Outward

The Making of a Sexy TV Lesbian

The cast of Survivor’s Remorse. Erica Ash, who plays M-Chuck, is third from the left.

Photo courtesy of Starz

Survivor’s Remorse, which launched on Starz last Saturday, and has already been renewed for a second season, tells the story of Cam Calloway, a professional basketball player whose huge new contract has made him one of the game’s superstars, as he learns to adjust to his elevated status with the help of his tight-knit family. It’s a funny, cheeky, and sometimes spookily prescient show—the second episode deals with the fallout when Cam’s mom tells a red-carpet interviewer that she used to discipline her son with a switch—which also happens to have a fantastic gay character: Cam’s sister, Mary Charles, known as M-Chuck and played by Erica Ash, is a key member of his entourage and a very out and proud lesbian.

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I spoke with showrunner Mike O’Malley—yes, Burt Hummel on Glee—about how he came up with the M-Chuck character, whether he considers her a womanizer, and LeBron James’ involvement with the show.

How did you decide to give Cam a lesbian sister?

I thought it would be interesting for him to have an older sister who was also a great athlete and who was fiercely protective of him. I also wanted to show that it just wasn’t an issue for them that she was a lesbian.

We’ve seen stories about bullying and trauma so much that this no-big-deal attitude feels pretty fresh.

It’s kind of great when you say, “We’ve seen these stories so much.” When I was growing up, we certainly didn’t see them so much.

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I wanted to show a very strong-willed, confident, capable person who was a sister, whose brother knew she was tremendously important in who he was, who taught him as much about how to be who he needed to be as anyone.

It’s also really interesting to me that you chose to characterize her as a womanizer.

I’m not going to take issue with your characterization of womanizer, because that’s the way you see it, but let’s look at her actions. In the pilot, she flirts with a woman on the plane. That’s what we see—she sends her some text messages, and she’s going to take her on a date. In the second episode, she meets a person at the party and goes home with them. We don’t know, because that scene isn’t seen on camera, whether she was picked up or the girl was picked up. In Episode 3, there is no romantic relationship. And then in the fourth episode, she’s on a date with someone else. So, yes, she’s not a serial monogamist, but when I think of the term “womanizer,” I think of someone who is maybe mistreating or not looking for a connection with the other person, someone who’s just trying to satiate their own appetites. And I think that M-Chuck is really looking for connection.

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I also don’t think that she’s any different from how a lot of men and women seem to be nowadays in hookup culture. If that’s not the way it is, please alert me, because if I’m misrepresenting that people are going to bars and taking other people home, I want to know.

I would not make that claim, and I would also say that M-Chuck is aspirational. She’s living the dream.

I’ve met many gay and lesbian folks who are like that. They’re just out there. I think that maybe what’s different is that she’s doing it out in the world. She’s not doing it in the confines of a cloistered setting. She’s not ashamed, and she’s not going to explain it away.

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Survivor’s Remorse showrunner Mike O’Malley with Erica Ash, who plays M-Chuck, on the set.

Photo courtesy of Starz

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It’s also really great to see that M-Chuck’s family is so close and that they’re absolutely supportive of her. Were you consciously trying to challenge the stereotype—which is erroneous, I believe—of African Americans being more homophobic than other groups?

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I didn’t go into any anthropological research about how certain ethnic groups view certain issues, because I was trying to write a show about human beings for the whole human population that wants to watch Starz at 9 o’clock on a Saturday. (We’re also looking forward to anyone watching on demand or streaming!) I wasn’t trying to make a statement other than that this is the story of a family who love the other people in their family, and it’s them against the world. The other thing is to show that folks just need to be accepting and loving everywhere, of all kinds of people. If M-Chuck does some dastardly behavior or if she’s unkind, she should have to deal with the same sort of fallout and consequences as everyone else.

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I know that LeBron James is one of the show’s executive producers. What’s his involvement?

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LeBron and I have been in contact person-to-person just a few times. The show got picked up in January, which is right in the middle of basketball season, and we were shooting it during the playoffs. We were done right when he was finishing up the NBA Finals. But we went down to his house and read the first script out loud, and he loved it. It’s great to have a guy who’s as well known as he is supporting the show, supporting the subject matter—and look, it’s adult subject matter—and how we’re handling it. He was at the premiere. But is he coming to Sunset Boulevard and sitting in the writers’ room? No, he’s not. Hopefully next year.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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