Tessa Roy ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor
Kit Williamson is nothing short of a triple threat. He’s been a writer, a director, and an actor – sometimes all at once. In addition to appearing as the adorable and goofy Ed Gifford on Mad Men, Williamson wrote, directed, and starred in the Logo series EastSiders.
Emertainment Monthly had the opportunity to speak with him about his experience on the popular AMC show and his hopes for the series he created.
Emertainment Monthly: Tell me a little bit about EastSiders and your kickstarter.
Kit Williamson: EastSiders is a dark comedy about a gay couple trying to stay together through infidelity. We actually are doing a kickstarter for the second season of the show. We’re trying to raise $125,000, which is a lot of money, but we’re really trying to shoot a feature length movie in addition to a web series. The cost of that really adds up. It’s ambitious, but I hope we can do it. We’re off to a great start. I just really hope people will share it and get the word out there because that’s the only way it’s going to be successful.
The first season was a lot about introducing the characters and their different relationships. It seems everyone is kind of a mess in some way or another. What can we expect from them in season two?
An even bigger mess! At the end of season one, they don’t really know what it’s going to be like moving forward with their relationships or their lives. The end of the season really pulls the rug out from under every character. Cal and Thom have moved out of the apartment they share together, and have to navigate what exactly they mean to one another. Their relationship has completely changed. How do you go from living with somebody that you’ve been with basically your entire adult life to all of a sudden being independent? How does that affect the person?
You know, it’s funny because it’s like Mad Men in that someone always has a drink in their hand. Somebody is always perpetually drunk on both shows.
(Laughs) That is definitely a similarity! I think that a lot of people, in my life at least, in times of crisis self-medicate in a self destructive way. While it’s not a show about alcoholism per say, I do think a lot of characters in the show have a complicated relationship with alcohol. Let’s put it that way. It can get out of hand for some people.
Like with Cal and Thom trying to deal with their issues on their own, but then are overwhelmed trying to help Kathy with her personal issues too.
Right. In a lot of ways, I think it’s a show about self-sabotage. The way in which we destroy our own relationships, destroy our own bodies, our friendships. The people that we should be looking out for sometimes are the ones we attack when we feel pain.
Speaking of Mad Men, let’s go back to that. It’s a huge show. What has your experience been like working on it?
It’s been such an incredible experience to be able to watch this cast work and to watch this creative team put the show together. Every single person on the set has such a particular, determined work ethic. It’s really amazing to watch. You kind of imagine it will be like that when you’re a fan of a show, and I’ve been a fan since season one, but it’s really inspiring to get to see just how much heart and soul everybody puts into what they are doing.
From how you’re describing it, it sounds like the way the cast works mirrors the way the show’s characters work.
That’s a sharp observation. The show itself is about the pursuit of excellence, striving for greatness, and striving for something better than what’s just going to get you by. I loved Peggy’s line where she said something along the lines of “Everyone’s content with sh-t. I’ll stand out here all on my own.” As a person in the arts, I think we can on some level relate to that. When you’re pushing for a project, you meet a lot of resistance. You meet a lot of people who say they are going to care about what you’re doing and then they don’t. And it’s not necessarily a judgement on you or your project. It’s just the way a lot of people are. So that’s something I relate to and I think a lot of other people relate to as well.
So on Mad Men, you play Ed Gifford. He was a character that was already written. With EastSiders, you play Cal, who is someone you created. What is the difference, for you, between playing a character written by someone else and playing a character you created yourself?
It’s interesting because neither character is really much like me. It’s fun to operate on these two extremes. You have Ed who is so internal and afraid of conflict, and you have Cal, who is so extroverted and eager to engage in conflict. Cal really feeds on conflict and has a really dark, dry sense of humor that can get really inappropriate. He doesn’t mind throwing barbs out into almost every conversation. I don’t think he’s that bad. I just think he’s not a very sensitive conversationalist.
You’ve done writing, directing, and acting. Do you have a preference?
It’s tough to say because from project to project your experiences are so different. It’s so amazing to come onto a preexisting set like Mad Men and play your own part. There’s something incredibly luxurious about that compared to being on a micro budgeted set where you’re writing, directing, acting, producing, making sure there’s lunch, putting powder on your costar’s nose. It’s a completely different experience, and they’re satisfying in completely different ways. I guess if I could have my cake and eat it too, I would want to be a regular on a TV show and have that kind of stability and do my own projects on hiatus. That would be a dream come true. I hope I get to continue balancing these two worlds moving forward in my career.
Mad Men is now on its last season. How would you like to see it end?
I have no idea how it’s going to end, but I’m so invested in the character of Peggy. As a viewer, I really hope the best for her. She reminds me so much of my mom. My mom is an attorney, and became a partner at a law firm in Mississippi when I was a child. Seeing the ways in which she had to navigate the changing landscape of America as a woman is something I’m really passionate about. We still don’t have equal pay for equal work, and still there’s a lot of invisible discrimination in the workplace against women. So I really hope Peggy will emerge triumphant since I care so much about her story.
There’s a lot of talk about the sexism on the show. It seems to make the men look completely ridiculous for not recognizing the capabilities of their female coworkers. Do you think it’s at all a satire of the treatment of women?
What I love about the show is it holds up a mirror to modern day. I think it is in fact ridiculous and almost comedic to not be able to recognize characters like Peggy’s or Joan’s capabilities or their intellect and powers as individuals. But I think unfortunately, there are still plenty of people who would not recognize a woman’s capability in the workplace because of her gender. I think as far as the sexism goes, it’s a good indicator of how far we’ve come since then, but also shows how far we still have to go. We see the same sort of thing with homophobia too.
Speaking of which, did you experience any issues with trying to find a network for EastSiders because of the fact it features homosexual characters?
Logo is an LGBT network, but I’m hopeful that because of Looking on HBO and because of other high-profile LGBT representations that we’ll be able to see more and more gay representation on television and regular media. It’s been a niche market in the past, and in some ways it still is. We’re a minority of people, and there’s not a huge consumer base for LGBT media. But I think as people start to come out and live their lives openly as many people do now, it’s been de-stigmatized in a lot of parts of the country. Not so much where I come from in Mississippi. There’s still a lot of tension there, which is evidenced by the passing of that so-called religious freedom bill. To me, that says we still have a long way to go.
The show isn’t necessarily about gay rights as much as it is about just looking into the life of a gay couple. They behave just like any other couple. Are you hoping, because of this, that they will be seen as “normal characters”and not only as “gay characters?”
For me, normal is such a relative term. I just wanted to create characters I could relate to. I’ve been in a relationship for seven years, and I haven’t really seen my relationship depicted onscreen. Not that this is my relationship…I should go on record and say it’s not an autobiographical story! My mom totally thought it was. She called me after the first episode saying “Do you need to talk about this?”And I said “No, Mom. I really don’t. It’s not based on my life.”But as far as the question goes, I do hope we come to a place in the storytelling tradition where gay and lesbian characters can just be characters.
You can watch Williamson in the first season of EastSiders on Logo and in the final season of Mad Men on AMC. To learn more about EastSiders and to donate to the season two kickstarter, visit the show’s website.
Tessa Roy ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor