Sean Maher on Marriage and Playing the Villain in “Much Ado” & “Arrow”

Sean Maher2013 was a good year for Sean Maher.

Earlier last year, he was guesting on the sexy online series EastSiders and was also prepping for his change-of-pace role as the villainous Don John in Joss Whedon’s take on Much Ado About Nothing. And watching DOMA and Prop 8 change marriage in California last June also had a profound affect on him.

Much Ado  hit theaters last year and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray but Maher, a regular member of TheBacklot Hot 100, has already moved onto a new role on the hot CW series Arrow, where he’ll appear in the January 15th episode as Mark Scheffer, better known to comic book fans as DC Comics villain Shrapnel. While Maher had to be hush-hush about most of the episode, trust that he’s not on the same side as Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen.

We caught up with him recently to talk about taking on more villainous roles as well as marriage talk and whether he and his long-time partner Paul will be walking down the aisle anytime soon.

TheBackLot: How familiar were you with the Much Ado and with Shakespeare?

Sean Maher:  I was familiar with Shakespeare in regards to doing scene study in college. I had never done a full-length Shakespeare play. So, the thought of doing Shakespeare initially was terrifying. And when Joss reached out, I may have gasped out loud. I was alone in my hotel room and I just thought, ‘How am I going to do this?’

It was extremely terrifying, I think, because it’s Shakespeare, number one. And because it’s Joss, number two. I always want to do right by Joss. And I know that anything that he’s going to take on, especially a passion project such as this, he’s going to bring a hundred percent of himself. And so, in that regards, I think everybody felt like the stakes were raised. And I think that’s why we got it done in twelve days. There was an energy about the set, not just the actors, the crew, craft service, wardrobe, make-up. Everybody was there because it was so exciting.

TBL:  Was there even rehearsal time?

SM: We shot it in twelve days. But, also, we had a lot of time in his house and a lot of us knew his home really well. We spent many times there, many drunken times there so we were very familiar with the ins and outs of his home. And it was the most perfect place to shoot the movie. We would get into the space and he would rehearse and we would work on it. And you know, he said he wouldn’t finish rehearsing until we were a hundred percent comfortable so we really had all the time in the world to try and figure out what we were doing, which is not always the way.  Which is not to say that we had a lot of time. He said we were going to have one take, maybe two. So, don’t f**k it up and know your words. And so, we’re like, ‘All right.’

TBL:  When I’ve talked to actors about period pieces, they say the costume helps but this was Shakespeare language in modern times, including the clothing. Was that a challenge at all?

SM:  Not really. For me, putting on a suit does something to me. And I think because there were these elements of levels of class within the play. I think contemporary or not contemporary, just being in this environment that’s quite elaborate and just sort of the free-flowing nature of the family and the parties and being of that level of that opulence [but] the black and white brought a certain flair to it that I almost couldn’t tell that it was my suit from last year. It could take you a little out of the contemporary into more of a stylized piece. Not necessarily period piece, but a stylized piece that way.

TBL:  I know you love playing the villain. Was it challenging for you to get to that kind of just nastier side because, well, having interviewed you several times, you’re a nice guy!

SM:  I don’t know if it was more challenging. I think, as with any character, it was kind of a similar process. I think being able to play with the language and play with the villainy and play with the manipulation, I had a lot of fun, actually. The first thing I did was try and empathize with him. Like try and figure out what it is…I felt bad for him. I pitied him. And I also loved the way that he wasn’t just straight forwardly bad. He was just so calculating and manipulative and so seemingly earnest to your face, while destroying the wedding. And I loved that about him. He was a very intelligent villain and that was a lot of fun to play. I’m so grateful that Joss thought of me in that light.

Sean Maher Much Ado About Nothing
Don John  (Maher) has some fun time in bed with Conrade (Riki Lindhome)

TBL: You have a love scene in the film with a woman and I remember watching it thinking, ‘Here is an out actor playing a straight role in a love scene.’ Totally convincing for those naysayers out there.

