Laura Innes, who plays Dr. Kerry Weaver on the hit NBC hospital drama ER, says that she was intrigued when producers proposed having her character come out of the closet as a Lesbian.
She first heard about the idea last May, she says, after the last show of the season wrapped, when several of the producers asked to speak with her about the character.
Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes, right) stops to talk to her girlfriend (Elizabeth Mitchell) on ER (Thursday nights at 10 p.m. on NBC.) (courtesy Warner Bros. Television)
"They were sort of beating around the bush about it, and I said 'So she's going to be Gay? Wow. What's going to happen?'" she says, adding, "They weren't going to do this unless I was entirely behind it."
Innes says she thought the idea was interesting and supported the development.
"What we try to do first and foremost are stories that are interesting and entertaining," she says. "And personally, I'm interested in issues of tolerance."
She did some research by talking with Lesbian doctors at a San Francisco hospital, who confirmed that they faced prejudice in the medical community. She also read a collection of coming-out stories and memoirs from married women who had come out later in life.
Dr. Weaver, in her first relationship with another woman, has taken a glacially slow pace in coming out to herself, and has told almost no other character on the show. After first denying her attraction, she went on several dates with Dr. Kim Legaspi (Elizabeth Mitchell). Even though she is seeing a woman, Weaver has failed to speak up when she overhears homophobic comments among colleagues. Even when Legaspi was accused of sexually harassing a teenage Lesbian patient, Weaver refused to come to her defense for fear of outing herself.
"To me, that felt very authentic," says Innes. "For someone who, at this stage of their life is just finding this out about themselves, it's a very slow sort of process -- having the feelings, making overtures to another person, seeing how those are received, defining yourself privately, defining yourself publicly.
"And," she adds, "it's how you work on a serial TV show -- you kind of dole things out."
Innes says that she would like the show to explore some of the problems that same-sex couples deal with, including the difficulty in getting society to recognize even long-term relationships.
"I hope we continue to explore the issue in a way that feels honest," she says. "I think we do a very mainstream show, and we're doing a story that is kind of new for a lot of our watchers."
Innes says that despite the controversial topic, she has not gotten any negative reaction from fans.
"I personally have gotten a lot of very positive mail from people who are very happy to have their stories shown on television," she says. "I know that there are people who are upset -- or I imagine there are -- but I haven't heard from them."
ER executives are wary of revealing any information about upcoming episodes, but Innes says her character's orientation will feature more prominently in the next few weeks.
"Basically, Legaspi comes back to the hospital, and again I'm put in this position as to whether or not I'm going to defend her -- and I do," she reveals. "There's more meat to the story."
"I've really enjoyed how it's progressed," Innes summarizes. "For this character it's interesting to really pull the rug out from under her, because she's so in control … and the actor who plays Legaspi is wonderful, and that makes it fun."
The Case of Dr. Kerry Weaver
by Karen Ocamb
Laura Innes laughs easily and comfortably. There's no way she's going to divulge what happens next to her character on the hit NBC show ER, no matter how hard a Lesbian News reporter presses. But, the reporter insists, the last we saw of Dr. Kerry Weaver, she chose the cowardice of the closet and betrayed her new psychiatrist girlfriend during a professional crisis. Is the lesbian story line just another plot device to boost ratings?
"This is the tricky part of talking," Innes says in a recent phone interview during her lunch break from directing an upcoming episode of the show. "I can't give away what happens. The story line was done in a way that's organic and was doled out very slowly in little bites. We think that's authentic for this character, that her feelings are very deeply buried or she never felt them. But the story line is not over. Elizabeth (Mitchell, who plays lesbian psychiatrist Dr. Kim Legaspi) is coming back. We're interested in the ache of what somebody's going through. We try to not concern ourselves with what people want us to do. That's my little dance around that. There's more to come."
But, bearing in mind lesbian invisibility in the media, other than spot jokes, made-for-TV movies and a character on ABC's All My Children, a promise of "more to come" doesn't necessarily mean that Innes' character will eventually come out. And while the wonderful Laura Innes might deserve an Lesbian News cover, does her character?
Innes is sympathetic. But she's also committed to the creative process that has kept this taut TV drama an NBC hit for seven seasons. "I'm straight and I have a lot of gay friends. So I did all this reading about what it was like for a woman my age (42) to start having these feelings. It was sort of like, 'Gee.' It took a long time. There's lots of denial - thoughts like, 'She's my friend. Why does my heart beat faster when I'm with her?' Intricacies like that are more important than feeling sort of obligated to resolve this for any sort of cultural or political motive. We try to be driven by what's a good story, what's truthful, and the drama of what happens next. What's so interesting is that [Weaver's] so controlled and so about work, but suddenly she feels like a teenager. There's such a sweetness that's disarmed Weaver in a way few things could. I'm very happy with that development."
In the context of Weaver's compassionate-but-tough personality, the late discovery of her sexual orientation is grist for the creative mill. Unlike other dramas where a problem is resolved within a specified time frame, ER is a serial character study of a handful of doctors, nurses and support staff whose lives revolve around a county emergency room in Chicago. The show assumes the audience's intelligence and strives to make art imitate life. Intricately interwoven with constant life and death crisis and curve ball plot twists are delicate private moments and nuanced clues about a character's background. The question LGBT viewers ask is: will Weaver be the fictional equivalent of Ellen and Melissa or will she turn out more like Anne and Julie?...
