Denis O’Hare stars as horror author Edgar Allan Poe on PBS’ “American Masters” series. The program premieres Monday, Oct. 30.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Our best laid plans often go awry. And for actor Denis O’Hare it was a good thing. The man who has played everything from a presiding judge to a vampire will be shining his light on one of our darkest heroes when he stars as Edgar Allan Poe on PBS’ “American Masters” on Monday.
In “Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive” O’Hare reveals the conflicted life of the literary icon who wrote more than 100 stories and poems and was best known for his Gothic horror tales.
O’Hare himself was conflicted when at 17 he decided to become a priest. “I was very serious about it,” he says. “I went to a Catholic high school and I had two brothers, one, Brother Smith and one, Brother Haas. And I remember Brother Smith was a great champion of mine, and we would talk. Brother Haas I didn’t like, and he didn’t like me.
‘Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive’
Premieres at 10 p.m. Monday, Oct. 30, on KCTS (Channel 9).
“But I was going to apply to be a brother with the Christian Brothers of Ireland, and Brother Haas said, ‘If you apply, I will block you,’ ” recalls O’Hare, seated in a folding chair in an empty meeting room here.
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“I thought it was the meanest thing I’d ever heard in my life. He said, ‘You don’t have a vocation.’ He didn’t explain himself. But he was right. I didn’t have a vocation. I wanted to be a brother or a priest because I wanted to be left alone. I wanted to be able to be left alone to sit quietly, play the organ, think about things. That’s not why you become a priest or a brother. You do it to serve other people.”
He has been serving other people ever since, but in a way he hadn’t planned. “Oddly enough, my motivation now would be correct because what I look for in life is to serve other people, to be part of a community,” he says and spreads his right hand over the round table in front of him.
“But then that’s not where my head was at. It doesn’t help that I’m an atheist; I’m also gay. That could help or hurt depending on how you look at it. But in so many ways he did me a favor. Because he didn’t like me he told me the truth and steered me correctly.”
While still a teenager O’Hare attended summer school at an arts high school in his native Michigan. There he was exposed to drama guru Stanislavski’s teachings. “The idea of the Russian method and I fell in love with that,” his eyes widen.
The following year he applied to only two colleges: the University of Michigan to train as an opera singer and Northwestern to become an actor. “I was accepted to both, but chose Northwestern because it was six hours away as opposed to a half-hour away. When you’re 18 you feel you need to get away from your parents.”
The fourth of five kids, O’Hare was doing OK until 2008 when tragedy struck on several fronts. His boyfriend died of AIDS. “My mother died in 2008. My sister killed herself in 2010. My favorite uncle died in 2008. My husband’s father died in 2008. So 2008 was a lot of death,” he sighs.
“You never get over it, you just move on,” he continues. “Life is for the living so you have to stay alive. My sister killed herself, and when you know somebody who killed themselves you realize that they didn’t want to be alive. I want to be alive till I’m 95 or something. I have a lot to do.”
One of those things he has to do is be a parent for the first time. Together for 17 years to his now-husband, Hugo Redwood, O’Hare and he have a 6-year-old son, Declan. “It took us three years to adopt him. We had another child in our care before Declan who was five weeks premature and was 5 pounds. We took that boy to 9 pounds in a month. We really got him healthy but weren’t able to keep him,” he sighs.
At first O’Hare didn’t want to become a parent. “We talked about it for seven years and I finally said, ‘If you want to be a parent, I’ll support you.’ He said, ‘No, you can’t support me. If I’m a parent, you’re a parent.’ We wrestled for a long time with that one,” he says. “It’s very difficult for gay people to adopt … My husband is Jamaican so we wanted to adopt a boy of color because boys of color are the least adopted children. So we felt a real passion to give that boy a home. It wasn’t until I confronted the idea that I felt like I somehow was not allowed to be a parent that I realized that was MY choice and that was something I could upend. So I did. I came around. And the irony, of course, is that we’re not gay parents — we’re parents.”