Toni Collette may have earned an Emmy and a Golden Globe for playing a mom with dissociative identity disorder on Showtime’s United States of Tara, but Keir Gilchrist easily won our hearts as Marshall, Tara Gregson’s openly gay teenage son. After his complicated relationship with a Christian classmate last season, Marshall will tangle with three major gay characters when Tara returns March 22 for a second season. Gilchrist, a 17-year-old Canadian whom Collette called “a brilliant young actor” when she spoke to The Advocate last year, gives us an exclusive glimpse into Tara’s new “fruit bowl.”
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: One of actors playing a high school student on 90210 is actually 31, so it’s refreshing to learn that you’re age-appropriate for your role in United States of Tara.
Keir Gilchrist: Yeah, it’s true. I find whenever I work on a show that most of the people who are supposed to be your friends are in their 20s.
So what’s in store for your character in season 2?
Marshall had a big struggle with his mom in season 1, but he made peace with her at the end of the season, so that’s not as big of an issue in the second season. Since Marshall’s not as concerned with his home life, he’s more focused on his life at school. He’s starting to realize that he has to fit into a social group, but he’s not sure what that’s going to be — whether it’s going to be the gay group or something else. Marshall starts hanging out at the “fruit bowl” or the “gable” — the gay table — with the openly gay kids at school. He really hates it because it freaks him out to see gay people who are just so in-your-face about it, so to sort of retaliate he starts going out with a girl. He thinks he could maybe be bisexual.
Doesn’t Marshall also meet a cute boy at the gay table?
Yeah, Lionel, played by Michael Willett. Lionel talks about being gay all the time, but Marshall doesn’t want to be super flamboyant or in-your-face. Basically, Marshall doesn’t want being gay to be his whole personality; he just wants it to be a part of his personality. Being gay is part of Lionel’s everyday life, but Marshall just wants it to be the romantic part. When Marshall decides he wants to get more in touch with his gay side, Lionel convinces Marshall to go cruising in a park.
Was it easy to establish chemistry with Michael Willett?
Yeah, he’s awesome. I was a little freaked out when I first started shooting this season because I’d been on a canoe trip for two weeks, so I literally flew straight from the woods to L.A. to work on the show and meet all these new people. Michael has a very strong personality, but it wasn’t long before we started hanging out, and I’d say we’re pretty good friends now.
Last season Marshall dealt with his schoolboy crush on Jason, the sexually confused son of a pastor. What did Marshall learn from that experience?
He got his heart broken, so he’s definitely more hesitant to put his heart out there. Now he wants to have a relationship that’s open, because he wasn’t allowed to have that before. He doesn’t want another boyfriend who has to hide the fact that he’s with him, which also relates to the fact that he tries to date a girl.
How did you and Andrew Lawrence, who played Jason, view Jason’s sexuality — bisexual, straight but experimenting, or gay but oppressed because of his Christian beliefs?
I never had a conversation with Andrew about it, because we did our own thing — and, to be honest with you, I didn’t really know what I was doing for most of the first season — but my opinion is that Jason was gay but just unable to explore that because of his religious parents.
Aside from his awkward affair with Jason, Marshall’s sexuality was pretty much a non-issue last season. Will his being openly gay create more obstacles or consequences at school this season? After all, the show is set in suburban Kansas.
Yeah. Marshall didn’t really have many friends last season. He’d never kissed a boy before Jason, so that got it out there into the school. Now that the rest of the school knows he’s gay, he’s got to figure out what that means.
Was Andrew your first on-screen kiss?
Definitely one of the first, but it was fine. Everybody was really professional about it on set. Me and Andrew talked through it a little bit before, so it wasn’t a big deal.
There’s a new gay couple living on the Gregson family’s street this season: Ted and Hany, played by Michael Hitchcock and Sammy Sheik. How does that influence Marshall?
Marshall has an interesting relationship with both of them, mainly Ted, because he’s a bit like an older version of Marshall — they even dress sort of similar. Ted’s a cool guy, and he helps shape Marshall’s opinion of what he’d like to be. It’s interesting for Marshall because Ted and Hany are gay, they’re in love, they live in the same house, and they do everything a straight couple would. It’s the first time he’s actually seen that, so it gives him a different view of what kind of relationship he could hope to have at some point.
Buck, Tara’s macho male personality, was the only one of her alter egos who had a problem with Marshall’s sexuality. Will Buck and Marshall butt heads again this season?
I think Buck and Marshall have found a nice place. Marshall’s pretty tight with all the alters at this point.
What kind of response have you gotten from gay viewers about your portrayal of Marshall?
When I did the first season I never really thought about the fact that I was playing an openly gay teenager because it didn’t occur to me as being anything strange. I finished the first season, it came out, and suddenly I was being contacted by all kinds of people — younger, older, a lot of them gay — just telling me how much it meant to them to see somebody like them on TV. So there was definitely more pressure starting the second season because I wanted to do the character justice. Especially for young guys who are openly gay, our show is one of the few places they can see someone else who deals with the same problems they do.
I’ve read that you didn’t really have any gay friends at the beginning of the first season. Have you made any since then?
Yeah, I definitely have more gay friends now. That’s comes from being outside of Toronto, where I live, shooting in L.A., and being in New York, where I just was for three months.
Marshall has very sophisticated tastes in music, film, cuisine, and literature. Has any of that rubbed off on you?
No, not really. I like camping. People are pretty surprised when they realize how different Marshall and I are. Whenever my close friends finally do see the show, they don’t laugh at seeing me playing gay on TV; they laugh at seeing me as Marshall compared to me in real life.
Marshall was conspicuously reading Valley of the Dolls last season. Did you ever actually read it? It’s pretty good stuff.
No, I did not read Valley of the Dolls. But I will if I get a chance, for sure, now that you’ve recommended it.
When you look at the careers of older actors in Hollywood, whose career would you love to have?
I guess Johnny Depp has a pretty good career. I love a lot of parts that actors have played, so I love pieces of their career, but it’s pretty hard to look at an actor’s whole career and go, “That was awesome!” Usually it either ends on a crappy show or with no work at all.
You’ll next be seen as the lead opposite Zach Galifianakis in the film It’s Kind of a Funny Story, but according to IMDb your first television gig was a third-season episode of Queer as Folk.
Yep, I’ve been doing gay TV forever! [Laughs] I was 10, I played some kid, and I think I had two lines. I was still pretty excited about it, but my parents didn’t allow me to watch the whole episode because a few minutes after my scene there’s a scene of two guys having sex. They had to pause it right after my scene so I didn’t see anything.
Advocate.com, March 2010.