Q&A with Alison Louder
Being Human's lesbian little sister talks about acting, activism and her thoughts on the gender binary.
In 2009 when GLAAD released their annual Network Responsibility Index they dealt a failing grade to the Syfy network. Syfy’s response was a promise that future programming would be much more diverse.
Two years and two canceled series (Caprica and Stargate: Universe) later, Alison Louder’s Being Human character is the last lezzie standing.
Based on the British show of the same name, Being Human follows three roommates attempting to live a normal life, despite the fact that they are a vampire, werewolf and ghost. Louder stars as Emily, the werewolf’s younger, lesbian sister.
Both an actor and activist Louder, is an outspoken environmental and animal rights activist as well as a passionate advocate for gender equality. She’s appeared in small roles in several films including The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Plus, she wrote and starred in her own one-woman show, which premiered at the Fringe festival.
Set to star alongside the likes of lesbian fave Kristin Stewart in a small role in this year’s film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the Syfy’s recent decision to renew Being Human for a second season, Louder is a star on the rise.
Can you tell me a little bit about Emily?
Emily is Josh’s little sister and they were best friends forever. She’s 19 years old so he’s just old enough because of their age difference to be a really significant role model for her, but just close enough that they can still relate and have really strong sibling solidarity.
When you first meet Emily, she hasn’t seen her brother in two years. He’s her best friend, and it’s at a time in her life when she’s dealing with a lot of things: Going to school, living on her own for the first time, coming out of the closet—these are all big steps for a 19-year-old and her best friend and brother hasn’t been around for the past two years to guide her through it and be someone to vent to. So she’s…learned to fend for herself outside of family support and yet there’s this strong vulnerability. She’s sassy, she’s smart and she doesn’t really care what others think of her. She’ll wear what she wants; she’ll eat what she wants. She’s in a lot of ways your typical 19-year-old with edge. She’s got attitude, she’s cool, she’s spunky.
Had you ever seen the British show before?
No, actually, I didn’t. I made to actually not watch the British show once I knew I was cast. The only bits of it that I’ve seen were prior to being cast. I went on YouTube and found some clips but no full episodes, to get a feel for it, and that was really helpful, actually. Since being cast I haven’t watched any because the producers made it pretty clear that they didn’t want us to have any sort of outside influence, and also out of respect to that was their show, that was their project, and if we were going to do this show honestly then I can’t be watching someone else’s performance because inevitably what’s going to happen is its going to turn into mimicry some way. So I really had to avoid that.
Photo by: Phillipe Bosse/Syfy
How much of the character is you?
The thing with Emily is I feel that she’s really relatable. When I first got the script with Emily is was an instantaneous click. She’s not that far from who I am, actually. They just really let me be myself actually. I think Emily and I have a lot in common…in terms of attitude in terms of way of thinking, just her open-mindedness and her compassion for others, that’s something that I always try to embody as me. So I really like having that in common for her. I’m always putting other people ahead of me, even to a fault, and Emily knows how to do that, too, she’s just this genuinely open person who doesn’t fully fit in. Neither do I. I’m kind of weird. Which is OK, and I’m totally comfortable with that.
Did you have any concerns about playing a gay character?
I have absolutely no concerns about playing any sexuality whatsoever. I’ll just put it out there: I’m not gay, but I also think that my perspective on sexuality and gender has evolved a lot over the years because I’m friends with a lot of transgendered people who both in the process of transitioning or have already transitioned. I supported a couple of friends through that process. I have a lot of queer friends, gay friends, lesbian friends. So for me I don’t really look at sexuality as being something that is where the genders are implicitly binary, so that’s something I’m constantly reading about, constantly learning about, constantly talking about with people.
Some of my greatest role models are transgendered. I mean, I look up to Kate Bornstein. I think Kate is a fantastic person and just so strong because her message isn’t just about gender, her message isn’t just about if you’re queer it’s cool, it’s about everybody has something in them that’s different – some people are just more different than others and you have to learn to love that about yourself, learn that about yourself, so you can be the best person you can be in this life on this planet. I love that.
