Morgan Fairchild: Her Gay Love Story

Actress on new film, Meryl stealing movies and her latest role - as fairy godmother

By Chris Azzopardi

It's no stretch really that Morgan Fairchild's latest role in the queer-themed "eCupid" has her trying to connect two gay men. She's been connecting with gay people her whole life, even before the bombshell-with-brains went lesbian for Sandra Bernhard on "Roseanne." In the indie romantic comedy, which premieres for the first time ever during the Detroit Independent Film Festival at 8 p.m. March 11 at the Burton Theatre, the actress stars as a mysteriously wise waitress who knows her gays.

Recently, Fairchild talked about her "eCupid" and "Roseanne" roles, and the progress we've made with LGBT characters. The 61-year-old also chatted about breaking the AIDS stigma in the '80s, why actresses over 40 can't find work (hint: Meryl Streep), and how her Twitter followers get more than they bargain for.

Essentially you play the fairy godmother of the gays in "eCupid."

Yeah, that's my role in life. (Laughs)

How did you get involved in the movie?

They offered it to me, and so I read the script and I thought it was really cute. It's a traditional romantic comedy with two guys instead of a guy and a girl, and I'm just a big supporter of the LGBT community being treated equally - that they have real lives, that they can be cute, that it all doesn't have to be strange and dark stories, or even sexy stories. This one is just a light romantic comedy that could've been done in the '30s.

You make a good point. So many gay films, especially in the '80s and '90s, were about AIDS and, well, AIDS.

Yeah, AIDS - or bathhouses, guys in leather and a lot of S&M. (Laughs) I have so many gay friends and relatives, and I've been involved in the theater since I was 10 - all my friends were always gay. There are a lot of different kinds of people, so I was just happy to see a cute movie that just happens to be gay.

The detective series I did with Chad Allen, "Shock to the System," was the same kind of thing. It's a detective story with a guy who comes home to his lover who's gay. I think it's very important to show a broad spectrum of emotions and lifestyles - just people living their lives.

Are you doing any other gay-themed projects?

I'm getting ready to do one right now called "A Perfect Ending," and it's not exactly gay-themed, but it's sort of. I don't even know if I'm allowed to talk about it yet, but I'll just say it's an interesting story about a woman who comes to terms with her life and has an affair with another woman who isn't gay - ostensibly they're both straight but end up having an affair that becomes very meaningful and changes both of their lives. So to me, that's gay themed, but I don't know if the director actually thinks it is. (Laughs)

It's a really nice script, and that's what you're always looking for - good stories of all kinds being told, whether it's drama or comedy, or a romantic comedy where people just happen to be gay. It's the same way in real life. I mean, so many conservative people would be shocked to know that friends of theirs are gay and just have normal lives.

They always say everyone knows at least one gay person.

God, I know millions! A lot of my fan base has always been gay, and I just grew up around everybody being gay, so I've known since a very early age that the gay and lesbian friends that I had were exactly the same as the others. They went through the same heartache; they had the same hope and aspirations. Everything was the same - except the sexual orientation.

Why do you think your fan base is mostly gay?

Oh, because I play those sort of vampy bitches. I've been told that a lot of guys do me in clubs, so I guess I'm up there with Cher and Liza. (Laughs) Although, I don't sing, so I don't know what they do to imitate me exactly!

When I was on tour with "The Graduate," every opening night party I would have some guy come up to me and say, "I do you in my act, do you want to see?" I'm sort of afraid to see what they do to do me!

Maybe they do Old Navy commercials.

That they could do!

In "eCupid," you play a wise waitress who dishes relationship tips to two gay men. Do people come to you for advice often?

You never tell anyone how to run their life, and I don't feel called upon to jump in and tell people how to do it either unless I'm asked. But even if asked, I think you can only make suggestions and offer your own experience: "You know, when I was younger I got into something like this and here's how I handled it for better or for worse - and it worked out well, or it didn't." If it didn't, I'd advise you not to do it that way! (Laughs)

Good advice! You also have expert gay-dar in the film. Are you good at spotting the gays?

I grew up with gay guys, so I'm pretty good at it. I actually had one friend who was a magazine publisher who was dating all these hot women around L.A. and at one point said, "I have to tell you: I'm gay." I told him I knew, and he said, "How do you know when I didn't know?!" I said, "I don't know. I just knew. I didn't know you didn't know. I thought the women were beards!"

The film also touches on the power of phone apps on our lives.

I don't have any apps, so this was all new to me. I have a very old Samsung that my young friends laugh at.

Tell me you at least text.

