David Walton stars as rakishly charming man-child Will Freeman in NBC’s About a Boy — based on the Nick Hornby novel that was made into a Hugh Grant movie — which returns October 14 for a second season. More charming but less childish, the 35-year-old sitcom vet tells us about the boys who can’t take their eyes off of him.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: Let’s get this right out of the way: Did you meet Cher on the set of Burlesque?
David Walton: No. I was about 30 yards from her, but I felt her glow. She’s probably the most famous woman I’ve ever seen, although I think I saw Madonna in a restaurant once.
You played Mark, a gay wedding DJ and Stanley Tucci’s love interest.
Yeah, I was supposed to be this fit, younger dude, but Tucci’s totally ripped! I had to wrap myself up in a towel during our morning-after scene because I felt so embarrassed.
You and Tucci had nice chemistry. Was more of that relationship left on the cutting room floor?
A lot of that little morning-after scene, which I thought was a pretty good scene, was actually improvised, so there may’ve been a couple moments left out. I just remember us having a lot of fun and that Tucci was a fantastic improviser. I was surprised how funny he is.
Did you notice more gay fans after Burlesque became an instant camp cult classic?
I’ll sometimes get that look from guys, but I don’t necessarily know if they’re fans. To be perfectly honest, I’ve gotten attention from gay men for a long time.
Oh, really? What’s up with that?
I don’t know, but it’s flattering. I love being around cool, fun guys, so I’ve always enjoyed talking to gay men. Maybe it’s because I’m an inherent flirt, but it just feels very natural. There’s this club I like in L.A. where a lot of gay guys go. I’ve always gone there with girls, but sometimes you get carried away by the ’80s music and lose your way on the dance floor. Look, I’ve got a wife and two kids. I never want to give a guy the wrong impression or hurt his feelings, but a little mild flirtation is harmless.
What would you do if the flirtation went from mild to wild?
I’d grab the closest girl and give her a nice smooch, I guess. But I’ve never had any problems.
You also played a gay guy named Henry on a Halloween episode of Happy Endings and said, “I can’t wait to see your penis” to a girl mistaken for a drag queen.
What a great pickup line, huh? I’m not sure I told my family to watch that one. My 7-year-old nephew may never have recovered if he’d heard me say that.
You avoided swishy stereotypes and played both gay characters as butch. Was that your choice?
Well, the big mislead on Happy Endings was that he was hetero, but yeah, it was my choice. I have straight married friends that other friends think are gay, and I have gay friends who don’t throw that vibe at all. I know there’s a full range out there, but I feel that gay men who aren’t flamboyant are underrepresented on-screen.
You also starred in the short-lived NBC sitcom Bent, but I was disappointed to learn that it was not a show about gay Brits.
I know. You joke, but there was a bit of confusion when we launched that show in London.
Were you ever hesitant about taking gay roles?
Public perception is obviously important to an actor’s career. When you play a character, especially for a long run on TV, people do think that you are that person, so I get why it’s something an actor might consider. But I’ve taken each gay role that I’ve been offered. I’m two for two and waiting for the third.
What type of gay role would interest you next?
I like playing characters who show one thing on the outside but are actually something very different on the inside, so I’d like to play a gay character that no one knows is gay. I think the hiding of that would be interesting to play. If someone writes a part like that, I’d be really into it. Gay or straight, an interesting life is an interesting life.
Will, your character in About a Boy, has befriended Marcus, a precocious preteen who’s bullied because he’s awkward and unathletic. Speaking as a gay man, it sometimes gives me flashbacks to junior high. Did you anticipate that the show would resonate with the gay audience?
One of my agents is gay, and he and his husband really, truly love the show. He was one of my first friends who really responded to it, so I was aware of that resonance right away. I understand that bullying is a big issue within the gay community.
Have you ever been bullied or felt like an outsider?
