The Queerty Interview

Sean Maher Discusses Joss Whedon, Gay Adoption And The Impact Of Coming Out


When actor Sean Maher, idolized by sci-fi fans as Dr. Simon Tam in Joss (The Avengers) Whedon’s cult series Firefly, came out publicly two years ago, he was naturally (and frequently, he recalls) asked if he feared being typecast. What he wasn’t able to discuss then was that he’d already been cast as a villainous ladies man Don John in Whedon’s filmed-in-secret adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing (now playing in theaters). The 38-year-old veteran actor, who with his longtime partner is the father of two adopted children, chats with Queerty about working with Whedon again, the possibility of another Firefly project, and why he’s a tireless advocate for gay adoption.

Everyone in Much Ado About Nothing seems to be  having a blast. How much fun was it to play Don John?

It was my first villain and first Shakespeare. I had so much fun and am so grateful. I’d auditioned for villains many times in the past. I’m so grateful Joss thought of me for this. I love the character. He isn’t just plain mean, he’s very calculating and manipulating. He’s earnest to your face while he screws you over.

Joss did some gender bending in his adaptation [Conrade, traditionally a male character is now female] and a seduction scene was added. Was there ever discussion of keeping Conrade a male and adding the seduction scene?

Oh, that’s funny. I didn’t think of that. I don’t know if that was discussed.

You must appreciate that your first part since coming out publicly is as a villainous ladies man.

It’s funny that this was the first role after I came out. The question everyone kept asking was if I was going to be typecast so actually… [Laughs] My next project had me rolling on a bed with a woman.

Much Ado is a reunion not only with your Firefly creator Joss, but with Nathan Fillion, your costar in the series, and many of the crew members. What’s the likelihood of another Firefly sequel [the first, Serenity, was released in 2005]?

I honestly don’t know. If there is a status I’m not privy to it. I get that question all the time. I’m as baffled as the next person. I always hoped there’d be another movie. The only thing I’ve heard discussed is the possibility of an animated series. It’s very unofficial.

It’s been a decade since the show was canceled and fans are still devoted to it. Last year you and the cast made a splash at Comic-Con. How do you account for the show’s continued appeal?

More and more I’m starting to feel that there was an essence of having something taken away before its time. Obviously the story is wonderful and the characters are extraordinary. This world that Joss created was so universal and resonated with so many people. Now 10 years later I think this notion of nostalgia and having something that was snatched away commits to the continued dedication of the fans. I don’t think anyone’s giving up hope that there’ll be another life for it somehow.


How has your life changed since you came out publicly two years ago?

I still look back and think of it as one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. It was one of the biggest risks I’ve taken. It inspired me to take more risks and focus on what is truly at the heart of myself and what are my values and navigate from the inside out. It’s been a very spiritual journey for me. Professional life aside, I knew it would feel liberating.

What advice would you give to closeted actors who are considering coming out?

First, I’d say I get it. I’ve been there and it’s not fun. I’d ask them what they’re risking by staying in the closet and what they’re risking by coming out. What I found was it was a much bigger risk for me to stay in the closet because what I discovered by taking the leap was so abundant for me.

What was the reaction within the industry?

It hasn’t changed that much. There were a few studio heads and heads of casting who didn’t come to me directly, but they reached out to my manager to say, ‘Wow, how brave of him. We’ve always been fans of him and please know that we’ll fight harder for him.’ That stuff surprised me. The rest of it hasn’t changed that much. It’s not as if I’m not being seen for heterosexual roles. I feel like there are a lot more gay roles to go after and sometimes I don’t get them. I’m still auditioning for gay roles. It’s not like I’ve become the go-to guy for gay roles, but I’m not having the door closed in my face for straight roles. I feel like it hasn’t shifted all that much. In the bigger picture my act of coming out has been respected.

Your bio in the Much Ado press notes describes you as an LGBT advocate and mentions your partner and children. Sometimes even the official bios of openly LGBT actors are vague. What went into that decision?

I remember when we changed it. It used to read: Maher is single and splits his time between New York and L.A. It’s liberating to feel that I’ve found my niche in this crazy business. After all the soul searching and becoming a father, I wondered if there was a bigger purpose for me. If I can call myself an LGBT advocate I feel very proud to call myself that.

Do you feel any responsibility to represent or be more politically active?

I wouldn’t say it’s a responsibility, but I definitely feel a desire. Especially being the father of two adopted children, I’m a huge advocate of adoption. Just last week I went back to their adoption agency and spoke on a panel of adoptive parents to represent the LGBT aspect of the adoption process. We feel incredibly indebted to our social workers and the whole process so we do everything we can to educate about adoption. It’s a fine line. I don’t want my children to feel that they’re different. We embrace how special we are as a family and what makes us different is what makes us so special. They’re remarkable children. We’re always being told how confident and fearless and happy our children are. Eventually they’ll know that their family isn’t traditional.

They’re very fortunate to have such committed parents.

Being gay parents is a true gift and we cherish it and take it very seriously. It’s our top priority even when we’re not speaking to each other. [Laughs] Our children are everything and that’s the way we’ve seen it from day one.

Photos: Brie Childers