In ABC’s When We Rise, an upcoming seven part miniseries about the LGBTQ equality movement in America, Kevin McHale plays the “poster boy of AIDS”, Bobbi Campbell.
As an actor in fictional scripted shows, there is a sort of creative freedom available when it comes to character development. A birth of what that person looks like and how that person moves and talks and goes about their relationships... But when an actor is cast in a role depicting a real person, it has to be spot on. Most commonly known for his part in Glee as Artie Abrams, Kevin McHale met the challenge of portraying a historical figure in ABC’s upcoming docudrama, When We Rise.
The last seven years, the 28-year-old actor has had the comfort and security of playing a staple cast member in FOX’s musical megahit Glee. However, after the show’s ending in 2015, that made this last year’s round of auditions during pilot season all the more nerve wrecking for McHale. Then just when it seemed as though he might not be working in network television this year, McHale landed his part as Bobbi Campbell, the “poster boy of AIDs”.
“In Glee, I played a disabled character and I’m not disabled so I felt this responsibility that I had to represent the character properly, but with this... This was even more so,” explains McHale. “It was a battle I think everyone on the show had to take on. We wanted to give these people justice. The time they were a part of and what they were a part of was so important. It was a matter of doing the right thing and doing it well.”
Preparing for his role as Bobbi Campbell, the first person to come out to the public with his diagnosis of AIDs in 1981, McHale did his research with very limited resources. Of course he had photographs, such as the famous Newsweek cover of Bobbi Campbell, but he needed more to gain the truest essence of him. But there exists only one video of him giving a speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1984, which was only two months before his death with major declination of health.
“I found these radio recordings of him giving interviews with the doctor that had diagnosed him. That’s what I listened to a lot,” McHale reveals about his process. “They’re pretty long and so I listened to them several times. I realized through this that you could learn a lot about a person in their voice. I tried to interpret his personality through that.”
When We Rise is like nothing before on network television: A narrative piece that is specific to highlighting the personal and political struggle of the LGBTQ community in the United States. A chronological slice of life set in the 1960’s to present day that lives and breathes the fight for humanity and equal rights. A time period that isn’t actually too long ago.
Although writer Dustin Lance Black [Milk, J. Edgar] has been working on this project for the last three and a half years, the show seems to be more relevant now. Almost two years ago, marriage equality became the law of the land in the US. Less than one year ago, Stonewall Inn became the first national LGBTQ monument. But with the current political climate surrounding the 2016 election, there’s a fear and anxiety over what that means for this movement. If the progress that has been made will be undone during the next four years…
“You know, I was actually talking with Dustin about this and he said ‘I’d do anything to not have this show be so timely now’. This show has been in the works for years and has nothing to do with the election,” McHale points out, “But it does show how people worked together. Before there was social media and people were literally knocking door-to-door. When it was the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, and the LGBTQ movement… Everyone came together for the greater good.”
In a time where unity seems scarce throughout America, we’re definitely excited to see the light this star-studded historical masterpiece shines. Other cast members in the series include Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker, Rachel Griffiths, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, and Denis O’Hare, among many more. When We Rise is set to premiere in February 2017 on ABC.
Photographer: Jonny Marlow
Stylist: Melissa Triber
Grooming: Mariah Nicole
using Make Up For Ever
Writer: Hannah Rose Prendergast