Sparks on Fire: He's Angry with the President. He's Tired of Being Misunderstood. and He's Ready for Another Season of Making out with Robert Gant. Queer as Folk Star Hal Sparks Lets Fly with an In-Your-Face Interview

By Stockwell, Anne | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), March 30, 2004 | Go to article overview

Sparks on Fire: He's Angry with the President. He's Tired of Being Misunderstood. and He's Ready for Another Season of Making out with Robert Gant. Queer as Folk Star Hal Sparks Lets Fly with an In-Your-Face Interview


Stockwell, Anne, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Michael Novotny, the protagonist of Showtime's Queer as Folk, is so convincingly mousy that you forget he's fictional--until you meet the man who plays him. When I greet Hal Sparks, he's carrying a Chinese sword. It's his own, not some fake from a prop house. For his Advocate photo shoot, the 34-year old star has just finished whipping the weapon through a dazzling set of the kung fu moves he began to master at age 8. That was before he posed naked with a rainbow flag.

This behavior would be way too cool for Michael. Sure, the mild-mannered Pittsburgh comic-store owner is the secret of down-and-dirty QAFs success--the everyman has anchored the story through three seasons and into a fourth now shooting in Toronto. Amid a presidential campaign that's whipping gay marriage around like a saber, Queer as Folk's message of "us and them" has never seemed more relevant.

For all his virtues, Michael could never play Hal Sparks. The comedian-actor-musician, who was raised in Kentucky before moving to Chicago, is charismatic, decisive, irreverent, sexy, and scary-smart. He is also straight, and right off the bat, when the QAF cast did its first round of press, he ran into a rough patch: Asked in an interview what it was like to kiss another man, Sparks compared it to kissing a dog. Outrage ensued. The comment tapped into gay fears that the hetero ex-host of E!'s cheeky Talk Soup might not be sufficiently respectful of a role on TV's boldest-ever series 'about gay life.

But Sparks hung in and paid his dues. For a time after QAFs debut, the talk shows and game shows where Sparks formerly exercised iris quick wit stopped calling. They didn't want to mention the word "queer" on the air. He says the ostracism never shook him: "I live in such a fearless space in my life, I really don't give a rat's ass what most people think about me."

Besides, he's busy: Weekdays he's shooting long hours on the QAF set; weekends he does stand-up. He's now mixing the debut CD of his heavy metal group, the Hal Sparks Band, for a spring release through his own record label. "I decided a long time ago that I was the president of my own corporation," Sparks says of iris supersaturated schedule. "I'm a blue-collar" actor. I'm in the med school phase of building a career."

Now, with QAFs third season newly available on DVD and its fourth season set to start airing in April, Sparks's schedule and The Advocate have finally come together. Over a seared-tuna salad in a Venice, Calif., restaurant, he gives me a glimpse inside his energetic mind. On the page, Sparks may come across as abrasive; not in person. He radiates benevolent energy and higher purpose: For a comic, the man is disconcertingly spiritual. But Iris stand-up rhythm kicks right in as he starts riffing on homophobes, the Bible, Enron, his future mate, anal sex, and the coma that made him funny.

Let's start with politics. What do you think about Bush's backing a constitutional amendment against gay marriage? I think George Bush is to Christianity what the Enron accountants are to capitalism. They use the laws to their advantage when they can, and when they don't, they break them. Bush is using this to ignite his conservative base to get them to vote. It is absolute posturing. But I think it's going to turn on him.

How so?

The big case they're always malting is, "We're protecting the sanctity of marriage, which has always been between one man and one woman." Well, yeah, tell that to the Mormons, for one. Secondly, if gay marriage hasn't been around till now and marriage is at a 50% divorce rate, obviously gay marriage isn't the problem. Let's say there are gay people who've forced themselves into straight marriages. They're just now getting divorced because they're awakening to who they truly are. You could cut down on the divorce rate by allowing them to be who they are from the start. You want to protect the sanctity of marriage? …

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