So for me to get the chance to play a character who’s for what it’s worth kind of struggling with coming out of the closet, that’s amazing. It’s a gift that I feel a huge responsiblity to do that properly because it’s not a gimmick, it’s very real, and I love that Emily has that aspect to her life because the show isn’t about being gay and you can’t have a gay character on it. And I think that hopefully more and more over time writers will just keep putting that in there. You don’t have to have the token gay character anymore.
How does that inform your advocacy for gender equality?
Just to clarify on gender quality, I have been asked by many people how you can say that you’re an advocate for gender equality yet you don’t think gender is binary. Well, equality doesn’t necessarily mean between left and right, up and down or two sides of any given coin, there can be two sides to any issue or subject.
In terms of advocating for gender equality, that’s just a point of view that I have that I’m just relentless about if I’m challenged on it or if I encounter someone who seems to have sexist stereotypical ideals. It’s like, I ask them, what exactly did you mean? It’s a constant dialog.
What other causes are important to you?
I’m an environmentalist, I’m into animal rights, I think that animal abuse is terrible, also just general social rights. The average human being faces disrespect on a lot of levels everywhere around them at any given time. I think it’s really important to know how you can make a difference in your town, in your city, in your country politically, as well.
Being Human: cast Sam Huntington, Mark Pellegrino, Meaghan Rath, Sam Witwer. Photo by: Jill Greenberg/Syfy
What else are you up to?
I got a small part in On the Road, the feature film that just wrapped up. So that’s something to look forward to in 2011. It’s really not a big part, but just to work on that project was amazing.
Can you talk about your role?
My character Dorie is the, kind of college girl in the 40s in New York and she’s tapped into this this literary scene of poetry and explosive, awesome, fun parties and she’s into it. That’s who she is. She’s a good time, a person who likes to have a good time and she gets to know the beats a little bit. I see her around. [Laughs]
Did you always want to be an actor?
When I was really little, I wanted to be a vet. I wanted to be a dancer. I wanted to be a fireman, actually, and I remember distinctly telling someone and they said you mean firewoman and I said no, fireman. I’ve had a lot of dreams. Acting caught me by accident. I always thought I was going to be a musician. I was raised playing piano and singing in choirs and I’m self-taught at the accordion, played bass, I’m learning guitar. To me, some of my best times are at an open improve musical jam party. I love that. So I kind of always thought I would be a musician growing up, then the summer I was 16 I got a lead role in a short film and it just completely changed my perspective.
I still make music, I still compose, I still jam and write poetry. So I wasn’t really sure where I was going to wind up. I just knew there was this something that needed to get out of me. Whatever it was, it was going to involve getting something out of me.
What are you other passions and hobbies?
I love to cook. I love to cook. I think maybe that’s something that I started to fall in love with more the more I acted because with long hours on set and long hours in rehearsal, you don’t really get the home-cooked meal at the end of the day. Some days you just come home and you’re so exhausted and all you can do is just drink a glass of water and crawl into bed, and that’s fine, but it just makes you appreciate cooking so much more. So I’ve discovered a big passion for dabbling in the kitchen. The kitchen’s actually the cleanest room in my house.
I love the outdoors, I love to bike, I love to swim. I also just love relaxing. I love my friends. I consider myself really lucky to have as many friends as I do. So I love to spend time with them, picking their brains and getting inspired by them, bouncing ideas off of them and even arguing with them. Whatever, just real human contact. Nothing replaces that for me.
Also, I think it would be really cool to grow wings. I’m working on that really hard.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Watching lots of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation! I’d never gotten into it and then a friend of mine moved and left her DVDs with me. I’m the middle of season one right now and it’s so good! I don’t care what anyone says, I’m going to become a Trekkie! I’m a late bloomer, what can I tell you?
Do you have a female celebrity crush?
Cate Blanchett. Michelle Williams. Oh, I totally have a female celebrity crush on Gabourey Sidibe from Precious. She’s so cool.
Being Human has been renewed for a second season. Why should lesbians be watching it?
One thing I really want people to keep in mind when they watch the show is that it’s something I feel is for everyone. It’s not just for teenagers or twenty-somethings. It’s totally accessible to every single age demographic. I really hope there will be a wide appreciation on that scale, in terms of the ages that are watching the show. It could very well have been called “Being Different.”