Tuc Watkins is a veteran of One Life to Live and Desperate Housewives, but when he opened up last month on Marie Osmond’s Hallmark Channel talk show about being a gay, single surrogate parent, his candor contained neither of those series’ signature melodrama. The 46-year-old actor discussed the joy and stress of fathering twins Catchen and Curtis, and now that he’s back as the nutty David Vickers on One Life to Live in its Hulu version, he has plenty to be happy and very, very stressed about.
We caught up with Watkins to discuss why he decided to come out, the challenges of being a gay actor, and why he’s so obsessed with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
TheBacklot: You opened up about single gay parenthood on Marie Osmond’s talk show. Was it strange to discuss such a personal issue with a woman you probably grew up watching on TV?
Tuc Watkins: I remember the three shows that we wanted to watch as a kid were The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Donny and Marie. I really was a fan. I remember going to Denise Allen’s sixth grade rollerskating party and giving her Donny and Marie’s album, which was like giving her pure gold. So I don’t know if you could say I grew up with her, but I remember loving her show. Getting to meet her was also a real plus.
Were you nervous about the show at all? I take it there was some level of trepidation.
I don’t know. It wasn’t so much trepidation, really. Here’s what I think it is: I think some actors are genuinely private people. When straight actors are private, it’s viewed as integrity. When gay actors are private, it’s viewed as shame. So there’s a double standard here that I think will eventually be erased with time. But when I became a dad, all I wanted to talk about was my kids, and there’s no way to talk about my kids without talking about my whole story, which involved me being a single gay guy, meeting a wonderful surrogate, and telling the whole story. So yeah, I guess it was a pretty good format, but I think any format is good. I’m just kind of excited to be a dad and talk about it.
Do you wish more gay actors came out? Do you think it matters?
Well, what I think matters is equality, and I do think that we have made great strides in equality. I think that there are now openly gay congresspeople, actors, and now a professional athlete in Jason Collins, who stole a little bit of my thunder. [Laughs.] I think it does set an example, and not just for kids — because I think we’re all concerned about our kids and America’s youth — but for other people in general to be able to say who they are in an environment that is more welcoming. I do think America is becoming more welcoming, but there’s still a good portion of our country that is hostile towards gay people. I think with more education, understanding and visibility, we will become a more inclusive nation. I think there’s some statistic that, like, 81% of people under 30 are pro-gay marriage. So that speaks volumes. The other thing is, I think it’s genuinely cool to like the gay kid in school. There are still people out there who aren’t thinking necessarily as progressively as we like them to, but they’re going to find themselves on the wrong side of history, and nobody wants to be on the wrong side of history.
To play devil’s advocate regarding what you said about the straight “integrity” vs. gay “shame” perception: Straight actors don’t ever actively hide anything. They would never hide their wedding ring, and if they were married to a straight woman, it’s a public record. When gay public figures avoid talking about their sexuality, they’re taking advantage of the fact that they can hide more than a straight person can, you know? That’s where the “shame” perception comes from.
Right, but I think actors want to be ciphers in a way. We don’t want you to know very much about us. You don’t hear Matt Damon, Emma Thompson, or Jeremy Renner talk about themselves, and they get to play this wide range of parts, which is what actors want to do. But I think that the more that you know about me as a person, the more difficult it is to believe the parts that I play. It’s just human nature. You know, so when you say “I’m straight” or “I’m gay,” or “I’m from Missouri, so now you won’t believe my Irish accent,” it does all fall into that category. But I do think for a long time Hollywood was afraid to cast gay people in straight roles, because so much of what America does, is they look at the actors as celebrities as opposed to actors. People who want to be actors kind of want to hide behind their characters. So it has been sort of slippery slope for a long time, but I think we have a lot of examples now where that is genuinely changing. Even in just the last year, there has been a big shift in perception of who gay people are and what they’re like. I think it’s all moving for the better.
