September 5, 2008

Interview with Judith Light

I spent a lot of time with Judith Light when I was growing up. It seems that Who's the Boss was always on in my house. Do you remember that awesome show? Tony Danza took care of the house while Judith Light worked? Loved that show. you think a show like that would be on TV today?

Ms. Light now plays Claire Meade on Ugly Betty. She's also a prominent outspoken advocate on HIV/AIDS issues. She's put her money where her mouth is and appears (and produces) a new film Save Me about the crazies in the ex-gay movement. The film opens in NY today. (It will roll out in other cities over the next few weeks.)

She answered some questions about her new film and the upcoming season of Ugly Betty which premieres on September 25th on ABC.

Women & Hollywood: Your new film Save Me about the controversial ex-gay movement opens in limited release this weekend. Why was being a part of this film so important to you.

Judith Light: As actors, we feel blessed when a project comes along that is actually "about something important." This one was important to me (and also why I am a producer on the film) because I see how much suffering is created in the GLBT community by religious bigotry and prejudice. We all also saw it as an opportunity to tell a story in which no one, or no "side", is demonized or caricatured. We want to start a conversation about this issue and that is very important to me. As a side note, at our premiere at Sundance, the Christian bloggers were very generous toward us and really understood what we were trying to do. It was very validating.
W&H: What is the message of Save Me?
JL: Be courageous, be who you are, honor that, own that because it is your truth. Being who you are creates a powerful, creative, joyful society. As religion teaches, love is the answer, but it has to experienced and lived not lectured about or used as a basis for judgment or condemnation. Also, there is nothing more important than love. Love is not to be dictated by one group of people dictating to another group of people who they can love. Let no one define you but you!
W&H: You've done a lot of work in the HIV/AIDS community. Women are the largest growing segment of people affected with HIV/AIDS. Why is working on this issue so close to your heart?
JL: We are still dealing with this pandemic here and abroad after all these years. It is time to take a stand with passion to end it and to educate the society that AIDS, even though it is not on the front page of our newspapers everyday, has not gone away. As we have all said from the very beginning, we are all "people living with HIV/AIDS". Truly, I think there is an enormous need for literally everyone to be working on this issue.

It is devastating that women are the largest growing segment of people being affected, however, women are so powerful that when women are educated and take a stand on this issue, HIV/AIDS will most definitely transform. I do believe it is the women who can make this change.

One of the rather mind-boggling and strange things about this disease is how often it seems to have some of what I call "metaphorical aspects." At the outset, it was allowed to grow worse and worse until we started to respond to the underlying homophobia that had been previously denied. Women (and African-Americans particularly) tend often to pay a price for the choices made by the men in their lives. AIDS will continue to increase in these groups until they stand up and claim their own self worth and their own control over their individual destiny. It is our job to support them in that process.
W&H: You've played some strong women on TV including the recurring role as the head DA of the sex crimes unit on Law & Order SVU. What draws you to these roles?
JL: I like to portray characters that make a difference in the world in some way, or that people can understand, empathize with or use the information being expressed about that woman, to affect change in their own lives.

I believe the true nature of women is powerful. It may be a quiet power, it may take different forms, different jobs and different expression but we are powerful, nonetheless. These women I portray know, understand and use their power well to affect change in their world or the world at large.
W&H: Your character on Ugly Betty, Claire Meade is a complicated woman struggling with issues like aging which we are beginning to see more of on TV but not in film. Why do you think that TV is more welcoming to fully realized female characters while film seems to struggle with this issue?
JL: You have defined Claire very well. Through television you reach a huge population of people who are interested in seeing this issue. Television has always led the way in breaking ground with any issue. The powers that be recognize that people want to see other folks like themselves, so they are responding to the desire of their viewers. They also know that it is the baby boomers who are dealing with this issue now that have money! So if they are liking what they are watching, this supports the advertisers.

The truth is that television has always had a tendency to lead the culture as opposed to film. Television already has an audience so, with skill and courage, it is possible to push the boundaries. To do that in film, in something like Brokeback Mountain, is a huge risk and therefore an equally enormous achievement. So if you want to change the culture, bring up an issue on television. Magically, all of a sudden, it will be all the talk around the water cooler!