Last December, “One Life to Live” broke new ground when they aired the first gay sex scene in daytime television. You read that right: the soap opera format has been around since people were gathering around their radios, and it took until December of 2009 for a gay couple to do the deed.
Three short months later, the couple in question — Oliver “Fish” (Scott Evans) and Kyle (Brett Claywell) — have been written off the show. According to TV Guide, ABC says that the duo “failed to resonate with the mainstream audience,” because ratings were “particularly dismal” when Fish came out of the closet.
To say that fans of the couple are upset about Kyle and Fish’s abrupt exit would be an understatement. Fans have signed petitions, established the “Save Kish” and “Don’t Put Kish in the Closet” campaigns, and even planned a rally outside the “Good Morning America” studios in NYC.
Meanwhile, rumors have spread like wildfire. A Canadian publication printed that Scott Evans and Brett Claywell were let go because of a lack of commitment and too much partying. In a statement, Claywell told Soap Opera Digest “It’s so false it’s slander. Scott and I were nothing but professional and completely 100 percent dedicated to our work.” Otherwise, Evans and Claywell have been quiet about the situation, keeping their comments confined to a handful of tweets.
Tuesday (Mar. 16), Claywell spoke to Zap2it about his experience at “One Life to Live” and the truth behind the layoffs.
Your fans have really been chomping at the bit to hear your side of the story. I got a lot of emails before this interview, and the question I saw more than any other was, “Is he okay?”
Yeah, I haven’t been very vocal throughout this whole process. I needed to take some time to compose my thoughts. Emotionally, it has beaten me up a little bit. I’m okay. This isn’t my first job and it’s not my last. Every story has an end. As an actor, you understand that.
How did you and Scott learn that your storyline was being written out?
We found out separately. I found out the day before the story broke; I was at “One Life to Live” because I was submitting my Emmy reel. And the same day I’m submitting my Emmy reel, Frank [Valentini] tells me that they’re no longer continuing the storyline and that I’ve filmed my last day.
I do believe there’s a certain way that things have to be done to protect the machine, and there are certain things that could be done differently. Scott found out through somebody tweeting him, and absolutely, that’s not the way he should’ve found out. It shouldn’t happen that way.
Scott and I were disappointed that we’d already filmed our last day together. That would’ve been nice to know. We were like, “We’re not even going to work together again.” That was the most upsetting part.
Would you come back to the show if you were asked to?
It’s hard to say right now. We told a story and they decided that they didn’t want to continue it, so to come back and re-address it would be something to think about.
I know I’d definitely love to work with Scott again. We developed a really good friendship and I’m a little disappointed that I worked my last day with him and didn’t even know it. We never got to put closure to it. We’ve talked about it, and we’re not bitter at “One Life to Live.” I’m appreciative to Frank. Things could’ve been handled differently, but at the end of the day the fact that this is such a big deal to so many people is a testament to the work that we did. I’m proud of that.
What has the response been like from fans since the gay storyline started?
People approach us often. We had somebody at the GLAAD awards come up and tell us that they’d been with their partner for 14 or 16 years and because of our story they finally decided to get married. An older African-American gentleman told us that his parents had been fans of “One Life to Live” forever and because of this story, he finally got the nerve to come out to his parents.
So many people come up and tell us that because of us, they feel less alone. There’s a demographic in this world that’s unrepresented. This is just one story; this is a love story between two men. There are so many stories out there. When I got into this I had no idea the type of impact we were going to make.
Right on the heels of the news about the gay storyline being written out, “One Life to Live” won a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Daily Drama.
I think that’s what it was. I never heard it! We saw the trophy backstage and otherwise there was no mention of it during the ceremony. I don’t know if GLAAD is upset with “One Life to Live” — I didn’t get it. Scott and I presented! I felt like we had such a big impact in the LGBT community that we would’ve been recognized a little bit. I’m not upset that we weren’t, but I was a little surprised. I thought they would at least mention us because what we did was groundbreaking.
“One Life to Live” has had a rough time in the ratings this year. Do you think that the increased screen time of the gay characters is the reason for that?
I don’t want to attack anybody, but I do believe we brought in a much more diverse audience. I believe we added a lot of viewers and a very loyal following.
I can’t speak to what’s continuing in the mindsets of people in the Midwest or in the South, people who grew up where I grew up that aren’t exposed in any way to different truths. If, because of their opinions, we were let go … then I feel a lot more sorrow for them than I do for myself.
As to why the decision was made, that’s not my concern. I believe in my heart that we were one of the best things on television this year. That might be a completely narcissistic opinion, but I really believe that the heart we put into that story made it one of the most honest things on TV.
As a straight actor playing a very visible gay role, what was the response from your family and friends?
As much of an eye-opening, life-changing experience as it was for me, it was also that for the people that surround me, that have known me for years. I’m from North Carolina, my dad’s from Kentucky. The society that exists and the thinking that exists — not within my family at all, but in the South — is very narrow-minded. It’s ignorance in the purest definition of the word that runs through a lot of these places in the world. It’s not a lack of compassion; it’s just a lack of knowledge.
Are you going to keep up your advocacy work?
Absolutely. I became a part of something bigger than myself, and from now until the day I die I’ll be supportive of the movement. For the rest of my life, not just for the gay community, I will do everything I can in every way I can for those who are suffering injustices. I do believe that this is one of the huge injustices. Until we as a nation recognize that all men are created equal, the words that we’re founded on, I’m going to fight.
Do you have any plans about what you’re going to do next?
Eat some pizza today! That’s as far as it goes. I’m going to get as much New York pizza in my belly as I can. I
‘m going to leave New York, but New York’s never going to leave me. This city changes your life.
I feel like Chile right now, because I’ve just had aftershocks continuing all week. The other day I was in a church in New York listening to Mozart. What other city in the world can you walk into a church and they perform Mozart’s Requiem, and you just sit there for two hours and listen?
I had that in my calendar for 2 weeks, before any of this went down. I had no idea that that was going to be such a significant moment for me, on the weekend after all that went down. New York goes 0 to 60 in 2.2 seconds, but it can also be the most therapeutic city in the world.
What was the best part of your experience on “One Life to Live”?
We blurred the lines of gay and straight love, I think. We showed that there’s no difference between gay love and straight love, there’s just love. It’s unbelievable to me that in an age when we’ve got 18-year-old children across the world dying — dying — we still have suffering and hunger and poverty, but we find it necessary to stand in the way of love.
It was powerful to me to be able to use my art to stand up for what I believe in. It doesn’t directly affect my life, but I believe no human being on this earth should be told who they can and cannot love. If nothing else, I feel like Scott and I stood on a soapbox and yelled that as loud as we could to the world. Whether or not people wanted to hear it or not, whether or not they chose to hear it, they did. The moment we had a voice we yelled as loud as we could and I’m really proud of both of us for that.
Photo credit: ABC