We talk to the singer and actor about what it's like to be openly gay and talented in the often intimidating world of Hollywood.
If you haven't seen Netlix's reality music series "Westside," it's probably about time you binged on it over the weekend. The series goes deeper than most on network TV in that its musical subjects are profiled warts and all from their drug habits to their creative processes. The nine young L.A.-based musicians let the cameras roll during their daily lives, with each episode combining both music videos and original songs to personalize each story.
One of the show's co-creators and cast members is openly gay Sean Patrick Murray, an actor and singer who is originally from New Jersey but now resides among the din in the City of Angels. His life is featured in the show; episode three showcases his wedding to his husband Andy.
San Diego Gay and Lesbian News spent some time getting to know a little bit more about Sean, his struggle to swing open the rusty doors of a closeted Hollywood, and what eventually led him to help create "Westside."
What is it like being gay and an artist in Hollywood? Has it gotten easier?
Sean Patrick Murray: To be honest, if you had asked me this 10 years ago, I would probably be too scared to even do this interview. I had it drilled into my head from a very young age that historically speaking, if you want to be a successful artist but happen to be gay, you hide it. I can remember sitting in a meeting with a potential agent back in NYC and after I made a comment about my boyfriend and I being excited to go away for the weekend, they responded they would 'keep that our little secret, for everyone's sake.'
It broke me, and I had an identity crisis for a very long time. What does it mean to be a gay man? How am I supposed to act? What is expected of me? How am I NOT supposed to act in front of my parents. But thankfully, time heals all.
Growing up, I didn't have movies like Dear, Simon, or artists like Troy Sivan. But thankfully, through the power of technology, more platforms are being created for artists to share their work. And more platforms means more LGBTQ+ voices. And not just gay white male voices. Trans Voices. Bisexual Voices. Lesbian Voices. Black, Asian, and Hispanic Voices. Now we have Creators like Ryan Murphy and Greg Berlanti. We have choreographers like Travis Wall. We have openly gay actors like Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
We have social media superstars like Tyler Oakley. They have helped paved the way and made it easier for only myself, but that young person who wants to share their voice as well.
What made you want to create a project like "Westside"?
I spent a lot of my life like a fish swimming upstream. Constantly fighting the rejection, gaining a little momentum, then taking 4 steps back. It's a constant push and pull that affects me to my core, and I think can resonate with anyone's own dreams. I went to NYU for acting, but out of creativity and survival, I started creating my own content. I created a webseries over 10 years ago about myself and a few friends living in NYC and going to NYU.
My now mentor, producing partner and best friend, Michael Flutie, discovered that video and brought me into his production company, Madwood Studios. He told me he believed in me, that I wasn't just an actor or a singer, but a producer. (I had no idea what producing was) But he said he would support my dreams, allow me audition on the side and teach me everything he knew about producing. 10 years later, Westside is a culmination of our shared struggle, passion and necessity to share our truths. I was always inspired by Sylvester Stallone and then Lena Dunham, creating an opportunity and then seizing it by inserting themselves. When Michael, Kevin Bartel (Exec Producer @ Love Productions) and myself came up with this concept, it was the perfect fit.
Some of your personal life is the focus of this series, were you afraid to put yourself out there?
The only time I was nervous about putting myself out there was when it affected someone else...particularly speaking, my husband. I'm very protective of him, his feelings, and his own wants and needs. We ultimately allowed cameras to document my wedding in Episode 3 once we realized the message was not about "Andy and me", but about the reach in 190 countries that "two men who love each other deeply and are supported by their closest friends and family" would have on all those young kids who were struggling and being told they weren't accepted. If I could help one LGBTQ+ person from allowing my personal life into that day, then this show was a success.
How about some of the other artists’ personal lives?
We all made a pact. That the only way this show would be respected, was if we allowed our most raw and truthful selves to be documented. There truly was no script. There were no producers in our ear telling us what our storyline or "character" was. The show was about 9 artists putting on an original show in Los Angeles, and our incredible director James Carroll made sure to honor that story in the most authentic way.
Why is music so important to you?
I learned to sing before I had to learn French in middle school, so it's my second language. In truth, it's universal. For me, music hits me at my core. It's something that I could never live without. It inspires me, it affects me, it challenges me. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry. It holds memories and creates new ones. Music is the passion and gift I feel has become a responsibility to harness and share with the rest of the world, in any capacity and any way. Music heals.
What is the most important thing you think people should come away with after watching “Westside”?
I hope people come away with feeling inspired. That they get off the couch (after bingeing all 8 episodes of course) and realize that anything is possible. That regardless of their passion or occupation, whether it be teaching or politics or a desk job, that they push themselves to be the best possible version of themselves. At the end of the day, this world has so much pain, so much tension. If we can distract people's minds from some of that for 8 hours of their life and make them feel something, then we've done our job. Netflix has done its job.
Will there be a follow-up to the series? Possibly a second season?
Do you have an in?! Can you put in a good word?!! But in all seriousness, Netflix, and particularly Jenn Levy and Brandon Riegg, have been so supportive by taking a huge swing, seeing the opportunity and trying something different, and giving us a platform to shout and sing our hearts from the rooftops. As long as we have a home at Netflix, I hope we can continue to share our songs and stories.
You can watch all episodes of 'Westside" now streaming on Netflix.