But there are still times when we hear people like Bret Easton Ellis claim that Matthew Bomer can’t play the protagonist in Fifty Shades of Grey because he’s openly gay.
It’s tough. We look at Dennis Franz and we think that guy can only play a cop. It’s human nature that if we’ve seen somebody play a certain kind of character for years, it’s hard to watch them in another role if we know something personal about an actor. We can’t help but have that color what we’re watching on screen, but I do think that’s changing. I think we are going to see, with more acceptance and understanding and inclusion of gay people in our culture, more gay people playing and enjoying the wide variety of roles that straight actors get to play.
All Photos: Clinton Gaughran for TheBacklot
You also came out as single. What’s been the response to that?
Well, I haven’t received any flowers.
Which is too bad. I know you were in this for flowers.
I think the point I was making there was that on Desperate Housewives, I was a married man trying to adopt, and in real life I was a single gay man and having surrogacy, so I was trying to parallel. But I have not received any life-changing proposals
I remember you from Showtime’s underrated Beggars and Choosers. Your character was pretty dark, as I recall. Do you miss playing roles like that?
Well, Malcolm the guy that I played — I think he was a closeted gay guy who was scared of some shadow. What was great about working on that show was it was a reflection of Hollywood, because it was basically the movie Network as a TV series.
Coming back to One Life to Live, was it exhausting initially to resume a character you might’ve thought you were done with?
No, and here’s why: I first started playing the part in 1994, and then I was imprisoned in Morocco for seven years, I was buried alive for awhile, and I was away being a Hindu Buddhist monk for a while. So I’ve naturally taken breaks and gone away. I was surprised that the show came back, though. I really didn’t think the show would be resurrected, but it’s the most fun character I’ve ever gotten to play because it’s my favorite type of character — an idiot who thinks he’s a genius. I model a lot of that after Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda. There’s a little bit of John Cleese in him, a little bit of Inspector Clouseau in him. Since it’s my favorite kind of character to watch, I love to get to play it. It’s really fun to play the same character over time. It’s nice to get to do different projects, but it’s also great to work with the same people in this sort of a repertory company on and off for 20 years. In any incarnation that they One Life to Live brings back David Vickers, I would absolutely go do it.
In that Marie clip, you cop to an extreme love of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Which characters do you relate to? You can’t choose Willy, by the way.
Well, it’s funny you say that because I think between Augustus Gloop, Mike Teevee, Violet Beauregarde, Veruca Salt, and Charlie Bucket, I never really identified with any of the characters. Charlie is even a little wishy-washy, you know? But it’s just the reason that I like it so much is when I was a kid, you like it for face value. As you grow up, you realize there’s all these different layers. It’s one of my favorite movies to quote. If I had to choose, I’d go with Slugworth. Arthur Slugworth. No one knows his first name, but it’s Arthur.
You’ve said that as long as you’ve known you were gay, you’ve also known you were going to be a parent. How did you know?
It’s not something that I ever considered; it’s just something that I knew, sort of like you know that you like mashed potatoes and you know that your favorite color is orange. I just knew that I was going to be a dad one day, and when I was younger I didn’t know how I was going to be a dad. Because I knew I was gay, and I didn’t intend to get involved in a relationship that was not true. I just knew when the time came, I would figure it out. And I started thinking about itas I got into my thirties, and it seemed like adoption was probably going to be around the route. Maybe fostering. Then when I learned more about surrogacy, I thought, “This is the right path for me.” It’s an amazing feeling to see yourself in your own children, and there is a certain amount of vanity to that, but it is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Your daughter’s name is Catchen, which is adorable. And I hear it’s somehow To Kill A Mockingbird-inspired?
My sister suggested the name because she was considering it for her daughter seven years ago, and I thought a little girl name “Catch” sounded so sweet, and it did remind me of Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird without being so on the nose. Because if you name yourself Scout, everyone knows it’s from To Kill A Mockingbird. Well, at least those who are literate.