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Jesse James Keitel: 'Queer As Folk' is about community, not tragedy

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Jesse James Keitel: 'Queer As Folk' is about community, not tragedy
A new version of the iconic series, "Queer as Folk," debuts Thursday. Photo courtesy of Peacock

NEW YORK, June 9 (UPI) -- Jesse James Keitel says her new dramedy, Queer As Folk, is about how love and community can transcend hate and fear.

Debuting Thursday on Peacock, the series follows a diverse group of friends whose lives are transformed by a mass shooting at a New Orleans drag club. It is a reimagining of the iconic 1999 British show and its early 2000s American remake of the same name.

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"The reality of being a queer person in 2022 is tragedy and drama is an unfortunate part of our lived experience and especially something Americans are getting more and more used to seeing in the news cycle," Keitel told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

"It was important to tell that story because it is based in reality," she added. "It's part of our history as queer people, but the beauty of our show is it's not a show about a tragedy. It is a show about a community coming together. It's a show about this group of friends really finding each other within their community after things get shattered and torn apart."

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Keitel's co-star CG credited the show's authenticity to many people who are writing the show's scripts and filming the episodes are LGBTQ.

"It really goes to show that taking something into your own hands is something that resonates here and just how politicized joy seems," they said. "It's a political statement to be happy as a queer person."

CG plays Shar, the pregnant partner of Keitel's Ruthie. CG described Shar as a lover and "a stone-cold care bear, share bear," who is "entering new worlds from the old world of punk drummer-hood."

"Ruthie is a lovable ball of chaos, who is a former party girl. She doesn't do that any more -- until the pilot," Keitel laughed.

"She is trying her best. She is really struggling with that transition from finding herself into finding herself as an adult. We find her at a pivotal moment where she is not just the hottest English literature teacher in Louisiana, but she also is a parent."

Queer As Folk kicks off with Ruthie supporting one of her high school students, Mingus (Fin Argus) as he prepares to audition for drag queen school. Mingus also strikes up a romance with Brodie (Devin Way), who turns out to be Ruthie's best friend and the sperm donor for her and Shar's twins.

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"One of the beautiful things about the relationship our characters have is they are not necessarily on the same page with parenthood," Keitel said of Ruthie and Shar.

"They are both excited for it, but my character Ruthie is really not ready for it, and I think it is seldom that we see queer parents who are not ready to be parents. It's often a long and arduous and expensive road to parenthood for a lot of queer people, so having the opportunity to bring the story to life in a new and complex and nuanced way is really fun."

CG said her character, Shar, is all in and totally prepared for motherhood.

"Shar is ready - for both themselves and Ruthie," CG said.

"They are blinded by that readiness. It is clear that Ruth isn't so ready to have a kid, but because Shar is so thrilled by starting a family with her, happiness can be blinding, as well. It's just interesting to see how those two people grapple with how they actually feel."

Argus jokingly called his character, Mingus, "a real rascal, a self-assured queer-do, who just wants to date the hottest guy they can find."

"Relatable, am I right?" chimed in Ryan O'Connell, who is the show's writer and co-executive producer, and who also plays Brodie's brother.

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"They use the art form of drag to show off their cute ass and then hopefully seduce older men. That's a little bit about Mingus," Argus concluded.

O'Connell called Julian a "spiky freak," who likes meeting up with strangers for casual sex in mall bathrooms.

"But underneath that spiky exterior is an ooey, gooey center," O'Connell said.

His relationship with Brodie is complicated, as are many familial bonds.

"He wants Brodie to be more of a brother to him and show up for him, but I think they have a hard time communicating and expressing their wants and desires, which [is typical of] family!" O'Connell said.

Argus said there is the "kernel of something really beautiful" between Mingus and Brodie.

"But that growth gets stunted, and you get to watch them pick up the pieces in a really messy and painful way," they said. "Ultimately, there is care. I won't say 'love,' but there is 'like' going on. It's an interesting relationship dynamic."

Further complicating the romance is that Mingus is pursuing Brodie just as Brodie is trying to get back together with his older ex-boyfriend, Noah (Johnny Sibilly).

Argus doesn't think there are many similarities between the two relationships, even though they both have age gaps.

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"They are so different as characters. and their histories are so different. Also, there is a lot of nuance with Mingus' age and separation from the rest of their community. They aren't super-involved in the community. Their one focal point is Broadie," Argus said of their character, who is supposed to be 17.

"Noah has a whole network of gays. Mingus is like: 'You are the one. I am in love with you [to Brodie].' Whether or not it's true, they say it's true."

Another important person in Mingus' life is his hard-working, adoring mother, played by Juliette Lewis.

It's a fresh take on the parent of a queer person, Argus said.

"There's basically no tension in their relationship. They are not butting heads over Mingus' queerness ever," they added.

"I'm just tired of seeing: 'You're gay? What does that mean for me as a parent?' That's kind of boring to me now, so it's nice to see this mother-daughter dynamic where she is just fully supportive and is really encouraging of drag, and I think that will be really cool for parents of queer folks to see that is an option."

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