Parallels between actor and character can often be clearly drawn, but never before has a case of art imitating life been as wonderfully realized as it has with Playboy Club actor Sean Maher. Last week, Maher used his role as head of the Chicago chapter of the Mattachine Society, an underground gay-rights group from the ’50s and ’60s, as a springboard to publicly come out himself.
Now, one week later, he spoke with ETonline about the goosebump inducing support he's received from every corner of the globe. Plus, Maher teases what's to come for his character on NBC's 60s set drama -- including some real romance!
ETonline: One week ago you came out to the world – how have the last seven days been?
Sean Maher: I am still overwhelmed by the outpouring of love. I always felt like I'd have support but I never imagined it would be on such a large scale. I just wanted to come forward and tell my story – to say "this is my family, I'm so proud of them and I'm tired of hiding this" because I have a 4-year-old and didn’t want her to think there was something possibly wrong with our family. Staying in the closet for the sake of work simply made no sense through the eyes of my 4-year-old.
ETonline: What kinds of messages have you been getting?
Maher: It's been so positive. Some responses have been, "you inspired me, I just came out to my parents, it went so well, thank you!" There have also been a few Tweets along the lines of, "Sean Maher's gay? Yay! He already has a partner? Boo!" [laughs] The day the story broke I just sat in my hotel room for eight hours and read every comment. I was just covered in goose bumps and crying. My fans inspire me so much.
ETonline: Which came first: the role or the choice to come out?
Maher: It's so bizarre – my partner and I have been talking about doing this for a while, but nothing felt like the right platform to do it. Then my manager sent me The Playboy Club and it was just that "holy s*** moment." I hadn't been this excited by a role in a long time – not only because it provided the perfect platform to come forward, but because the role was just so exciting.
ETonline: This week sees your character begin to work for Eddie Cibrian’s, right?
Maher: Yea, we start to work a lot more together because Nick hires Sean to run his campaign for State's Attorney. What I love about it is that basically Nick hires Sean to create a facade for him – so Sean's creating doing smoke and mirrors for Nick in the same way he has for himself, which is interesting to watch. One of the first things Sean says to Nick is, "It doesn’t matter who you are, it matters what you portray," which is exactly my character's take on his own life.
ETonline: Will we get to see any of Sean’s true romantic life?
Sean: Yes, his partner Grant is introduced tonight's episode and he works with my character in getting The Mattachine Society up and running. Then we also meet Frances Dunhill (played by Cassidy Freeman), a huge socialite – her father is Dunhill industries – who I set up with Nick so they can be photographed together as part of his "new life." But there's a twist with her character that I think the audience is going to love. The next episode really plants the seeds for some great stuff that's coming up.
ETonline: Which begs the inevitable question, how are you guys feeling about the less-than-stellar ratings the show has garnered?
Sean: I'll be honest, it's hard not to get nervous and ponder the fate of the show when you look at the numbers. But Chad Hodge is such a remarkable leader -- he's keeping the energy and morale high. We all believe we’re doing something great and the word from NBC is that they still love and believe in the show. They're talking about moving our timeslot to see if that changes anything, but it's hard. Especially since I haven't been this happy on a show in a really long time. We're all just hoping they give us a chance to gain an audience.
The Playboy Club airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC.