David Hyde Pierce stars as an exceptional entertainer in The Perfect Host, but will the Frasier alum ever be the perfect spokesman for the gay community?
“My life is an open book, but don’t expect me to read it to you,” David Hyde Pierce famously quipped in an interview while starring as Frasier’s prissily neurotic Dr. Niles Crane, a role that earned him a record 11 consecutive Emmy nominations and four wins.
That private library card expired in 2007, when Pierce began speaking publicly about his longtime partner, Brian Hargrove, whom he married in California during the brief window in 2008 before Proposition 8 passed. Although the Tony-winning Broadway performer can’t reveal much about his character in Nick Tomnay’s The Perfect Host, which is in theaters today, he graciously opens the door on a discussion about not overdoing gay press, not pleasing everyone, and not singing with Helen Reddy.
In The Perfect Host you star as Warwick, a Los Angeles bachelor who unwittingly invites in a dangerous criminal as he makes preparations to host a dinner party. Because of the various twists involved, it’s a challenging film to talk about beyond that. How are you handling that in interviews?
It’s tricky. I have to put a lot of faith in the interviewer that they won’t publish stuff that gives too much away. Even though I know that people talk about everything anyway with the Internet, I still like to hold on to the possibility of surprise.
Suffice it to say, Warwick is a nutjob — and certainly unlike any character you’ve played before. Were you actively trying to play against type?
I don’t know about that, but I’m just not interested when people send me scripts that are similar to stuff I’ve already done — especially the kind of character that I played for years on Frasier. Because that character was so much in the public eye, that’s the kind of character I get sent a lot; frankly, the writing is usually nowhere near as good as it was on Frasier, so there’s not much motivation to do them. With this film, I loved the script, the story, the twists, the suspense, and all that, and the character was really a feast for an actor. And not only is he very different, so I get to do different things, but also he starts out not all that different, so it lures the audience into thinking, Oh, right, we’ve seen this guy before. Maybe that’s part of the fun of having me play the part.
Your writer and director, Nick Tomnay, doesn’t have a lot of experience as a filmmaker. As an established actor, do you see that as a risk?
I have to take that on a case-by-case basis. In this situation, he’d also made a short film called The Host, on which The Perfect Host is based, so I got to see that as an example of his work. Yes, this is actually his first feature film, but even in that short I could see that he’s very assured and a great stylist with a wonderful sense of humor. He’s able to do both dark and funny at the same time, and that gave me great confidence in him. Plus we met a couple of times before my agreeing to do the movie, and we really hit it off. I respect him and like him a lot.
Helen Reddy plays Warwick’s nosy neighbor. That must’ve been a treat, especially considering she rarely acts and hasn’t done a film in more than 20 years.
She was just wonderful. She’s so sweet, so loving, and she had a very warm, nurturing presence, which was a wonderful thing to have around on a short, very intense, low-budget shooting schedule. We had a good time.
Did anyone break into “I Am Woman” around the craft services table?
It sort of went without singing. But once in a while, I’d think, Wow, I’m in a scene with Helen Reddy.
I’ve read that you and your husband, Brian Hargrove, enjoy hosting parties at home. Do you fancy yourself a perfect host?
We don’t host very often, so wherever you read that, it was kind of a lie. We have friends over occasionally. I’m far from perfect, but Brian’s a great cook, and he has a great ease about having people over. It’s never a big deal for him, so that makes it comfortable for everyone.
It’s been wonderful to hear you open up about Brian and your relationship in the last few years. Yet, when a gay celebrity makes the transition from privately gay to publicly gay, LGBT media has a long tradition of welcoming them to the family, if you will, with a certain amount of fanfare, major features, and often cover stories. But to this day you still haven’t done a great deal of major gay press. Has that been a conscious decision on your part?
Yeah, it’s been an absolutely conscious decision. I’ve done some gay press, and I’ve been interviewed for The Advocate before, but part of my approach to being gay in public has always been that it shouldn’t be a big deal, so I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. But there came a point when I realized that that could be confused with being ashamed or being afraid, and I never wanted to give that impression. I’ve tried to maintain that balance between living my life and not going out of my way to have any fanfare about it. That’s all. Nothing against any gay publications, and certainly I respect The Advocate, but I was always trying to show a different side, a different way of living life that would still be OK.
When you spoke with Jujamcyn Theaters president Jordan Roth at New York City’s 92nd Street Y last year, you said that you had felt bullied into coming out — “like the bully on the playground was pushing your face in the dirt saying, ‘Say it, say it, say it,’” you described it. I wondered if you saw the gay media as a bully in your situation.
Actually, it had nothing to do with gay media. Earlier in my career, when I’d be talking about completely unrelated subjects, people would feel that it was OK to try to get into my private life, not even sexuality but with politics, family. I’d always been a private person about every aspect of my life, and I didn’t see why I had to change that just because I was an actor. Most of us weren’t trained to be public figures, so you sort of learn these things in public as you go along. There came a point [in 2007] when I doing an interview with an Associated Press interviewer, and he wasn’t asking me about anything related to being gay, and that’s why I opened up about Brian, about moving to California because he wanted to purse a career in writing, and stuff like that. As I said, I didn’t want to inadvertently continue to give the impression that I was in any way trying to hide anything, but I also wanted to be able to talk about it in my own way and on my own terms.
How did you perceive the response from the gay community after you came out?
It was a little bit of a shock at first, but it was amazing the array of reactions I got from the gay community. Some people were very supportive, some people said that I had been outed, some people said it was about time, some people said it was too late, and some people just said, “Who cares?” That’s when I realized that you have to do it for yourself, because you can’t please everyone.
What advice would you give you an actor on the fence about coming out?
I would advise anyone not to come out immediately, but whenever you’re ready and feel safe that you can, you’ll be glad you did. However it ended up happening for me, because I was completely honest and because I did come out — even though I resisted that phrase for so many years — I feel I’m a better person, and I’m better able to do everything I do both in my private life and in my professional life.
Since you began speaking publicly about your partner and your marriage — notably as a guest on The View — have you felt pressure from gay rights groups or from gay people in general to be a mouthpiece for the community?
I’ve spoken out about marriage because I believe in it. It’s very personal for me, and I’ve been very lucky to be a part of that. I’ve worked with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for as long as I’ve been an actor. So no, I don’t feel pressured. I feel like I’m able to do what I always would’ve done. I just try to stand up for what I believe in.
Your name was repeatedly brought up after last year’s controversial Newsweek article, which sparked a debate about whether gay actors couldn’t convincingly play straight roles. I kept expecting you to sound off on the subject at some point, but you never did.
I thought it was stupid and didn’t deserve much time. I talk about what’s important to me, and that was just ridiculous.
On a lighter note, it was recently reported that filmmaker David Wain is planning a prequel to Wet Hot American Summer, in which you starred as a kooky astrophysics professor. Would you participate?
I love David, and I think he’s quite talented, so I’d be happy to work with him anytime.
You’ll make your directorial debut this fall with It Shoulda Been You, a new musical cowritten by your husband, at New Jersey’s George Street Playhouse. Tyne Daly, Richard Kline, Edward Hibbert, and Harriet Harris are set to star. Are you nervous? Do you know what you’re getting into?
I am not nervous because I don’t know what I’m getting into. But I have a great cast, I have wonderful designers, and it’s a really beautiful show, so I’m excited. I just hope I don’t screw it up.