I’ve had my feelings hurt. I was sort of a late bloomer, puberty-wise, and I went to a hockey camp up in Prince Edward Island where everyone else in the locker room was a fuckin’ man. I was good at hockey, but I was still high-voiced and awkwardly shy, and people preyed on that. I remember that it was my first day and one of the players in the locker room was like, “Look, that kid has no hair on his legs!” I still remember feeling a chill of shame, and my face turned purple. My older brother was a biker, so I lied and told the locker room that I had shaved my legs because I was a biker, but it backfired horribly. For the rest of the camp, I was the kid who shaves his legs.
Did you get teased for being involved in theater?
Fortunately, I went to a boarding school where it wasn’t uncool to be into a lot of different things. It was a wonderful place. You could be a star athlete and it was still cool to do theater. At least I thought I was still cool.
Was there a gay scene at your boarding school?
Well, there was a lot of hazing way back when I was there, and a lot of hazing tends to be sexual. You’d be a freshman and a senior would jump into your bed buck-naked and start spooning you. You’d be like, “Dude, you’re the captain of the football team. What the fuck is going on?” [Laughs] There were kids I thought might be gay, but no one was out. A good friend of mine, one of my best friends from grades 7 through 12, actually came out much later. We had lost touch, and I just saw him recently. That was interesting. It wasn’t a shock, but I didn’t really see that coming.
What was your introduction to the LGBT community?
I had a pretty conservative, WASP-y family in Boston, and it wasn’t the most open and free-spirited of families, but my mom certainly had gay friends. I didn’t fully comprehend the details of that journey while in high school, but then I went to Brown University, where you basically have a transgender a cappella group singing in the archway on your first day. The LGBT community was a powerful force the minute you walked on that campus.
Did that come as a shock?
It was a non-issue for me. I feel like the younger generations don’t really give a fuck. My dad’s 74 and he’s more — well, you know, everyone’s raised how they’re raised, but there’s just a different mentality there. The older that generation gets, and the more positions of power that the younger generations grow into, the more it’s going to become a non-issue for everyone. I look at all of the wonderful progress we’ve made and I’m incredibly optimistic. Not to say that all the work and effort and fighting can stop, but the snowball’s become an avalanche, and I trust the momentum.
Are there any upcoming LGBT story lines on About a Boy?
Your guess is as good as mine. But they can’t do the show without me, so I can threaten to walk off the set unless we get a nice juicy story line that satisfies you guys.
You may have to. It took executive producer Jason Katims five seasons to introduce a gay subplot on his other current series, Parenthood.
Should we just have a conference call with Jason? Maybe we can pitch an episode where Will decides to play for the other team.
Is it such a stretch that one of Will’s poker buddies would be gay? The show’s set in San Francisco.
I know, right? Let’s spitball some ideas. Let’s say I meet an awesome guy, we’re hanging out all the time, and then he turns out to be in love with me. Hilarity ensues? Obviously we’ll have to flesh it out.
Would Will be into it?
Maybe. I believe that sexuality is on a continuum. I’m never surprised to hear that a straight man has dabbled or that a gay man used to sleep with women, because sexuality’s the most powerful force on earth. With 1 being the strictest hetero and 10 being a gay person who’d vomit thinking about sleeping with the opposite sex, I feel like the vast majority of people lie between 3 and 7.
Where are you?
Right at 20. [Laughs] No, maybe 3.
Does anybody raise your number?
It used to be Tom Cruise, but now my wife and I are both obsessed with Ryan Gosling. He just does cool stuff and seems incredibly curious about the world, and I want to be like that. No, nevermind, scratch Gosling. Tom Brady. The guy’s such a stud. I met him once playing golf and couldn’t stop shaking his hand. I’m like, “Hey, it’s really nice to meet you,” but I made it this weird moment where I wouldn’t look away. He’s a guy who really locks eyes, too, so we had five good seconds of eye lock. Seriously, I’ll never forget it.
The Advocate, October/November 2014 issue; extended online version.