Michael Boatman on his award-winning gay turn

Does Michael Boatman, a 32-year-old husband and father, consider it odd that he’s become a poster boy for the gay community? As the Spin City star stood on an L.A. stage March 16 to help accept an award from GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) for Outstanding Television Comedy Series, the actor says he couldn’t help but think, ”My life has become very, very surreal.”

To create Carter Heywood, the resident gay activist on the ABC sitcom, Boatman purposely played down swish in favor of swagger. ”He’s sort of a ball breaker — a sardonic, funny guy,” he offers. And while Carter’s sexuality may occasionally take center stage (in one episode, he’s visited by an ex-boyfriend — played by former Beverly Hills, 90210 heartthrob Luke Perry — only to find him engaged to a woman), it’s the least of what makes him memorable. He’s ”a hundred other things,” says coexecutive producer Gary David Goldberg, ”he just happens to be gay.”

”I love that this guy, like everyone else in the office, is kinda screwed up,” says Boatman. ”They’re all losers in the emotional realm. Why should Carter be any different?” On the other hand, Carter is most appealing because he believes himself to be so far superior to those around him. ”He has very little patience for what he perceives to be foolishness — which means he’s constantly p—– off,” Boatman adds. ”He thinks he’s a little bit smarter and more charming than everyone in the room.”

Viewers seem to agree. When accepting the GLAAD award with Boatman, Goldberg noted that research indicates Spin City‘s Carter is second only to beleaguered deputy mayor Mike Flaherty (Michael J. Fox) in popularity. The Family Ties creator credits Boatman’s well-rounded performance in a part the actor never even read for. In fact, Goldberg cast him without having seen a frame of his work (which includes the film Hamburger Hill and a memorable turn as morgue attendant Sam Beckett on the critically acclaimed 1988-91 drama China Beach). After meeting with Boatman, Goldberg’s hunch was that the actor’s ”X factor — a vulnerability, intelligence, and gentleness” — would give the right balance to the curmudgeonly Carter. Indeed, Boatman ”has made the character so solid that it has no precedent,” says Spin City coexecutive producer Fox. ”He just came in and invented it.”

Out of that invention have come very tangible rewards. The actor — who currently divides his time between L.A. and New Jersey with his lawyer wife, Myrna, and 6-month-old daughter, Jordan — relates a poignant memory from the GLAAD ceremony. ”One man told me that he had tried to commit suicide as a young man,” says Boatman. ”He felt that if there’d been a character like mine on the air then, he might not have been so inclined, because he wouldn’t have felt so alienated. That feels great.”

Spin City
  • TV Show