INTERVIEW: Kit Williamson on EastSiders, Susan Lucci, and LGBTQ representation
Posted Friday, January 31, 2020 11:29:14 AM
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EastSiders creator Kit Williamson dishes on magical moments with Van Hansis (ex-Luke Snyder, As the World Turns), the show's final season, and possibly casting All My Children legend Susan Lucci (ex-Erica Kane) in his future projects.

Many As the World Turns viewers were disheartened to see the end of the soap world's first male-male gay romance between Luke Snyder (Van Hansis) and Noah Mayer (Jake Silbermann) when the soap opera was canceled in 2010, so it was a godsend when television producer Kit Williamson scooped up Hansis to play one of the leads in his LGBTQ YouTube series EastSiders in 2012. In fact, Williamson credits all of the ATWT fans who followed Hansis over to the series for giving it the initial spark that led to its success -- which was becoming a Netflix series that is currently celebrating its fourth and final season.

For the last eight years, Williamson has starred opposite Hansis on the series that follows gay men, lesbians, drag queens, straight couples, and gender non-conforming people dealing with relatable issues such as marriage, infidelity, open relationships, sexual fluidity, parenthood, and more. With the Daytime Emmy-nominated show currently airing its last season, Soap Central spoke with Williamson to get the scoop on what fans can expect. We also found out which legendary lady he'd love to cast in his future projects (hint: she's the Queen of Soaps!).

Soap Central: Congratulations on the final season of EastSiders! Is this a bittersweet moment for you?

Kit Williamson: Oh, absolutely. But it's really satisfying to see the fans' response around the world. It's just been really overwhelming. I feel like the show really came of age this last season. It really grew up into a television show. We started as a web series, and every single year, we thought, "All right, this is probably it. This is probably all we can do with an independently produced series," but it kept exceeding our expectations and blowing through barriers that we didn't ever really hope to surpass. So that's been really, really cool.

Soap Central: What can you tease about the final season for those who haven't tuned in yet?

Williamson: This season is really a dialectic on love. We have all kinds of different queer relationships represented, from monogamous couples to open relationships, couples that have been together for seven years and couples that have just started dating. I really tried to make the ensemble as inclusive as possible and show all different sides of the same equation, because love is love, no matter what form it takes, and I think that's something that is really important to put out there for LGBTQ audiences. We get so few depictions of long-term relationships, which puts a lot of pressure on those depictions to be prescriptive or somehow tell people how to be. And this show takes the opposite stance. We really don't want to tell anybody how to live their life; we just want to give people the confidence to chart their own course in life and in love.

Soap Central: It seems to me that some big questions are explored in this season: whether or not to get married, whether or not to have children, those kinds of questions. Were you hoping to send a message about indecisiveness?

Williamson: That question is really interesting because that's one way to look at it, that the characters are grappling with indecisiveness. But I actually think that what they're grappling with is decisiveness. They're grappling with making informed decisions that impact the rest of their lives and trying to gather information and really take stock of how they actually feel in order to make those decisions. Something that happens in a lot of traditional stories is the characters follow a path laid out for them, either by their parents or by society, and they wake up one day and realize that they are in a situation that they didn't fully understand they would be in. As queer people, we have the added challenge of not necessarily being able to follow the path that our parents laid out for us; we have to chart our own course. But you should do that with intentionality, and you should do that by gathering a lot of information and making sure that you have a clear idea of what commitment really means for you and for your partner. That requires a lot of conversation, and that I think is something that the show strives to represent.

Soap Central: Has this all culminated in the way that you imagined when you first set out with the journeys for these characters?

Williamson: You know, every season I have kind of told myself it would be the last season. With every season, I gave myself the mandate of, "If this is the end, let it be satisfying." Because there is nothing worse than a story that just cuts off midstream, and you're left feeling unresolved and abandoned as a viewer, and kind of betrayed. Because we are the ones that are deciding whether or not we continue this story, I wanted to make sure that every time we left it, we left it in a place where I as a viewer would be okay with leaving it, you know? But this time, I really do feel like we resolved a lot of the storylines in a satisfying way. It's never just a happy ending, but I think we leave the characters in a really good place.

Soap Central: I love to hear that you've taken the care like that, because I've seen so many shows and think, "What were they thinking when they decided to end it this way?!"

Williamson: Well, I think so often, especially in shows through a traditional television development pipeline, the focus is on keeping it going as long as possible, and you lose sight of what the real goal should be, which is to tell a good story.

Soap Central: Have you noticed any tangible benefits of having the show move to Netflix? An audience increase, those things?

Williamson: The growth in the audience has been explosive. It was just this overnight boom, particularly with season three. When it came out, Netflix more than doubled the languages we were subtitled in. So now we're available worldwide, subtitled in more than 30 languages. Every day I get messages in a dozen languages from people in Brazil and Saudi Arabia and Taiwan and France and in the UK. People are discovering this show all over the world, and that is something that is just overwhelming and breathtaking to me.