Excerpts from the 'Lesbian News' cover story with Laura Innes:
"This is the tricky part of talking," Innes says in a recent telephone interview during her lunch break from directing an upcoming episode of the show. "I can't give away what happens. The story line was done in a way that's organic and was doled out very slowly in little bites. We think that's authentic for this character, that her feelings are very deeply buried or she never felt them. But the story line *IS NOT OVER*. *ELIZABETH IS COMING BACK*. We're interested in the ache of what somebody's going through. We try to not concern ourselves with what people want us to do. That's my little dance around that. *THERE's MORE TO COME*."
"I'm straight and I have a lot of gay friends. So I did all this reading about what it was like for a woman my age (42) to start having these feelings. It was sort of like, Gee. It took a long time. There's lots of denial--thoughts like, she's my friend. Why does my heart beat faster when I'm with her? Intricacies like that are more important than feeling sort of obligated to resolve this for any sort of cultural or political motive. We try to be driven by what's a good story, what's truthful, and the drama of what happens next..."
"I think it's great, story wise," says Innes. "As an actress, I couldn't ask for more. She's [Weaver] so about work and hidden in terms of her private thoughts that having a boyfriend would be so much less interesting. This operates on every level for her. She's asking, 'What's happening to me?' On one hand she's terrified and in the next breath she feels like a teenage girl. That's the tension, asking if she's willing to give up everything she's killed herself to get...The writers are great and very interested in keeping it contradictory and complex and NOT RESOLVED. I love it."
Innes says that ER will handle her character's sexuality "like other relationships in the show. YOU JUST CAN'T SHY AWAY FROM IT." But, in the name of good story telling, Inness will only say that "Weaver faces a moral and ethical struggle" over Legaspi as original episodes return at the end of April." All I can say is that YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BE EMBARRASSED. THERE'S NOT GOING TO BE A COWARD ON YOUR COVER. I am thrilled and privileged to be part of this story line and I hope you'll hang in there with us."
Er gets lesbo-friendly
If you haven't been watching ER this season, you'd better tune in-stat.
Over the last few weeks, Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) has gotten awfully close to hospital psychiatrist Dr. Kim Legaspi (Elizabeth Mitchell). In fact, over dinner during a recent episode, Dr. Legaspi threw Dr. Weaver for a loop when she informed her that she thought they were out on a date. Dr. Weaver said she was straight and wasn't interested in more than a friendship. But her nervous response seemed to indicate that she wasn't quite so sure about that. So what's next?
According to ER co-executive producer Meredith Stiehm, the storyline comes to a head in the Dec. 14 episode (airing at 10 p.m. ET on NBC). "Weaver is hoping that she can maintain a friendship with Legaspi. But Legaspi's very clear about what she wants. So Weaver can't have it half way. She has to decide is it all or nothing? And she definitely comes to a decision," Stiehm reveals.
While Dr. Weaver has never expressed romantic feelings for a woman before, her interest in Dr. Legaspi, an engaging beauty with brains to boot, seems plausible. "It snuck up on Dr. Weaver the way it snuck up on viewers," Stiehm says, noting that finding a love interest for Dr. Weaver isn't so easy.
"It is hard to find someone who is a good match because she's so formidable," Stiehm notes.
When casting actresses for the part of Dr. Legaspi, it was crucial to find a woman Dr. Weaver would truly be intrigued by. Mitchell, whose credits including the TV movie The Linda McCartney Story and the soap Loving as well as the feature films Frequency and Nurse Betty, fit the bill. "She's very self-assured and has so much presence," Stiehm says. "She and Weaver have a nice relationship. They seem at ease with each other."
Is there a possibility that their relationship may be a long-term one? "It could be longer," Stiehm teases. "Dr. Legaspi is definitely part of the fabric of our characters now. She's in our mix. So she's not going anywhere."
Certainly, many ER fans would agree that work-obsessed Dr. Weaver deserves a personal life. "People are saying, 'It's high time for that.' I've heard that an awful lot," Stiehm says laughing.
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Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) will enter into a lesbian relationship. ''Not only am I looking forward to her having more of a personal life, it is a disability issue,'' says Innes, who notes that the reason behind Weaver's use of a crutch has never been explained on the show. ''People with disabilities are stereotyped as lonely and asexual. I would hate to think we'd reinforce that.''
A veteran ''ER'' doctor will have a lesbian lover . EW.com names the latest bisexual character in NBC's Must See lineup by Lynette Rice
Laura Innes' character on ''ER'' could have fans declaring, ''Yup, she's gay'' this season. Insiders say producers of the seven year old medical drama will give Dr. Carrie Weaver (Innes) a lesbian lover in a short term story arc. No word on whether the role has been cast or when the episodes will air. (A Warner Bros. TV spokesman declined to comment.)
Carrie's love life has largely taken a back seat to her job as a tough as nails ER administrator, while protracted tales of passion are often given to other members of the veteran cast -- namely Noah Wyle, Anthony Edwards, and Eriq LaSalle, as well as former cast members Julianna Margulies and George Clooney. In its six seasons, ''ER'' producers have only let Carrie briefly hook up with two men: a South African and an HMO executive.
Ever since Ellen Degeneres' now infamous coming out episode in her namesake ABC comedy during the 1996-97 season, the broadcast networks have left their doors wide open for the prime time portrayals of gays. Besides established characters on shows (Will and Jack on NBC's ''Will & Grace,'' Carter Heywood on ''Spin City,'' and Yosh Takata on ''ER''), there are several new shows this season that feature key homosexual roles. Among them: John Goodman as Butch in the new Fox comedy ''Normal, Ohio,'' Valarie Rae Miller as Original Cindy in Fox's ''Dark Angel,'' and James Dreyfus as Oscar in CBS' ''Bette.''