As if ABC's drama Brothers & Sisters’ wasn’t groundbreaking enough in giving viewers Kevin Walker (Matthew Rhys), a complicated gay character with an actual love life, during the show’s first season finale we learned that his Uncle Saul had a secret gay past of his own. Saul, played by Ron Rifkin, may well be the first mature gay man to come out on a network television drama. It's sure to be a fascinating and — if the first season is any indication — well-told story.
We recently spoke to Rifkin about his thoughts on playing such a challenging character, homophobia, and whether Kevin should get back together with Scotty. Oh, and he even compares Saul with Arvin Sloane, the villain he played for five seasons on Alias.
AfterElton: Thanks so much for talking to us, Ron.
Ron Rifkin: My pleasure.
AE: We get the sense that maybe Uncle Saul wasn't originally envisioned as a closeted gay character. At what point last season were you approached with this new twist in Saul's back story?
RR: How do you get the sense that he wasn't thought of initially as a closeted character?
AE: It just seemed to a lot of us that it was something that developed as the show went on. Some have thought maybe he was meant to be gay from the beginning, but many of us were caught by surprise. Was he always intended to be gay?
RR: You mean there were people who thought Saul might be gay? I'll tell you what's interesting about doing a series. On Alias, the first two years, there was a whole website devoted to the idea that Sloane might be Sydney's father. That took me totally by surprise. Whatever we think about our characters, there are people out there who think totally different things.
When Brothers & Sisters first started, I think the series was sort of an unformed child, and as time goes on, each child begins to find itself. I don't know that Saul really was defined that explicitly after the first ten or twelve episodes, and I think the writers were looking for something to make him more textured and more real and interesting and challenging — for the viewers and for me.
At some point, Robbie and David approached me about it. They had been thinking about it. I was very excited about the possibility of playing an older guy whose life had been a certain way and had lived in a certain time, and even though his family was obviously very close, and very intense, and very passionate, and loved and supported each other, he just had a secret.
AF: Given the Walker's acceptance of Kevin, why did Saul stay in the closet for so long? Is there a back-story there?
RR: I don't know enough about that yet, but I think there was a generation that just found that very difficult. We met their mother Ida very briefly, and I think that's going to be explored. We really haven't dealt with it yet, but we're about to in episode 7. What do you think? Why would somebody in their middle 60s keep that a secret?
AF: I think, as you said, that it's a generational thing. This is a very unique role, especially for network television. You rarely see mature gay men, and it's even rarer to get a coming out story for men that age, yet it's something that does happen.
RR: And I think, not to sound cocky about it, but it's an important thing to talk about. I don't think we've seen that in this kind of show and that's what excited the network and Robbie and David and Greg and I. I think they really wanted to talk about it.
AE: Have you done any research for the role at all?
RR: I have a tendency not to do much research. I don't think I need to do research. I live in a world that's very open and very filled with all different kinds of people. I think actors and artists in general live in a different kind of world. Well, you understand that.
AE: B&S certainly hasn't shied away from giving Kevin (played by Matthew Rhys) an active love life. Will there be any romance for Saul?
RR: I certainly hope so.
AE: If you could cast a male love interest for Saul, who would it be?
RR: Oh God, that's a hard one. I hadn't thought about that. I just hope it's not going to be conventional and have some young, pretty guy. I think Saul is more than that. Saul actually according to the last episode of last season, he did have somebody.
AE: That would be Milo Peterman, played by Michael Nouri.
RR: Right. He does come back, by the way.
AE: At this point into Season 2, do you know exactly what happened between your character and Milo Peterman all those years ago?
RR: [laughs] I wish I did! There's a scene in the third or fourth episode where we meet again and we do have some communication with each other, but I think it's a struggle for Saul. He's a very loving guy. All he has is his family. He loves those kids. I think he's confronting issues that have plagued him and, hopefully, he'll handle it with grace. And hopefully the world around him, that is to say his family, will embrace him for it.
AE: Do you think Saul will turn to Kevin for advice?
RR: Oh, I think there will be something between them. I think if I were a young man having come out to my family then find out I have an uncle who might be gay, I'd have issues with that. I'd either be excited about the possibility, if I were Kevin, or angry that he hadn't [come out]. As far as Saul is concerned, it feels like it might be problematic because he kept it a secret for so long.