×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Tales of the City’ Reboot Team Talks Series’ Diverse LGBTQ Representation

Few fictional worlds have so meaningfully impacted the lives of LGBTQ Americans as Armistead Maupin’sTales of the City.” First serialized as a column in the San Francisco Chronicle, then produced as a groundbreaking 1993 PBS series, Maupin’s saga of a tight-knit LGBTQ community quartered at 28 Barbary Lane, home to Mary Ann Singleton and Anna Madrigal, was an early and beloved bellwether for contemporary queer life.

The television series returns this month in a 10-part Netflix reboot, and at Monday night’s New York City premiere, the series’ cast and creatives marked “Tales” as a triumph not just for the cherished characters of Barbary Lane, but for the LGBTQ writers and artists who conceived the sequel.

“To have an all-queer writers’ room, a group where nobody had to explain things, where the things that have all been in our heads, the experiences that we’ve all had growing up queer — that we could take our common ground and start from there — made a huge difference,” said Alan Poul, an original producer of the 1993 PBS series (as well as its 1998 and 2001 reboots), who serves as an executive producer and director for the Netflix sequel.

He added, “The time is right to re-approach this material and to bring Armistead’s incredible, magical sensibility to a new generation of fans and viewers.”

That the reboot was entirely staffed with queer writers was of crucial importance, reiterated cast and crew on the red carpet. “It’s time for that to happen, and, if it’s not going to happen for ‘Tales,’ then what’s it going to happen for?” said Laura Linney, who reprises her famed role as Mary Ann Singleton in the sequel, in addition to serving as executive producer.

“The amount of representation in this series just warms my heart. It’s something I wish I had more of as a kid,” added Ellen Page, who plays Mary Ann’s daughter Shawna, a character defined by the sexual freedoms and fluidity unique among Barbary Lane’s younger, 2019 inhabitants.

For queer actors of color, tasked with portraying among the most threatened members of LGBTQ life, the protection of a representative cast and crew “just makes it safe,” Charlie Barnett, cast as Michael Tolliver’s younger boyfriend, Ben, told Variety.

“It blew me away how comfortable it makes everyone,” Barnett continued. “Even if you’re the most ‘out’ person in the world, it’s terrifying to come out, and we have to do it a f—ing lot. It’s vulnerable, and in the same regard it’s what makes us such beautiful humans. That kind of vulnerability, that sharing of ourselves, that risk — it’s scary and, around the world, legitimately dangerous.”

“I feel really proud,” said Barbara Garrick, reprising her role as DeDe Halcyon Day in the new series, “proud of how ‘Tales’ has gone from being groundbreaking in ’93 with two guys kissing for the first time on television, to really going in depth about trans life in 2019, to seeing how the writers, producers, directors and talent, led by the genius (showrunner) Lauren Morelli are largely LGBTQ.”

“28 Barbary Lane represents an ethos that I think we all hope to create in the world, not just in this fictional story,” said Zosia Mamet, who plays Shawna’s girlfriend Claire.

The Netflix series picks up as Mary Ann, fleeing the perfect Connecticut life she left San Francisco to achieve twenty years earlier, returns to Barbary Lane, reunited with her daughter Shawna, ex-husband Brian (reprised by Paul Gross), and the chosen family she once adored.

There, she rejoins Olympia Dukakis’ Anna Madrigal, the transgender landlady and matriarch of the Barbary Lane community.

When the Academy Award winner took on the role 25 years ago, the depiction of an open and assimilated transgender character on cable television represented a courageous and radical step toward equality.

“Given the historical claim that Olympia has on this role, what Olympia has done for the trans community in carrying the mantle of Anna Madrigal forward, I can’t imagine anyone else playing Anna,” Linney said. “And now the baton is being passed.”

Today, the 87-year old returns to the role amid a different world for the trans community. While Dukakis portrays the aging Madrigal, turning 90 at the series’ start, flashbacks to her younger self are performed by actress Jen Richards, a step the transgender actress and activist sees as an important part of the transgender story for “Tales” and the entertainment industry.

“If you look over the whole history of casting, it’s always one of two things,” Richards told Variety. “If they want the trans person to seem obvious as a trans person — if they want them to be pathetic or colorful — they cast a man. If they want to trick the audience so to speak, then they cast a woman. So it’s always been aimed at a particular goal, narratively. And I think what’s happening now — what matters so much — is that narratives around the trans community can become more sophisticated, more nuanced because they know us.”

“Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City” premieres June 7 on Netflix.

(Photo above: Laura Linney, Lauren Morelli, Olympia Dukakis and Alan Poul)

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Elite Season 2

    San Sebastian: Spain’s SVOD Players Debate Competition, Brand, Talent

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — Executives from HBO, Netflix, Amazon and Movistar+ and “Elite” co-creator Darío Madrona took to the stage to field questions on the Global Impact of Spanish Series. Here, briefly, are five takeaways: 1.Spain First “La Casa de Papel” was watched by 34,355,956 Netflix accounts over its first seven days,  after a July 19 [...]

  • Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers

    Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers From Skipping Fox Ad Breaks

    Fox is hoping to knit together the seconds-long divide between a TV program and the commercials that support it. During ad breaks for a few football broadcasts, tomorrow’s run of the Emmys and Wednesday’s season premiere of “The Masked Singer,” the network will kick off ad sessions with special show promos that display artistic renderings [...]

  • Patria

    HBO Europe Unveils ‘Patria’ Footage to Captive San Sebastian Audience

    SAN SEBASTIAN — Amid large expectation, HBO Europe has revealed first footage giving a first sense of tone and pace of its Spanish original series “Patria.” A packed-to-overflowing press conference on Saturday morning at the San Sebastian Festival can be read as one sign of the potential popularity of the eight-part series. The panel sneak-peek [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • Peter Weber and Mike Johnson

    'The Bachelor's' Mike Johnson on Diversity and New Leading Man Peter Weber

    ABC named its newest star of “The Bachelor” this week, officially making Peter Weber the leading man for Season 24 of the long-running dating show. Social media backlash ensued following the announcement due to ABC’s selection lacking diversity, yet again. Since the dating franchise began in 2002, there has been only one “Bachelorette” of color [...]

  • ABC Studios Logo

    ABC Studios Head of Alternative Fernando Hernandez Exits

    ABC Studios’ head of alternative Fernando Hernandez has departed from his post at the Disney-owned television studio, a source familiar with the situation told Variety. The Hollywood Reporter first reported the news. Hernandez’s exit follows an executive shuffling at the top in recent months that has included the departure of Amy Hartwick, ABC Studio’s head [...]

  • Rob Cowan, Greg Silverman'The Conjuring 2'

    Greg Silverman’s Stampede, School of Rock Team for Unscripted Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Former president of Warner Bros. Pictures Greg Silverman is partnering with School of Rock through his content creation company Stampede. The collaboration with the music school will create exclusive content, starting with the development of an unscripted series.  School of Rock operates a network of performance-based education franchises that offer students of all ages guidance [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content