Soap Central: That must feel incredibly special to you, because there are many places around the globe where it's rare to see gay relationships and LGBTQ stories on the screen and possibly even in real life.

Williamson: I'm from Mississippi, so I know firsthand the importance of representation. I didn't know any gay people growing up, so the first people that I got to see that were like me were characters on TV. I really think it saved my life and gave me hope that someday, I could live the kind of life that I saw on TV. And knowing that the show is able to do that in a small way is really, really meaningful to me.

Soap Central: What made you decide to cast Van Hansis as one of your leads? Were you a fan of As the World Turns?

Williamson: Van and I had never met and were actually connected by a mutual acting teacher in Los Angeles. Once she told me about him, I immediately went down the As the World Turns rabbit hole. I was familiar with [the Luke and Noah romance], but I hadn't watched it in real time. I remember before we met, I found the whole storyline on YouTube, the way I have since learned a lot of people internationally have also found and consumed that storyline, and I fell in love with his character. I was just absolutely riveted by him as an actor, and I thought, "If there is any way that this casting could work out, then we would have a real shot at a show." Because he just has this incredibly special talent that needs to be seen and that a lot of people recognize. I really credit the As the World Turns fans for the success of the show because they were that spark that lit the fire, essentially. It's important to remember this was back in 2012 when most people -- even in Los Angeles -- had no idea what the hell a web series was. It was this completely new concept, particularly for longer, ten-minute [episodes], because at that time, ten minutes was considered really, really long. Most web shows were three-minute comedies or blog style, and to have something that was a scripted narrative series that was not just scripted but also a drama, a dark comedy, in the vein of a cable show, there weren't a lot of people attempting that. I'm not saying we were the only ones, but we were certainly at the forefront of that kind of tone shown in a digital series.

Soap Central: You were really on the forefront of LGBTQ issues, as well. I mean, the last ten years have seen such a dramatic increase in the acceptance and media coverage of LGBTQ stories. It's like night and day.

Williamson: Oh, it absolutely is. I looked up the numbers the other day, and we are approaching something that looks like proportionate representation of LGBTQ characters now. At the moment, over 10% of characters on network television exist somewhere in that spectrum, but back in 2012, when we started the show, that number was 2.9%. So that is huge, exponential growth in those years. And our show, and I think a lot of independent content of that era, really came about as a result of frustration with the industry, feeling like the industry was not representing us correctly, and the types of representation that we did get felt very flimsy and inauthentic and afraid to represent our reality. One of the reasons that I wanted to create the show was to create flawed characters with problems, because so often, LGBTQ characters were represented as these model citizens who really existed to exist, if that makes sense. They were there to announce their existence and then leave the story before anything interesting could happen. Not in daytime, though! I will say that daytime has always been at the forefront of these things, which I think is so incredible. I imagine daytime also has a lot of conservative people tuning in, so you can credit daytime for expanding people's horizons, exposing people to stories that they otherwise would not have seen, and really creating social change.

Soap Central: Is starring on a soap opera or even working behind the scenes on a soap opera something you've ever thought about?

Williamson: Oh, absolutely! Tell them to call me! I'm available, and I would love to. [Laughs] I came late to the soap game, but I do remember specifically watching Days of our Lives as a kid. My babysitter called them her stories, and I would watch them with her in the afternoons after school. I remember loving it and loving how daytime stories have never been afraid to go there and to allow great actors to chew the scenery and go to the extremities of the human experience. As a player, I first fell in love with theater through Greek tragedy, and I think that there is a lot of overlap between the Greek and the daytime television stories, just in allowing catharsis and allowing for extreme emotions and extreme situations. That's something that I have always enjoyed as a viewer and as a storyteller.

Soap Central: Now that you're in a power seat, is there anyone in daytime that you would love to work with in the future?

Williamson: Oh, my God -- well, as a homosexual, I have profound appreciation for Susan Lucci [ex-Erica Kane, All My Children]! Profound appreciation. So, I would love, love, love to create a character for her someday. She's just one of those people who embodies the word diva to me in the best possible way.

Soap Central: Oh, my God, please make that happen! She is the best. Have you met her before?

Williamson: Sadly, I haven't. But I heard she is really kind, and she is so talented. I'd love to meet her someday.

The fourth and final season of EastSiders is currently available for streaming on Netflix, as are the first three seasons of the Daytime Emmy-nominated series.

Fans who are interested in the making of EastSiders can learn more in a brand-new documentary that chronicles the show's unusual journey from YouTube to Netflix. Available to view below, the free documentary features behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast, including Hansis, series creator Kit Williamson, Traci Lords, Brea Grant, John Halbach, Daniel Newman, Jake Choi, Jai Rodriguez, original cast member Constance Wu, and drag sensations Willam, Katya, and Manila Luzon.

What do you think about our interview with EastSiders creator Kit Williamson? What are your thoughts on the final season of the series? Would you like to see him work with Susan Lucci one day? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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