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I text. And I'm on Twitter now. I'm a foreign policy nut, so I got on Twitter (@morgfair), and I think some of the people who follow me get a little disappointed because between makeup tips, they're also getting a lot of Libyan meltdown analyses. I've tried to bring it back a bit because some of the people who follow me are foreign policy nuts and then some are just fans who just want hair and makeup tips.

For the last few years, you've been switching back and forth between doing indies and TV shows. Which do you prefer, film or TV?

Oh, you know, I just like acting. I grew up in the theater and started doing film and television a little later on, so I just go back and forth between all mediums. To survive in this business these days - don't forget I'm on the board of two unions, and you see all the numbers - every actor I know is having to do a lot of different mediums just to stay relevant, especially if you're over 40 and you're not a kid breaking into the business.

Is it harder for you to find work now?

Oh yeah - especially for women. There are just fewer parts for women over 40.

Well, look at Meryl Streep.

Well, look at Meryl Streep - she takes every good part for any woman over 40. When was the last time you saw Goldie Hawn or Bette Midler or Barbra Streisand or Susan Sarandon as a lead in a movie? Other than Meryl, there's nobody. If there's a good script, she takes it.

It's surprising how sexist Hollywood still is - and yet it seems that men, like Clint Eastwood, are thriving in the business.

Not so much. Look at Clint Eastwood, but he's the iconic one. But for "Invictus" with Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood directing, I think they had to get Matt Damon to play the other character in order to get it green-lit. I mean, there's an ageism undercurrent even for men in leads.

In the '90s you played Sandra Bernhard's bisexual girlfriend on "Roseanne." How far have we come with gay characters on TV?

We've come a long way since then. That was very breakthrough when I did that, which I wanted it to be. When they offered it to me, I knew that the last person in the world that anybody would see walking through that door after the big buildup of "Sandra has a new girlfriend" would be Morgan Fairchild. That's the last person they'd expect. But I think we've come a long way, and we're getting away from stereotyping and just seeing people as people.

How did that role change your career?

Oh, it didn't really - except that a lot of people then thought I was a lesbian! I even had my lawyer say, "I know you've been with your boyfriend for a lot of years, but has something changed?" (Laughs) But that's how weird Hollywood is. You just have to say, "No, I believe in stepping out and being iconoclast and breaking barriers and opening up the world for people."

It's the reason I took such a very strong stand on AIDS early on. I'm a virus nut, and my hobbies are emerging viruses and epidemiology. So I knew a lot about the virus when Rock Hudson was announced as being sick, and I knew I was the only celebrity they had who could go on "Nightline" and explain what a retrovirus is and how it works and try to take the stigma off the disease and try to get it treated just like a disease and not a "gay disease." I spent a lot of the '80s and '90s doing that.

Do you think the stigma still exists?

No, not nearly like it did. But I spent a lot of time trying to break those barriers down and eventually was joined by other people. When I started doing it, everybody told me not to get involved because it was too controversial, but I knew somebody had to - and I was the only famous face they had who could talk knowledgably about the disease at the time.

What made you passionate about AIDS?

I'm a virus nut. I was following AIDS since '79 or '80 when it was 13 cluster cases of Kaposi's sarcoma in New York and didn't have a name, and it was just these odd anomalies. Then there were 11 cluster cases of Pneumocystis pneumonia in San Francisco and I thought that was odd. These were just little paragraphs in the newspapers, and then it came out that they were all in gay men - and I knew something new was out there.

Did you lose a lot of your friends to the virus?

Oh yeah. I lost a ton of people, and a lot of them I tried to warn that there was something new out there. I had warned one friend of mine who was an actor and sort of closeted, though I knew he was gay. I was very concerned about him because I knew he would do drugs and get drunk and party a lot then go home with anybody. At an AIDS fundraiser I was sponsoring in Beverly Hills, he came over to me and he said, "You were the first person I ever heard say the word AIDS, and I wish I had listened."

You've played many roles on TV, in film and in commercials. What gets you recognized the most?

It depends on the generation. Older people tend to remember the series that I did - the three series I did in the '80s - and some people still remember me from "Search for Tomorrow" from the '70s. Certain generations love the first TV movie I did called "The Initiation of Sarah," and then "Flamingo Road." Younger people tend to love the "Friends" or Old Navy stuff, or even right now with "Chuck." People who go to a lot of theater are big fans of some of the theater work I've done. It just depends on what generation they are from.

Do you still get free fleece?

Oh no, honey, I didn't get free fleece then!

'eCupid'

8 p.m. March 11

Burton Theatre

3420 Cass Ave., Detroit

http://www.detroitiff.com

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