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Gay Times July 08 - Issue 358

Michael Urie

Best known for his role in Ugly Betty as Marc St James, long-time thespian Michael Urie has finally landed his first feature-length film, WTC View, which follows his character, Eric, though life in New York after 9/11

Ugly Betty changed my life entirely. I was making $200 a week off-off Broadway in a musical about geology. Then I got this job as a series regular. A month later, I’m standing on the stage of the Golden Globe Awards, 20 feet from Jack Nicholson, who’s been my hero since I was eight.
Originally, Wilhelmina was going to fire her assistant every episode and have a new one each week. But we got on right away, Vanessa and I. She was like, “What do you think would be funny here? Come stand closer to me,” and they couldn’t cut around me. We had an idea [for a spin-off], that Wilhelmina comes to run Mode UK. We’d be the fish out of water instead of Betty.
They said, “Don’t play a gay character on TV; it’ll be a disaster for you.” but it’s working out pretty well. I’m more worried about getting typecast as Marc-from-Ugly-Betty than typecast as gay. WTC View is a gay guy, Ugly Betty is a gay guy, but the only thing they have in common is that they’re gay and live in New York. If they’re only gonna let me play gay characters, then I’ll just find the good gay characters and play them all.
They also said, “Once you have some notoriety, you’re set. The offers will start pouring in.” I have been offered ‘gay assistants’. I got offered Carmen Electra’s gay dresser in a movie. As soon as I come on, anyone who knows Ugly Betty will be like, “Oh, the guy from Ugly Betty! Man, I wish I was watching Ugly Betty right now, instead of this bad movie.”
I’ve wanted to be an actor since high school, when I competed in these acting competitions called ‘Forensics’. I was doing a dramatic poetry interpretation, and I said a line a certain way and everyone laughed. Then I thought, “Maybe this line is funny, too,” so I said that in a certain way, and they laughed again. I turned the entire piece into a comedy – and I won. After that, I was like, “Well, I can’t give this up!”
I was in New York when I heard about 9/11. I turned on the TV, about to go to school, and saw that one of the buildings was burning. We all thought it was a fluke – somebody was drunk and accidentally flew their plane into a building, or something. The train I took into the city was above ground and, from the platform, I could see the World Trade Centre. It looked like they were both on fire. So, from my walk from my apartment to the time I got to the train station, the other one had hit. Someone turned to me and said, ‘They got the other one,’ and that was the first time I thought, “Who’s they?”
There was a period after where, if I saw a plane flying low, I’d almost expect it to fly into a building. Who would ever have thought of a plane flying into a building? It’s the most ludicrous thing, but now that’s all I can think about when I see a low-flying plane.
It makes you think very strange things. When the subways were bombed here [London], I was in New York and using the subways became scary. You’d think, “If there’s a bomb here, I hope it’s the guy next to me, so I’m not horribly injured, I’m just dead.” In 9/11, people died in vain because of a couple of madmen, but since then people have continued to die in vain because of madmen. Justice hasn’t been served.
Sometimes things are just funny, like someone falling over, or sitcoms. But nobody watches something that’s just serious. Even King Lear is funny. I guess my mantra is, “Always find the funny – in everything.”

WTC View is out on DVD from July 21st, Peccadillo Pictures

Interview: Bob Henderson

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