Michael Urie talks new CBS show 'Partners,' the evolution of the gay sitcom

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Image Credit: Matt Kennedy/CBS

ABC’s dramedy Ugly Betty was memorable for innumerable reasons, but one in particular stands out: Michael Urie. The actor played the ever-colorful and ever-bitchy fashionista Marc St. James, who stole scenes with a band of robbers including co-stars Becki Newton and Vanessa Williams. Although he won’t be with his old Betty cronies, Urie is returning to TV tonight at 8:30 p.m. in CBS’ sitcom Partners, playing one-half of a pair of friends — one gay, one straight.

EW recently caught up with the actor to talk about his return to TV, playing opposite (a former) Superman, and which old co-star he wants to play his mother.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Welcome back! Were you looking to get back into TV?
MICHAEL URIE: Not really. But when I read this part, I was like, Okay, this is a part I could get and I have to get. I have to hustle. I have to make this happen because it could be my only chance for a great leading role in a TV show.

Are you excited or nervous about doing a traditional sitcom?
I’m like a kid in a candy store, since Partners mixes everything that I love about television and theater. The difference between Partners and Ugly Betty is this awesome live audience, so in that respect, it’s like doing a play. The audience is ripe. But also, they’re honest. They won’t laugh if they don’t get the joke.

What’s the deal with your character Louis?
He is over-the-top and he is self-centered, but he is completely driven by love. The boundaries are so loose when you play somebody who’s not afraid to say anything, who’s not apologetic but is caring and tender. That makes him likable and despicable.

So your on-screen boyfriend is being played by Brandon Routh. What a hottie!
Yes, it’s so fun! He’s super cute and a big ol’ tree trunk of a man. He plays the character’s aloofness perfectly. He was so brilliant as Clark Kent [in Superman Returns] — who is the classic guy that’s an aloof buffoon — so this is basically a sitcom version of that.

Say your characters — Louis from Partners and Marc St. James from Ugly Betty — met in a gay bar. How would they react to each other?
Marc would pay very little attention to Louis, and Louis would eventually point out that Marc was indifferent and he has no identity of his own and was never going to go anywhere. That’s if season 1 Louis met season 1 Marc.

How do you think the gay sitcom character has evolved since Will & Grace was on the air?
There are places in the country where straight people still don’t understand how to be friends with a gay man, and I think if they catch our show, it can be what Will & Grace was for those types of folks. Where Ugly Betty and Glee were certainly able to tackle serious social issues about coming out, this show is much further along in the characters’ lives. We’re meeting them in mid-life, so it’ll be less of an issue show, and more of a lead by example show, I hope.

Do you think there’s room for your old Ugly Betty cast mates somewhere on Partners?
Oh God, I hope so. The one that I’m going to lobby for first is Judith Light. She can do anything! For me, she was just so important — as Angela on Who’s the Boss?, she was the person who I looked to on television to represent mothers.

So maybe she plays Louis’ mom when that role comes around?
Well, look at that! What about that? Exactly! She’s brilliant.

Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky

Read more:
‘Partners’ creators take heat for title, similarities to Fox sitcom of the same name


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