Exclusive: Alan Ball on Six Feet Under LGBT legacy

Matthew St. Patrick and Michael C. Hall on Six Feet Under

This summer marks fifteen years since the premiere of Six Feet Under, the trailblazing series about a family of undertakers that helped usher in an era of offbeat TV. "Everybody kept saying, 'how are we gonna market this? It's so dark,'" creator Alan Ball recalls. "Every show wants to be dark now." The funeral home was run by two very different brothers following the sudden death of their father: moody, straight Nate, and uptight, closeted David (Michael C. Hall of Dexter and Hedwig and the Angry Inch fame). The show followed David's journey from self-loathing to validation as well as his tempestuous and groundbreaking relationship with African American cop Keith (Matthew St. Patrick). Ball spoke to the show's gay legacy at a retrospective screening of Six Feet Under's series finale this April.

The Oscar winner (for his American Beauty screenplay) remembers that many actors refused to read for the gay characters when the show was cast. "It was mostly African American actors who, at that time, did not want to play a gay character in an interracial couple," he explains. "Literally, two actors came in. I [also] heard from some Caucasian actors who were like, I don't want to play gay because I played gay on this show, and I [said], 'okay, that name goes on the list of people I never want to work with again.'"

For Ball, anyway, the inclusion of gay characters was happenstance. "I never set out to be like, I'm gonna include LGBT characters," Ball explains. "It's just interesting to me because it's my experience, and I'm gay, so it sort of ended up there." Over the course of the show, David weathered many personal and professional obstacles and found lasting happiness with Keith, with whom he both adopted two foster sons and married (in a flash forward from the finale—which aired a decade prior to national marriage equality, in 2005). Ball's second groundbreaking series came with the premiere of True Blood in 2008. The show mined vampires for social allegory as bloodsuckers "came out of the coffin" and sought equal rights (including marriage); there was a sign reading "God hates fangs" prominently featured in the opening titles. True Blood included numerous queer characters, such as sassy human Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), withering vampire Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten), and vampire villain Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare). The offbeat series was much more flamboyant than Six Feet Under. "I'll read on some blog that it was 'the gayest show on television,'" Ball recalls. "I was really excited about that and put it on my Facebook page."

Casting the queer roles was considerably easier. "Playing a gay character's been such a launching board for so many actors that they don't worry about that anymore," Ball feels. "Thank God!" Indeed, True Blood alumni have demonstrated how much the cultural landscape has changed by being open about doing gay love scenes (like straight Alexander Skarsgard, currently starring as Tarzan) or their own sexuality (bisexual Anna Paquin, married to costar Stephen Moyer, has commented that of course she's still attracted to women). We've come a long way since that family funeral home debuted on TV, and we thank Alan Ball for helping to turn the tide.

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