Julie White talks playing an angry lesbian on “Go On”

NBC’s new series Go On will premiere early on August 8 and there’s a few reasons to tune in. One is Laura Benanti. The biggest, though, is Julie White playing a lesbian lawyer who recently lost her partner. Yet I’m telling you, this is a comedy.

Go On follows Matthew Perry‘s Ryan King, a sports radio show host who has lost his wife and will only keep his job if he deals with his grief. His boss sends him to a support group and Ryan has to get Benanti’s Lauren (the group leader) to sign off on his participation. The humor comes in when Ryan meets his groupmates, including Julie White’s Ann — and she’s anger in a blazer. She mentions early on that she’s lost Patty and can’t bring herself to sleep on her side of the bed. But by the end of the episode, she’s joined the rest of her peers in the streets, brandishing swords and armor.

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“She’s logical,” White said of her character. “She’s definitely the Mr. Spock of the situation. And somebody like that, when something so out of the world happens to them, I think she’s just a very sensible and when something happens that’s senseless it just so throws her world off. And it’ll be interesting to see how she gets through it and keeps going.”

And it is interesting to watch a lesbian dealing with the loss of her partner on a network show. This is new territory on television, and the fact that Ann is gay was something that just kind of came into play after Julie had signed on.

“When Scott Silveri initially wrote the pilot and offered me the role, it was a traditional ‘my husband died and I’m a stay at home mom. He’d had a massive heart attack and I’m furious’ — like the emotional center of the character stayed the same,” White said. “Like I’d lost my beloved, and I’m so mad — like so mad — which people do. Because you’re also so sad that if you let yourself be sad you think you’ll die. So she just girded herself up with fury. Before we even shot it. He called me at home and he said ‘Julie, I have something that I want to ask you.’ In my head, a little thing went ‘She’s gay.’ I asked him, ‘Is she gay?’ She’s gay. I was like ‘Awesome!’ It made sense in the storytelling. As far as when you’re building a group like this it’s like how the balance is and who the people are and they needed another element and just felt like the right element.”

As a plot device, it works. Ann is a great character who is dealing with having to take care of her children as a single mom. ” Patty, my partner — my wife — was sort of more the stay at home parent and I was more the breadwinner parent,” White said of her role. “Like how our house runs and shit — I don’t know how she did it all!”

She also said she’s glad that it’s bringing a different sexuality into the group, which is diverse in all other ways, from age to ethnicity to the type of grief they are dealing with. “Not that I want to make anything a teaching moment,” White said, “but it’s always good when America sees a family that’s gay, lesbian or trangender.”

Because they both have lost their wives, Ann and Ryan have a real bond. “It makes Matthew’s and my journey very similar. We really have a lot to offer one another as friends, getting through something very similar,” White said. “She’s a good mirror for Matthew’s character — somebody who says ‘We’re not buying that line of bullshit that you’re putting down.'”

While her character might both a lesbian and angry, White isn’t playing a stereotypical “angry lesbian.” The difference is, innately, she’s grieving. She has a reason to be pissed, and it’s because she can’t accept that her partner has died. “That’s kind of the terrible thing of when you lose — or even when you just break up with somebody and the relationship goes south,” White said. “Once you begin to really get over it, you’re also admitting it’s never going to come back. It is sad but life is f—ing sad, man! Sad stuff happens and I don’t know about you, but some of the biggest laughs I’ve ever had have been at funerals. It’s certainly a huge part of life is how we get over things that feel too hard.”

Ann deals with her grief differently from most of her other groupmates. Sarah Baker‘s character lost her cat and is depressed. Tyler James Williams‘ Owen is almost mute while with his brother in a coma. And Mr. K, played by Brett Gelman — no one even knows why he’s there.

“I think that when she comes across is really sensible in a bunch of f—ing goofballs,” White said. “It’s somebody who totally speaks her mind. I am just playing a character. I’m playing this lady and this lady is — I think she’s just extremely straightforward and very very smart. If it comes off as abrasive, I think it eventually comes off as she’s no-bullshit. Be honest. That’s her thing, too — don’t sit here and lie to us. Just say what you’re feelings are.”

See? She’s the one that makes it the most fun to watch.


Go On premieres this fall on NBC.