By Seth Reines, July 2019 Issue.
“I’ve never said I was straight, and I am not saying I’m gay now. I never lie, and I have never shied away from the topic. I have certainly chosen through my work to do things that promote the rights of LGBTQ people.”-Michael Urie, 2010.
Flash forward nine years. For his work in the fight for LGBTQ equality, openly gay Urie was recently honored with the HRC Visibility Award by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer civil rights organization.
HRC President Chad Griffin praised Urie, “From his iconic role on Ugly Betty to his award-winning portrayal of Arnold in Torch Song, Michael Urie has captured hearts across America. By using his transformational talents and global platform to celebrate openness and authenticity, Michael Urie is bringing greater visibility to the LGBTQ community and making a real difference for countless people.”
Born Michael Lorenzo Urie in Houston, Texas, the 39-year-old actor/director/producer began his theatrical career in high school productions. One of Urie’s Plano Senior High schoolmates, Phoenix choreographer/dance educator Lauran Stanis reminisced, “What I remember most about Michael was his group of friends that he had since elementary school. This group of boys are still friends today and came to see him in Torch Song on Broadway. These boys, who grew up in conservative, suburban Texas, were always his fans.”
Urie graduated with Jessica Chastain and Jess Weixler from The Juilliard School in 2003, the recipient of the John Houseman prize for excellence in classical theater and the Laura Pels award for a career in the theater.
Beginning in 2006, Urie played Marc St. James, Vanessa Williams’s gay assistant, in the CBS dramedy Ugly Betty. In the show’s original concept Williams would have a different assistant in each episode. But Williams loved their chemistry so much that Urie was signed as a full-time regular midway through the show’s first season. He and the cast were nominated for Screen Actors Guild awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 2007 and 2008.Appropriately, gay icon Patti LuPone played Urie’s mother in one episode.
During the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America Strike, Urie hosted TLC’s reality-based series Miss America Reality Check. When the strike ended, he co-starred in CBS’s short-lived series Partners (by Will & Grace creators) about two lifelong friends and business partners — one straight, one gay.
In 2015, Urie became the host of Cocktails & Classics on Logo TV, where he and a panel of celebrity friends watched and commented on classic movies while imbibing cocktails named for the films.
Urie often returned to his theatrical roots and, in 2009, starred off-Broadway in The Tempermentals, about the foundation of the early LGBTQ rights organization the Mattachine Society. In 2013, he starred in Buyer & Cellar about a struggling gay LA actor, recently fired from Disneyland, who lands a job curating the basement of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate. The play won him the 2014 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Solo Performance.
This past Broadway season, Urie starred in Harvey Fierstein’s 35th anniversary revival of Torch Song directed by Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project). Filling the iconic role originated by Fierstein, Urie played Arnold Beckoff, a New York drag queen with a complicated love life.
Echo: What was it like reinterpreting this iconic gay character?
Urie: When I got to read the whole play for him [Fierstein] for my audition, I knew that there was no way I could even try to be Harvey or impersonate him or even emulate him. I knew I had to use myself and find everything about me that was Arnold and build on that. And I knew that in a read-through I was really going to have to strap in and take the ride. Strap in, not strap on!
Echo: What do you think Torch Song means at this particular moment in LGBTQ history?
Urie: The idea that a gay man would be a husband and father today is commonplace. We see it all the time. It’s legal. There’s lots of gay daddies and gay mommies taking their kids to school and securing children in various ways. And of course, marriage is legal for anyone. But we’re still in a society where great groups, great swathes of the country are being told they don’t matter. They’re being told in Georgia they can’t vote. Women are being told that they can’t have control over their bodies. And Muslims are being told they can’t come back into the country. Everybody has that feeling, like Arnold feels at the end of the play, where they’re all alone.
Urie, who received critical acclaim and nightly standing ovations for his portrayal of Arnold, remains committed to Torch Song, which is scheduled to tour nationally this fall.
Urie: Since we first began the Torch Song journey, I have heard from people all over … that Arnold’s pride, strength, and frankness helped them come out, come to terms, and come together. This is something I hope our tour will do. We need Harvey’s play when our world is suddenly and continually confusing and divided.
Broadway/TV star and social activist Michael Urie continues to promote the rights of the LGBTQ community whenever and wherever he can. Just look at him in Christian Sirano’s gender-bending sensation at the 2019 MET GALA!