first tour in Iraq. Then came what was arguably his breakout role in ABC’s drama Brothers & Sisters, where he played popular Scotty Wandell, husband to Kevin Walker (played by Matthew Rhys). Since then, the former singer and songwriter has worked on Canadian series Satisfaction as well as NBC’s The Night Shift and PBS’s Mercy Street.
Today, he’s sporting armour as D’avin Jaqobis on Space’s sci-fi fantasy series Killjoys, which returns for a third season on June 30 at 8 pm. Killjoys is described as a “fast-paced space adventure about a trio of hard-living, party-loving bounty hunters working for the R.A.C. (Recovery and Apprehension Coalition).”
IN caught up with the 37-year-old hunk, who has been romantically linked to actors like Wentworth Miller, to chat about playing a gay superhero one day, whether Pride needs to reinvent itself and why he thinks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the world’s moral compass in these uncertain, chaotic times.
For those who haven’t watched Killjoys, what can they expect?
It takes place in an unspecified place and future. The trio of bounty hunters are played by me, Aaron Ashmore and Hannah John-Kamen. It’s an unlikely, future family drama. Aaron plays my brother and my character has a thing for his best friend, played by Hannah. It has a lot of action and comedy.
Why is there such a fascination with sci-fi and superhero content at the moment?
My cynical answer is…especially looking at the film industry today, because there’s a lot of rebooting of old narrative.… I think it’s due to studios being scared that no one will come to see a new story, so they rely on projects with pre-existing fan bases. So many of the ’80s audiences now have young families, so it’s a good time to reintroduce a proven, successful franchise to a new generation via their parent, who also gets an update to watch. One of the reasons I’m really proud of our show is because it’s original material. But my other answer is that I think people need right now to escape to a world they can create in their own imagination, given the state of everything going on today in politics.
Just about every actor and their stepmother has a superhero franchise. Would you be up for sporting some tights in your own superhero film in the future?
Omigod, of course I would. My agent would kill if I didn’t do that. Of course, you need to find the right superhero who matches the deeper aspect of your personality. So who would my superhero be? He’d probably an architecture fanatic…
One who likes dudes? Other than bisexual-leaning Deadpool, we don’t have any gay superheroes on the big screen.
That is so true. But you know what? Things are changing so rapidly so I could see it happening, for sure. I’d be down.
Your body is a machine these days. What did you do with that lovely tall and lean build we all loved? You could definitely fill out a superhero costume today.
[Laughs] Awww… I’ve always been very schizophrenic. I don’t always know what I want to do professionally. On Brothers & Sisters, it was a huge and successful TV series. I loved playing Scotty. That show probably got me the most recognition in my career. When the show was wrapping up, I remember saying, ‘Oh no. I have to move on to something new. I need to reinvent myself. I need to think about the next stage.’ So that’s when I decided to transform my body. When I was doing the Broadway play, The Normal Heart, I was working out all the time. I remember when I was backstage in between shows, the director would say, ‘Luke, you have to stop working out! You look way too healthy to play an HIV patient in the 1980s!’ I did want to do a lot of action and adventure films and TV, so that’s why Killjoys is a perfect fit for me.
What are you doing at the gym?
I train almost every single day. I usually go to the gym before work. I find it makes my day so much easier if I have already worked out. I really enjoy the rowing machine when I’m not doing weights.
Luke Macfarlane as D’avin Jaqobis on the Space television science fiction series, Killjoys
How do you deal with being a sex symbol? Some in the industry worry you can’t be an authentic sex symbol and be out. Researching your career, I read a quote from a director who didn’t want to cast you as a gay character because you come off too heterosexual!
First of all, who knows what being a sex symbol is? It just means getting more attention if you look a certain way. As far as identity and how I want to be perceived, I really feel like I just want to be known for my work and that I want to keep working. The perception of being gay or straight, I don’t know, I think we’re in a new era in life where it doesn’t matter as much as it did before, but I could be totally wrong.
You came out in 2008. Had you stayed in the closet, imagine how much more difficult these past nine years would have been. Any advice you would have given yourself back then?
I would have told myself, especially when I was younger, that I should be easier on myself. I remember my first professional TV show and I wasn’t as open with everybody about myself as I could have been. Yes, it was a different time back then, but you always have to give people the autonomy to react in their own way to our own truths.
This year the Toronto Police are banned from marching or displaying any booths at this year’s Pride Toronto celebrations, after a motion from Black Lives Matter–Toronto ‘passed.’ Thoughts?
I won’t be here for Toronto’s Pride. I’m not going to say anything about the issue but I do feel like we have to be inclusive with ideas and people—and those who want to march with our community should be allowed to.
Do you think Pride needs to be reinvented? It’s more relevant
than ever in the US given this current White House administration.
I do think Pride is still relevant. Acts of gathering are still powerful, as we saw with the Women’s March. Pride and Pride parades are two very different things. There has been so much discussion about slacktivism and what we really gain from retweeting/tweeting causes, but I think the act of gathering publicly is still a very profound and powerful experience—as we’re seeing all over the world. The commercialism at Pride? Listen, I remember being at a New York Pride parade and I saw these go-go Altoid boys in red Speedos. I was like, ‘Oh, what does this have to do with Pride? And that’s a straight trainer from Equinox gym on that float!’ But I don’t know…maybe that’s how you get people out these days, with the lure of Speedos.
Do you like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau?
I think he’s a moral compass of the Western world. I can say I’m deeply proud of his commitment to immigrants and refugees. I think he’s important not only to Canada but also to the rest of the world.
Narratively, Brothers & Sisters was kind of ahead of its time, but its ratings weren’t on fire. It aired before streaming services tackled heavier material. While it could have continued a few more seasons, I consider the show a success. Do you think the show’s lifespan was cut too short?
It’s hard to tell. We did have a big cast and we had a lot of big names. It was hard to keep everyone happy. I feel particularly blessed in that role because Matthew and I got along so well. You can tell the writers liked writing for us so we always had a good storyline. I don’t think a lot of the other actors felt that way. I would have loved to have seen Scotty and Kevin go on but others felt we had told all the story we could.
Do you still see Matthew? [Sarcastically] I hear he’s doing pretty badly in his career right now…
[Laughs] No, he’s doing really well. I haven’t seen him in a while but we do exchange texts occasionally.
It must be a good time to be in Canada, as the US seems to be imploding politically.
It’s great. I got here to Toronto a couple of weeks after Christmas, but I’ll be spending the summer in L.A. It’s nice to be here because I have a lot of pride in Canada. I will say Canadians really love talking about Americans, though! I’m constantly being asked what I think about Trump. During the past two years, I’ve been flying down to Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, to film a PBS series called Merchant Street about the Civil War—which couldn’t be a more American experience—but then I would fly back to Toronto, so I do have one foot in each country. It’s a good balance.
Are you single these days? Not sure if you want to share your romantic status.
Yeah, I’d rather not. I don’t like to talk about my personal life in interviews.
Hard-hitting question time: boxers or briefs? Or a hybrid?
[Laughs] I have to tell you I wear all types of underwear. It depends on the workout of the day.
NELSON BRANCO is the editor of 24 Hours Toronto newspaper. As a contributing editor, he’s penned pieces for magazines like Hello Canada, People, TV Guide and online sites like Huffington Post. He’s also worked as a TV producer for Breakfast TV, The Marilyn Denis Show, CTV News and Sun News Network. You can follow him at @nelliebranco.