SM:  And it’s so interesting because right after I came out, that was one of the biggest questions that kept coming up. I think maybe even you asked about that [in the 2011 interview]. ‘Do you think that this is going to in any way affect the way that people see you?’ And I was in the midst of pre-production on Much Ado and I couldn’t tell you because we were keeping it secret. I so badly wanted to be like, ‘Well, Joss Whedon doesn’t think so.’ [laughs]

It’s a great scene [and] it was just a big day for me. And I had the best time. And it was funny because it just happened to be that I was in bed with Riki [Lindhome, who plays Conrade] all day, but I kept saying that to Joss, like I was high from doing Shakespeare…I was just like a giddy kid. I was like, ‘I’m so happy that you chose me, thought of me for this. And this is just, like I’m having the best time ever.’ And he’s like, ‘Are you sure you’re gay?’

He said a couple funny things to me. Like, there was another time where I finished that scene with Fran [Kranz, Claudio] and Reed [Diamond, Don Pedro] and it’s pretty heated [and] I’m like vibrating because it’s so exciting and exhilarating. And Joss and I are sitting next to each other just kind of not speaking and he just sort of turns to me and he’s like, ‘You’re such a dick.’ I’m like, ‘Thank you.’ I blushed. I was like, ‘Joss, that means a lot. I’ve never been the dick.’ And he said, ‘What do you mean?’ I was like, ‘You know my career. I’ve never played the dick.’ And he was like, ‘Huh. You should definitely be the dick more.’

TBL: How’s life at home? How’s being a dad? Is marriage in your future?

SM:  It was a very exciting day, June 26th. It was early in the morning and we had actually just put my cat down the day before and I was so devastated and I hadn’t slept all night. I was so tired. And then, I just had the news on and I was sort of watching it unfold before my eyes. And I was kind of in a state of shock. Paul was actually in London so he was out of town. I just turned to Sophia and I was like, ‘Hey, guess what?’ She’s like, ‘What?’ She was doing like an art project and I said, ‘Dadda and Baba can get married now.’ And she was like, ‘Wait. That means I can be the flower girl?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah. That means you can definitely be the flower girl.’ And she stops whatever she’s doing – I think she was doing a drawing on the floor  – and she went to the office and got like a list of paper to start planning this wedding and I was just watching her. I just let her go!

Obviously we want something small. I think I want more of a ceremony than he does but we don’t think we want family flying in for it. But we were thinking we could do a small ceremony here and then go to our respective family’s homes and have big dinner or like celebration.

Joss Whedon, Sean MaherJoss Whedon and Maher at a Much Ado panel at last year’s Wonder Con.

TBL:  Since you guys have been together so long, do either of you think, ‘Why do we need to get married?’ I know my husband and I had those kinds of talks before we were married.

SM:  All the time. My business manager is a gay man and he’s actually very, very active in the gay community in New York City and so we would always defer to him. We’d say, ‘Frank, do we need to get married? Like everyone’s hurrying up and marrying. Is this something?’ He always says if it’s something you guys want to do for yourselves, go for it. But from a business perspective, you’re set. We have a living trust and both our names are on both of the children’s birth certificates.

So, we are married in every sense of the word. I think as Sophia’s getting older and I think as I became more honest with myself, saying, ‘You know what? I want to. I want to get married. I want do it. I want to have a party and say out loud my commitment.’ I think in that regard it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, we’re married even though we’re not officially married.’ Because I do consider him my husband and I do feel married to him. But I would like to do it.

TBL: And we’ll be seeing you on Arrow soon. Anything you can tell me?

SM: I am so grateful to Joss for thinking of me as a villain for Much Ado and I am thrilled to be playing a villain again– never knew it would be so much fun.

Much Ado About Nothing is available anywhere DVDs/Blu-rays are sold. Maher’s episode of Arrow airs Wednesday, January 15th at 8pm on the CW.