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WITH AN EYE ON . . . : Being gay in the 'NYPD': Bill Brochtrup finds the right reality check

August 13, 1995|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The crew's laughing hysterically. Bill Brochtrup plays the part just as he did when he auditioned for it and he's getting the same enthusiastic response.

But when the director pulls him aside, the actor realizes something's wrong.

"I couldn't figure out what it was," Brochtrup recalls of the plum two-part role he had just landed on ABC's "NYPD Blue" last season. As "the gay temp," which is how Brochtrup refers to his character John Irvin, he's filling in for secretary Donna Abandando (Gail O'Grady). (The actress was shooting "She Stood Alone," ABC's telefilm about the Tailhook scandal.)

"I played it like I did in the audition and rehearsal, kinda broad, pretty flamboyant," Brochtrup says over lunch at a Los Angeles restaurant. "I was playing it camp, like this," he says and snaps his fingers high in the air. "They'd initially told me in the audition I wasn't playing it fey enough and so I went waaaaah, " he adds and throws out his arms wide, indicating he played it very big. "They wanted the broadness."

But on his first day, at executive producer David Milch's request, he was asked to tone it down.

"Frankly, they were right," Brochtrup agrees."A guy that flamboyant would never survive in that NYPD."

Brochtrup's Irvin not only survived his two-part assignment, but also earned an additional episode and a recurring spot in the upcoming fall season. Irvin's romance with an officer on the force is expected to continue. This week, the second of Brochtrup's episodes repeats.

"It's clear they wanted Irvin to be openly gay, but not a snap queen," he explains. Irvin is "efficient and gets the job done. I was happy to oblige and it was a very smart thing to do. What I originally gave them was very funny, but stereotypical, and it wouldn't have had legs for more than two episodes. By making him more real, more low-key, he had a chance to grow."

The role may be the Seattle native's big break on prime time. As a man comfortable with his homosexuality in a macho police department, Irvin can be looked upon as a role model. "It's really great playing him." Sometimes, Brochtrup acknowledges, Irvin's a "little too good to be true" but has a "great way of letting things roll off his back. He handles the many homophobic remarks that get thrown his way."

Executive producer Steven Bochco gives the actor credit with Irvin's success in the precinct. "Bill's so centered, so confident in his skin, in life, that it completely informs his character so that [being gay] not withstanding, Irvin's something of an odd duck in that squad room.

Irvin "has a 'won't beat me down' attitude that's refreshing," says West Hollywood resident Brochtrup. "He's also got a wonderful open heart. I wish more people were like him. People have said to me, 'I wish he was more militant, I wish he would stand up for himself.' There are people who'd do that and have made strides [for gays] in the workplace by doing that, but others work in other ways, approach problems as Irvin does, one person at a time."

One of of those persons is Det. Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz). The interaction between them "mirrors the audience's own prejudices against gays, and they'll see Dennis saying things they themselves had said," Brochtrup says. The resolution of problems between them makes Irvin more real, the actor adds.

"The very last thing last season was to have them shake hands. He looks at me skeptically. It's a slow learning thing between them. That's real."

Brochtrup was playing an AIDS patient in the acclaimed play "Raft of the Medusa" when spotted by an "NYPD Blue" producer. "My character had the same sweetness that they wanted for Irvin."

Brochtrup stars in the upcoming "Something Else" and "Not Again," both romantic comedies set in Los Angeles, as well as the sci-fi "Space Marines" where he plays a tough, intellectual military man. He plays a gay character in the art-house film "Man of the Year," an offbeat docu-comedy that premiered at Los Angeles' recent "Outfest" and will be shown at the Toronto Film Festival next month.

And no, he didn't get called aside by the director for any of those roles. "Those parts just worked right away," he says with a smile.

"NYPD Blue" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.

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