Wilson Cruz – Red Band Society
Q) Talk about your insistence on making your character in “Red Band Society” gay and getting that choice approved.
A) I think a little of that was taken out of context. What I meant to say was that it wasn’t very clear if he was gay or not, but it wasn’t like I went in there and said, “He must be gay!” The relationship between Kenji and Nurse Jackson really could lend itself to that. The backstory that Margaret Nagle, the writers and I came up with for Kenji really lent itself to allow for some storytelling that I have been wanting to see on television, as far as telling the story of an LGBT person of color and some stuff I can’t discuss just yet. It was a prime opportunity because of the premise of the show that I thought we really had an opportunity to tell some specific stories with this character. There was no push back and there was no argument. I just really wanted to see this person on TV. Part of it was my work with GLAAD and a lot of it has to do with advocating for more LGBT relationships in film and television. I saw this as an opportunity to do that.
Q) With characters represented on such shows like “Glee,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Fosters,” what do you feel is missing?
A) Those shows obviously have LGBT characters, but they are younger. They are mostly teenagers on the show. “The Fosters” obviously has the two moms, which is awesome. But there is a lack of LGBT people of color that aren’t teenagers. I want to see more African American or Latino characters. We had Naya Rivera, which is the only one I can think of off hand for a while, but we don’t have a regular character on a network show that is really representing that experience. I thought it was a prime opportunity to do that. I feel like I’m talking in riddles, but there are some things I am not allowed to talk about yet it is something I’m really looking forward to doing on “Red Band Society.” I think you will understand it once we get to it. I also loved the idea of this relationship between this African American woman and this Latino man. It’s something we haven’t really seen yet and it is a special relationship that I have had in my life and that feels very authentic to my experience. I’ve already had a blast exploring it and I’m really looking forward to how they are growing that relationship.
Q) Beyond the hospital, what will get to see of Kenji’s personal relationship with Nurse Jackson outside of work?
A) I think we have talked about this, which is Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and Nurse Kenji have known each other for a long time. I was a patient of hers as a teenager and that inspired him to become a nurse in his own right. We will be seeing that in flashbacks and learn who Nurse Jackson is, why she is who she is and why she feels so strongly about these kids. We get to see how she became a nurse and how their relationship really developed.
Q) Will we get to find out where Kenji’s loyalties lie with the staff?
A) We’ll see what delineates Nurse Jackson and Kenji to their work and their relationships with these teenagers from different places. She has more of a maternal instinct and I have more of a “I’ve been where you are and you’re not getting away with anything. I see you!” I’m more of an older sibling relationship with the kids.
Q) What is about FOX that has made “Red Band Society” such a great fit for the network?
A) I think the network has been more willing to take a risk in their storytelling. I think that the demographic of the network really lends itself to this audience. We’re coming into the last season of “Glee” and there is going to be a whole swarm of viewers that will be available to FOX. I think FOX wanted to give them a new show that is different in tone and in theme, but that that they could continue to tune into the network for. I think that was a good fit. And we’ve seen how FOX has really been able to market towards that demographic successfully. I think that’s why it is a good home for the show.
Q) What is your favorite aspect of portraying Kenji?
A) It’s really funny because when you start portraying a character in the beginning it’s still pretty new, I find myself falling in love with the person very much as though I were in a relationship with them. He reveals himself very slowly to me. In the pilot, there isn’t that much of the character. We weren’t very sure where we would take him or who he was going to be. We were just kind of playing with the idea. What I love about him is that as funny and irreverent as he can be, he is also someone you don’t want to mess with. I think there is something about him that people take very seriously and know that he is great at his job, but he comes to it from a warm yet professional point of view. I think that what I love about him is that he can turn on a dime. He’ll be making a joke one second and then an alarm will go off and he is determined to make the right decision, do the right thing and get the job done. I love that he takes his work seriously, but can find a way to have fun while doing it.
Q) What did you add to your role that wasn’t originally scripted for you?
