Ugly Betty star speaks out
By Seth Reines, July 2019 Issue.
“I’ve never said I
was straight, and I am not saying I’m gay now. I never lie, and I have never
shied away from the topic. I have certainly chosen through my work to do things
that promote the rights of LGBTQ people.”-Michael Urie, 2010.
Flash forward nine years. For his work in
the fight for LGBTQ equality, openly gay Urie was recently honored with the HRC
Visibility Award by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian,
gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer civil rights organization.
HRC President Chad Griffin praised Urie,
“From his iconic role on Ugly Betty to his award-winning portrayal of Arnold
in Torch Song, Michael Urie has captured hearts across America. By using
his transformational talents and global platform to celebrate openness and
authenticity, Michael Urie is bringing greater visibility to the LGBTQ
community and making a real difference for countless people.”
Born Michael Lorenzo Urie in Houston,
Texas, the 39-year-old actor/director/producer began his theatrical career in
high school productions. One of Urie’s Plano Senior High schoolmates, Phoenix
choreographer/dance educator Lauran Stanis reminisced, “What I remember most
about Michael was his group of friends that he had since elementary school.
This group of boys are still friends today and came to see him in Torch Song
on Broadway. These boys, who grew up in conservative, suburban Texas, were
always his fans.”
Urie graduated with Jessica Chastain and
Jess Weixler from The Juilliard School in 2003, the recipient of the John
Houseman prize for excellence in
classical theater and the Laura Pels award
for a career in the theater.
Beginning in 2006, Urie played Marc St.
James, Vanessa Williams’s gay assistant, in the CBS dramedy Ugly Betty.
In the show’s original concept Williams would have a different assistant in
each episode. But Williams loved their
chemistry so much that Urie was signed as a full-time regular midway through
the show’s first season. He and the cast were nominated for Screen Actors Guild
awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 2007
and 2008.Appropriately, gay icon Patti LuPone played Urie’s mother
in one episode.
During the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of
America Strike, Urie hosted TLC’s reality-based series Miss America Reality
Check. When the strike ended, he co-starred in CBS’s short-lived series Partners
(by Will & Grace creators) about two lifelong friends and
business partners — one straight, one gay.
In 2015, Urie became the host of Cocktails
& Classics on Logo TV, where he and a panel of celebrity friends
watched and commented on classic movies while imbibing cocktails named for the
Urie often returned to his theatrical roots
and, in 2009, starred off-Broadway in The Tempermentals, about the
foundation of the early LGBTQ rights organization the Mattachine Society. In
2013, he starred in Buyer & Cellar about a struggling gay LA actor,
recently fired from Disneyland, who lands a job curating the basement of Barbra
Streisand’s Malibu estate. The play won him the 2014 Los Angeles Drama Critics
Circle Award for Solo Performance.
This past Broadway season, Urie starred in
Harvey Fierstein’s 35th anniversary revival of Torch Song directed
by Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project). Filling the iconic role
originated by Fierstein, Urie played Arnold Beckoff, a New York drag queen
with a complicated love life.
Echo: What was it like reinterpreting this iconic gay character?
Urie: When I got to read the whole play for him [Fierstein] for my audition,
I knew that there was no way I could even try to be Harvey or impersonate him
or even emulate him. I knew I had to use myself and find everything about me
that was Arnold and build on that. And I knew that in a read-through I was
really going to have to strap in and take the ride. Strap in, not strap on!
Echo: What do you think Torch Song means at this particular moment
in LGBTQ history?
Urie: The idea that a gay man would be a husband and father today is
commonplace. We see it all the time. It’s legal. There’s lots of gay daddies
and gay mommies taking their kids to school and securing children in various
ways. And of course, marriage is legal for anyone. But we’re still in a society
where great groups, great swathes of the country are being told they don’t
matter. They’re being told in Georgia they can’t vote. Women are being told
that they can’t have control over their bodies. And Muslims are being told they
can’t come back into the country. Everybody has that feeling, like Arnold feels
at the end of the play, where they’re all alone.
Urie, who received critical acclaim and
nightly standing ovations for his portrayal of Arnold, remains committed to Torch
Song, which is scheduled to tour nationally this fall.
Urie: Since we first began the Torch Song journey, I have heard
from people all over … that Arnold’s pride, strength, and frankness helped them
come out, come to terms, and come together. This is something I hope our tour
will do. We need Harvey’s play when our world is suddenly and continually confusing
star and social activist Michael Urie continues to promote the rights of the
LGBTQ community whenever and wherever he can. Just look at him in Christian
Sirano’s gender-bending sensation at the 2019 MET GALA!