Updated June 06, 2011
I called Michelle Bonilla minutes after the California Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage must allowed. I was the one to deliver the news to her and she cheered in delight.
You’ve probably seen Michelle on TV or in the movies. She’s played paramedic Harms on ER for more then ten years, had a role in Star Trek: Enterprise and played Latina teacher Teresa Morales on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, among dozens of other roles. Michelle is an out and proud Mexican Lesbian actor. She sat down and talked with me about her latest pet-project, why she thinks so many celebrities choose to stay in the closet, the lack of lesbians on TV and her thoughts about Jodi Foster. Here is the Lesbian Life interview with Michelle Bonilla.
Lesbian Life: Have you heard the good news? The Supreme Court in California has ruled that to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry is unconstitutional.
Whoo, hoo hoo! Yeah! I love that! That’s so awesome! I’m so excited I’ve got goose bumps right now. That’s excellent.
You obviously made a decision at some point to be out and there are people out there who are making different decisions. What played into yours? Why did you decide to be an out actor?
I really didn’t make a conscious decision to be out. I’ve been in this business for 15 years and even before that was an issue for me, I was so concentrated on my career. Whenever I was called for audition, they knew about my work. My sexuality has nothing to do with that. So as years went on, I actually came out in The Advocate
. I had done a short [film] that Liz Lachman directed
and I was posed a question, are you gay? And why was I going to lie? I don’t have anything to hide. I pride myself on being truthful, not only to myself, but to others. Certain things aren’t anybody’s business, but if I go and make a gay film, I’ve opened myself up to it. I actually didn’t think I’d get a big response, but boy was I wrong! I got tons of mail and tons of email and they were all supportive.
That’s great! I hear so many positive stories like that. What do you think is keeping so many gay and lesbian actors in the closet?
I just think it’s fear. If everything is going well, you start to question, “Will I lose everything?” Because that’s the fear, “Oh my god, will I ever work again?”
Do you think it’s fear based in reality?
I mean what is fear? Fear is always based on something that has not happened yet. Everything is riding on personalities. You become famous not only for your work, but you become a personality and that personality is jeopardized. There is fear involved because how are you going to get your income. The interesting thing is Jodi Foster recently did a wonderful lay-out in the insert for the LA Times Entertainment section. It was this marvelous interview and picture of her and her partner and her son and nothing about her being gay. It’s so obvious. She won’t say it. She went so far when she won an award to thank her partner, but it was. “Is Jodi Foster finally coming out and saying it?” No. But at that point, everyone knows, but I don’t think it’s about fear for her. I mean, I hold her in such high esteem, but she has made that choice. For the mass of the people out there who are still closeted, I would just say fear. For me personally, I have nothing to lose. If I go into a room and I audition and they see my talent and they say, “Wow that’s incredible and you see their faces and you know they are sincerely moved and if they don’t hire because I’m gay, then “F” them. I am not in the position of Jodi Foster. I don’t have that type of fame, but what I do have is a secure sense of self. And I have a very secure sense of my talent. And that is what’s important to me. I’m an actor first.
Has there been any negative repercussions for you?
No, not at all.
You mentioned Jodi Foster and I’m wondering if you had a role model or mentor that helped you with your decision to come out.
Seriously, it was being in the relationship that I’m still in that was really strong and tight that to deny who I am would mean to deny that relationship. And I couldn’t do that. I can’t do that. It’s going to sound corny, but I guess my role model was love.
You’re in a relationship. You’ve been together how long?
Let’s talk about your acting. I’ve noticed you have a special knack for weeping on camera.
(laughs)I do. That is so funny that you say that, because I am so trying to bust out of that. Every heart-wrenching role, it’s like “Get Michelle.” I don’t know. I too can be happy.
Have you done comedy?
Oh yeah! I’ve done Unfabulous
. I actually just finished a film with Olympia Dukakis called Montana Amazon
and it’s a dark comedy. I like to keep that in as much balance as I can. But I tend to get those roles. I’ve always seemed to go for those and get them. I’m trying to turn the tide with that. So if anyone out there wants to give me a comedy, I’m fine with that.
You’ve been on ER for like 10 years. The character you play there is a little more tough.
I wouldn’t say she’s tough, I would say she’s focused. She’s wheeling people in and out near death. She’s just very nonplussed by everything.
Which one is more you? The nonplussed one or the weepy one?
It’s so funny, I think they’re both Michelle. The way I go about my work, I like to come from a very truthful place, so there always going to be me. I’m just lucky to be able to make money by tapping into those parts of myself.