On the Air: Oz
Bill Roundy and Gerald Bartell
The Washington Blade
over an early script for Oz -- the HBO drama set in an upstate New
York prison whose new season began July 12  -- actor Lee
Tergesen said, "Whoa!"
had spotted a scene in which his character, Tobias Beecher, turns to
another prisoner, Keller (Chris Meloni), tells him he loves him, and
then kisses him.
Confronting the scene was liberating for the actor, just as it was
for his confined character.
"Chris and I got together," Tergesen recalls, "and it was
challenging. We thought, we’re going to try and just get right
through this. But then I suggested we go toward it, make it loving.
I feel we gave the relationship much more depth."
Tergesen feels that the ongoing relationship between Tobias and
Keller has forced Tobias to confront the core of his being. Before
he was sent to prison for running over a child while driving drunk,
Tobias was married and the father of two.
"Now," Tergesen says, "he may think, ‘Yeah, anything’s possible.’
Prison makes the issue of being gay stronger. Does it mean he’s not
a man? He’s engaging in homosexual activity. What the struggle is
doesn’t matter. Where it comes from does."
Working on the scene, Tergesen himself dug into "all that
reactionary stuff about men" that he experienced in his own life.
"When you’re a young, vulnerable, pubescent kid, the kids on the
playground call you a ‘faggot,’" Tergesen says. "As an adult, I
don’t have to defend myself. Who you sleep with, who you love is a
small part of who you are. If you can love somebody, you’re lucky."
The possibility exists, Tergesen adds, that the relationship between
Tobias and Keller may be transitory. When he began work on his role,
Tergesen talked to a former convict, an alcoholic who beat his
girlfriend to death. In jail the man became sexually involved with
his cellmate. Out of jail, the man resumed having sex with women.
"Are these men homosexual, or just pragmatic?" Tergesen asks.
For series creator, head writer and co-producer Tom Fontana, the
men’s relationship is one of two types of male sex the show depicts.
"There’s the brutal, sex-as-power-and-domination aspect, which has
nothing to do with one’s orientation," Fontana said in a Blade
interview two years ago. "And then there’s genuine homosexual love."
The possibility of love is what seems to matter to the many people
who come up to Tergesen on the street.
"So often they ask, ‘Is there love there?’" Tergesen says. As to
whether the characters are gay, Tergesen says his response is
usually, "Do you care?"
Tergesen also notes that reaction to the characters from his gay
friends has been extremely favorable. He hopes the portrayal of the
two men will mark a step forward in the evolution of gay characters
"Where I would like to see the characters fit in is as an inclusion
of homosexuals in a story in which the major story point is not
homosexuality," he says. "It can just be the way it is."
Oz main page