Recurring roles: Area high school alum a fixture on legal screen

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By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Denis O’Hare has no preference when it comes to being on the stage or the screen — big or small.

“They’re very different, obviously, and I am lucky enough to be able to indulge both,” said O’Hare, 53, an alumnus of Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills and Northwestern University. “So I couldn’t give a preference because what you’re required to do in each medium is so different; it activates different parts of you.”

He said he’s been more involved with work on stage than in film — “maybe 30 to 40 films and tons of TV.”

“I feel I haven’t exhausted my curiosity when it comes to film, so I am always anxious to do more movies,” O’Hre said. “I love theater. I continue to do theater.”

O’Hare appeared at the Motor City Comic Con in Novi last month, his first appearance at the event and first in Michigan in 18 years.  

“The fans are amazing,” he said. “Their enthusiasm and their excitement is contagious — I really like that.”

Best known for his roles on “True Blood” and “American Horror Story,” O’Hare has made numerous guest-appearances on many shows: the “Law & Order” franchise, “Brothers & Sisters,” “New York Undercover,” “Justice,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “CSI: Miami,” et al.

He currently has recurring roles on “The Comedians” and “The Good Wife.”

Additionally, he’s appeared in the films “Michael Clayton,” “Milk,” “Duplicity,” “J. Edgar,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” among others.

O’Hare meticulously researches each of his roles.

“I do a lot of homework whenever I work on anything, even on TV playing a guest part on ‘CSI.’ I sit down and I write out notes —‘Who I am? Where did I come from? What’s my background?’ … You have to answer these questions,” he said.

“You have to know your character’s background,” O’Hare added. “I spent a long time researching (Russell, the alpha vampire on ‘True Blood’), where he would be and what he would be. I decided he’d be a Celt… I did a lot of research on the Celts and gave myself a Celtic name, which nobody to this day knows — only I know — and then I shared my notes with (creator) Alan Ball.”

His most recent movie appearance was 2014’s “The Judge,” starring Oscar winner Robert Duvall (“The Godfather Part II”) and Oscar nominee Robert Downey, Jr. (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”).

He played Dr. Morris, a friend of the titular character Judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall).

Palmer’s charged with murder and it’s up to his estranged son Hank (Downey), an attorney, to defend him.

“Both are great guys,” O’Hare said. “I only spent a day with both of them. Duvall couldn’t have been easier and sweeter to talk to — I had a lovely time.”

Downey is “such a committed actor,” O’Hare said. “I’ve worked with George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie — the thing they have in common is they all work really, really hard. They show up on set on time and they’re ready to go. (Downey) is like that too. He takes it very seriously, and I think it shows in his work.”

O’Hare loves his recurring role as Judge Charles Abernathy on the legal drama “The Good Wife.”

“(The creators) came to me early on after they shot pilot,” he said. “I did the second episode. They just offered it to me. They asked if I’d be interested in doing this. I said, ‘It depends. I don’t want it to be a one-off.”

O’Hare said he has an open contract with the show.

“Whenever I’m available, they call me up,” he said. “Whenever I’m available, I call them up. They try to give my character more than just perfunctory stuff; he’s not just presiding over a trial.”

Even though O’Hare’s only been in “The Good Wife” for eight episodes, he’s amazed by how much Abernathy has developed in that short length of time. 

“I love the idea of playing someone who’s ditzy, sort of liberal — actually, very liberal — wearing his heart on his sleeve,” he said. “I really liked that. It’s funny I was just shooting my last appearance (for this season) and he’s gotten older and more mature and a little more sure of himself, which is inevitable; it’s really fun to watch.”

O’Hare credits Abernathy’s development to creators Robert and Michelle King and their staff of writers.

“I think it’s head and shoulders above most (legal dramas today) because of the writing and the cast and the production values,” he said. “(The Kings) are very much in control of the writing, whether they do it directly or they’re shaping the storylines… They create amazing storylines. The scripts are always clever and ambiguous. I love the fact that ‘The Good Wife’ is always ambiguous; it’s not neat, it’s not black and white, its characters are all shaded.”

Born in Kansas City, Mo., O’Hare’s family moved to Southfield when he was 2.

The fourth of five children, O’Hare grew up in Southfield and Birmingham. His interest in performing began at a young age, following in his mother’s footsteps and playing the organ in church.

From there, it was a natural progression into musicals, his first being “Showboat” at the Southfield Civic Center in 1973.

O’Hare lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. with husband Hugo Redwood; they’ve adopted a son. Married for four years, they’ve been together for 15.

“I knew I was gay when I was 5,” O’Hare said. “I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t have language for it and didn’t know what to call myself, but I knew what I liked.”

O’Hare stated his reasons for coming out at a time — the late 1970s — when homosexuality wasn’t tolerated the way it is now, was for his sanity’s sake. 

“I don’t think it was brave of me,” he said. “I did what I had to do to be a functioning, healthy person. It’s not healthy to lie to yourself. It’s not healthy to lie to other people because you’re not going to have authentic relationships. I’d rather you cut me off if you know who I am rather than have me as your friend if I’m living a lie.”

O’Hare has been closely following the case of the Hazel Park same-sex couple April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse who spoke before the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. in late April against Michigan’s 2004 same-sex marriage ban.

The couple, who have four adopted children, would like to get married. If the Supreme Court rejects the same-sex marriage ban, it could make same-sex marriage legal across the nation. If not, it could re-empower same-sex marriage bans across the nation. A decision is expected this month.

“We’ll see what happens,” O’Hare said. “I don’t believe anyone has the right to vote on my rights. I think it’s absurd that we put to a referendum the basics of human life that one gets to vote on my existence.”

He said he hoped the Supreme Court “will do its job and interpret the Constitution — that’s their job.”

“Their job isn’t to make laws — that’s up to the legislatures,” O’Hare said. “The legislatures can’t make unconstitutional laws — that’s what happened in Michigan, Indiana, Virginia and Texas. They’re writing these laws and you can pass any law you want to, but it has to pass the constitutional test.”

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