BWW Interview: Martha Plimpton on Season 2 of THE REAL O'NEALS and the Show's Affect on the Parents of LGBT Youth
For Martha Plimpton going to work on The Real O'Neals is her day job - but for the LGBT youth and their parents all over the world, it's more than just entertainment. In an era post-Glee which brought gender and sexual identity to the forefront of teen minds each week, The Real O'Neals is unique as it's one of the only shows which airs on a major network during primetime where the protagonist is a teenage boy who happens to be gay.
The show is also one of the few that explores, in depth, the relationship between a gay youth and his family. In this week's episode, Kenny hosts a gay Halloween during which his mother, Eileen, sees him kiss a boy for the first time.
"I was actually thinking about this last night because I had received a tweet from a woman - I assume she's a real person - and she had written saying she had gone through a Halloween party with her own gay son, her own Kenny as she put it, and she was thanking me for giving her a template on how to get through the night and for being a better mom" notes Plimpton in response to last week's episode.
"It really moved me. I felt incredible gratitude. I think that not only are we reaching young gay kids but that also we're reaching their parents and helping them navigate."
Plimpton plays Eileen, the devout Catholic mother coming to terms with her son's coming out and her own divorce from her husband.
"Parenting is so difficult, on so many levels. When you haven't grown up in a world in which gay is normal and where it's seen as abnormal, you really have to readjust your thinking in order to not only love your kid the way they need to be loved and supported but also to wake yourself up to a new reality about the acceptance of people for who they are."
"When you're taught your whole life that this was a sin, that this was going to lead to a life of unhappiness, loneliness, and a life outside of god and the church, it's devastating. You've got a child who doesn't fit the mold that (in your mind) needs to be fit."
While her show is having a major impact on the perception of what it means to be gay for people all over the world, for Plimpton it's all about representing the words and intentions of the show writers as best she can.
"I think the writers should really be credited with most of this, to be honest. Because I'm just coming in and doing my job."
"Because so many of our writers are gay and lesbian - I think they're also, and I've certainly never discussed this with them, but I think there's also a part of them that's writing to their parents. "
"They've experienced these things, they've gone through these things. If it turned out well or not, I don't know. But they're writing that relationship, I think, as closely as they can."
Of course, the protagonist being gay and how the family adapts to that is a central theme of the series - but The Real O'Neals truly shines, in my opinion, when that isn't the singular central focus an episode. Kenny is more than just "gay" on the series, and his family is so much more than just a Catholic cliché. At their core the O'Neals are a loving family adapting to a changing environment - and they constructively work together to navigate their new lives.
In next week's episode, when the kids discover how unhappy their parents were during their 18 years of marriage, they stage a celebratory "divorce ceremony" - taking a short departure from focusing mostly on Kenny's coming out process to address some of the other issues in the family dynamic that the show has yet to explore in depth.
"We address in an upcoming episode, I don't think it's aired yet, a recurring joke that goes - not everything's about you being gay, Kenny."
"But at the same time, I don't want to pretend that it's not important either. It's still a big impetus of why the show is here. Gay doesn't go away - and the challenges of people expecting or having unrealistic expectations about themselves or their family don't go away."
Plimpton's character is incredibly layered and complex - Eileen is forced to re-evaluate her views on issues that through her upbringing and religion are ingrained as negative ("perhaps your church has not provided you with adequate support" remarks Plimpton) and yet audiences root for her on a weekly basis, both in her quest to restart her life as a newly single woman and in her relationship with Kenny.
"Eileen is not a bitch! And that's what's really important I think..." concludes Plimpton.
The Real O'Neals might be a situational comedy but at the same time it's a show that is breaking boundaries and redefining the perception of less traditional families as well as what is means to be an LGBT youth in the post-marriage equality era.
"The Real O'Neals" stars Martha Plimpton as Eileen, Jay R. Ferguson as Pat, Noah Galvin as Kenny, Matt Shively as Jimmy, Bebe Wood as Shannon and Mary Hollis Inboden as Aunt Jodi. For more information and to catch up on past episodes, find The Real O'Neals online at http://abc.go.com/shows/the-real-oneals.
About Martha Plimpton:
Plimpton can now be seen starring in ABC's comedy series "The Real O'Neals," about a strong catholic mother and her family who strengthened when the youngest son comes out to his family. Plimpton starred alongside Jay R. Jerguson, Noah Galvin, Matt Shively, Bebe Wood and Mary Hollis Inboden. The second season is set to return in October.Plimpton recently starred in the U.K. premiere of Jon Robin Baitz's acclaimed play, "Other Desert Cities," at The Old Vic in London. Directed by Lindsay Posner, Plimpton plays "Brooke Wyeth" in the new production alongside Sinéad Cusack, Peter Egan, Clare Higgins and Daniel Lapaine. For her work in the television series "Raising Hope," she was nominated for an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series" and twice for a Critics' Choice Television Award for "Best Actress in a Comedy." Her memorable TV guest appearances include "The Good Wife," for which she won 2012 Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in Drama Series; "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," for which she earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series; "Fringe"; and "How to Make it in America." Plimpton has appeared in over 30 films, including "The Goonies," "The Mosquito Coast," "Running on Empty," "Beautiful Girls," "Parenthood," "200 Cigarettes," "Pecker," "Eye of God" and the recent independent feature "Small Town Murder Songs." On stage, Plimpton's work has garnered three consecutive Tony Award nominations. In 2009, she starred alongside Stockard Channing in "Pal Joey" for the Roundabout Theatre Company, garnering her third Tony nomination in as many years, as well as a Drama Desk nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical and a Drama League nomination. In 2008, Plimpton starred in "Top Girls" for the Manhattan Theatre Club and received Tony and Drama Desk nominations, and, in 2007, Plimpton appeared in Tom Stoppard's nine-hour trilogy, "The Coast of Utopia" at Lincoln Center Theater, for which she earned a Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award and Tony nomination. Other appearances on stage include in the New York Philharmonic concert of Stephen Sondheim's Company, opposite Patti LuPone and Stephen Colbert, Shakespeare in the Park's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Shining City," "The False Servant" (Drama League nomination), "HurlyBurly," "Hobson's Choice" (Obie Award, Lortell nomination), and Lincoln Center Theatre's production of William Shakespeare's "Cymbeline." She is also a proud member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble since 1998, where she has appeared in Henrik Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler," Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie," Stephen Jeffries "The Libertine," opposite John Malkovich, and made her directing debut there with "Absolution" in 2001. Plimpton lives in New York City.
Photos Courtesy of ABC.