A) There are going to be elements of Kenji’s life that will be revealed as the show progresses that came out of my imagination and that I shared with the writers that I wanted to see the character deal with. I think it’s fair to say and safe to say that Kenji is a survivor and I love playing that aspect of his personality. This is somebody who has fallen and gotten back up. He is somebody who has lived through tough times, but has determined to turn his life around and be successful. I love that. That’s not in the script. In the pilot it was not that, but that is an element of the character that I wanted to bring to it.
Q) What is the most gratifying aspect of being a part of the show and being able to reach out to people through it?
A) I hope that once the show is on the air that people will be inspired by the character. My favorite part has been with Octavia and the cast. You are going to see an incredibly talented group of people that I am really impressed with and they remind me a lot of six kids in the 90’s that I grew up with. I really was moved by them and I feel really lucky to see them go through this experience. Hopefully, I can be a guide to them in a lot of ways. Also, for the most part, I get to do a lot of my scenes with an Oscar award winner. There is something to be said for that experience. It can be humbling and exciting at the same time. I come to work to do my best work. Octavia and I have a really great time doing it. She challenges me in a lot of ways and I think I bring out the best in her as well.
Q) With the age of social media, you will be getting instant fan feedback when “Red Band Society” premieres. How does that make you feel?
A) Everyone will see and I know it is the first time I’m on a series that social media is used as much as it is. I’m an old man, but I can adjust rather quickly to the things today kids are doing. I love our fans and I’m excited to hear from our fans and how they feel about the show. When it comes down to the work, we have to do the work in a vacuum. We have to present it, go in there, do the work and be present for it. The internet can also be really dangerous in a lot of ways. If you are going to believe a lot of the good stuff, you have to then believe all of the bad stuff that comes at you. You really have to keep it in perspective. Of course, I love hearing from the fans. At the same time, as an artist, I have to go in and do the work that I was hired to do and to be honest to the material that is presented to me. That being said, I go on Twitter and Facebook all day. So, I hear about it and I look forward to it. I hope we are getting better about how we communicate in social media. I think there is a tendency because of the fact that it can be anonymous that people say and do things on the internet in social media that they wouldn’t necessarily do if people saw their faces. I’m for people to be a little bit more responsible and sensitive when using social media. It’s one thing to say you didn’t like something, but it is a whole other thing to wish death upon someone because you didn’t like something you saw. I implore people to speak from their hearts, obviously.
Q) Has it been a bit difficult juggling working on the show and with your time representing GLAAD?
A) We’re taking it one day at a time here at GLAAD. I’m available for them. When I’m in Los Angeles, I’m here in the office working on specific projects. We have Spirit Day coming up on October 16, which is huge. Our big San Francisco gala is coming up in a few weeks. I’m here working on that with them. I’m helping with fundraising as well. I don’t necessarily need to be in the office to do a lot of my work. So, I can work form Atlanta as well. We’re taking it one day at a time. When I stop being useful to the organization then I will step back. I never want to be in the way. As long as I feel like I am still being useful to them then I will be there. I have a twenty year relationship with this organization. Even if I were to step off the staff, I intend to be supportive in working with them for one way or another as I have for twenty years because I believe so much in the work that they do. We’re trying to find a way to make it all work. I’ve been really fortunate that FOX, the production company and GLAAD have allowed me the space to figure out what I am able to take on and what I am not. So, we’re figuring out all of that as we go along.
Q) Is there anything else you would like to share with fans about your work with LGBT youth and GLAAD?
A) I want to remind people to wear purple on October 16th, which is Spirit Day this year. It’s a day where we all come together across the country to bring awareness for LGBT youth and bullying. It’s a great time of year to have that conversation when kids have just started back in school. Way too many kid are reporting that they are harassed in school because of being LGBT. So, on October 16th this is really an opportunity for everyone to show their support. We have everyone from the White House to the Las Vegas Strip turn purple and this year we want it to be bigger than ever. I implore people to take part in that!