John Benjamin Hickey Talks “The Normal Heart” & The End Of “The Big C: hereafter”

The Tony-winner talks The Big C: hereafter and The Normal Heart.


John Benjamin Hickey can wow us in performances on stage, screen and television…or even when he’s getting an actual hickey from The Big C: hereafter co-star and friend Laura Linney, as he did on camera last week on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live.

However, the out performer is also passionate about what his craft and had much to say about the final episodes of The Big C: hereafter miniseries (which kicks off tonight on Showtime) and his hope to be a part of The Normal Heart film for HBO.

TheBacklot: I’m so glad I had tissues nearby watching The Big C: hereafter miniseries because I had to pause more than once and have a good little cry.

John Benjamin Hickey: I know, I’m so proud of this season and I just feel like so much has come full circle and all of the wonderful threads that went outside of the thread line. The show went in so many wonderful crazy directions and how it all kind of lasers back into one this season and that family becoming a stronger better family and really showing up for each other in their own idiosyncratic ways, I just loved getting to do it and doing a mini series. I really feel like in some way that show benefitted from having an hour form as opposed to a half hour.


TBL: Between The Big C: hereafter and The Normal Heart on Broadway, death is a big thing that you’ve worked with a lot. Has it kind of changed your perception of it at all?

JBH: I just did a pilot for the CW, which I’ll know within the next week or two whether it’s going to be picked up called Blink. Yeah, a father in a coma and I have all of these scenes where I’m in a coma but there’s this rich fantasy life that he has, which is extraordinary, really risky. So there’s another show that flirts with mortality and your question is, has it changed my perspective? Well, yeah, I’m no longer afraid of death or things about death.

I feel like strangely enough, especially when I was doing The Normal Heart and The Big C at the same time, a show about terminal cancer and a show about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, first of all, they’re just shows. They’re not real life. They’re just shows so I certainly have my perspective in check but I’ve never felt more alive as an artist, as a human being, I’ve never felt more kind of in love with life. I was doing these things and I do think as a result of how deeply, scary and sad and harrowing that subject matter was, that I was so weirdly happy…you vibrate a little bit more. I certainly felt that way while doing it.

TBL: How was it different shooting these last four episodes knowing that Cathy’s life could be coming to an end but that the show definitely was?

JBH: Knowing that it was going to really focus on Cathy and her illness and [the rest of the characters] all kind of finally realizing that the thing was real…and I’m not saying whether or not it gets her or not…but I think this is the season when everybody begins to accept the fact that Cathy is really sick and as a result it made us as a family of actors and, as that fictional family, come together more than we ever had before. So it was a really good experience to kind of treasure.


TBL: How does Sean react to what Cathy’s going through in these last episodes? I love his reaction across the board with most things big and small.

JBH: It’s like in some way Sean finally finds a center. He’s never really had a center before and he’s been on and off his meds and we all know that he’s been diagnosed with bipolar and manic depression and that’s a real thing. But I think in many ways his ability to focus on his sister and her illness is in some ways that finally gets him something very, very real to focus on and in his own idiosyncratic way, becomes a truly great brother to her. He really enjoys his time with her and he wants to be her taxi service but he hates driving her car so what’s he go out and do? He finds a petty cab! So what it’s still a little cold out. He’s got extra blankets for her.

But they stay true to Sean’s complete left of center way, outside the box way of thinking but it’s no longer selfish. Sean in his own way has been every bit as selfish as everybody else has and their reactions to Cathy and how they handle things on the show and this is a very unselfish season for Sean and Cathy. They really become much closer then they ever have been.

TBL: How is it working with Gabriel Basso because he’s grown up on the show and his character and yours always had a great connection. He was 14 when he started the show!

JBH: I loved watching that kid grow up and not only did he grow up, he grew as an actor as we all did but to watch him go from this kid who just had all of this raw natural talent and really sort of honed his craft over those four years because he was surrounded by such terrific people and Laura has such discipline as does Ollie [Platt, Paul] and Gabby [Sidibe, Andrea] and Phyllis [Somerville, Marlene]…I think really great lessons were imparted to him as to how you best stay employed in this business is not by playing by the rules but by treating it very seriously and he’s an incredibly gifted serious young man who started out the show as a boy and now he’s 18. He’s a man. It’s really been exciting to see and I really think that kid is going to go places. I think he has a very bright future ahead of him.


TBL: When we talked earlier this year, you said you didn’t know if you’d be a part of The Normal Heart film. Any change in that?

JBH: No. I’ve heard that I’m going to be in a different part that I played. Matt Bomer is playing the part I played in New York. He’s a phenomenal choice for it. That’s a great casting. He and Mark Ruffalo, I just think that’s a brilliant pair for those parts of the movie. But I’ve been told that I’m going to be part of it, it’s not official but I would love to be because God knows I love the material, I love Larry [Kramer], I think they’ve gotten a great cast together and it would be great to revisit it from a different perspective.

I’ve also built a relationship with Ryan Murphy because I’ve been doing The New Normal. I just loved him. I love Ryan’s sensibility…talk about somebody who thinks kind of outside the box. I think Ryan’s a really big risk taker and is kind of fearless that way and I think that’s what this as a movie needs.

TBL: I love what you did in The New Normal too.

JBH: I got to play not only a tolerant Catholic priest but an accepting catholic priest. I loved it. I’m so sick of the word tolerate. I like the word accept and this guy was so accepting so it was beautiful to be able to play that.

The Big C: hereafter airs Mondays at 10pm on Showtime.