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Is the Audience Listening?

Is the Audience Listening?

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Actor Michael Kearns hopes that people who watch his HIV-themed film Nine Lives, now out on DVD, see a bit of themselves in each of the characters in the movie, just as he recognizes parts of himself in each of the nine protagonists. 'It's always been the goal of my work--but especially when I'm dealing with HIV issues--to dare the audience to put themselves in the position of the characters,' says Kearns, 58, who is HIV-positive. 'I hope they recognize their humanness and the reality that we all make mistakes.' Nine Lives, cowritten by Kearns and based on his critically acclaimed 2004 play Complications, explores the sexual connections between nine Angelenos--including a hustler, a drug dealer, a dysfunctional gay couple, and a man on the 'down low' whose girlfriend has just learned she's pregnant. Kearns plays Ronnie, an HIV-positive middle-aged gay man who, having lost one lover in the Vietnam War and two others to AIDS, now avoids relationships and fills his life with casual no-strings sexual encounters. 'Sure, there's a little bit of me in that character,' Kearns says. 'The ultimate truth is that he--like the other characters--is human, flawed, and wounded. Just like everyone I know! Maybe that's not comforting for people who see the film, but I have no interest in comforting an audience. I want to challenge them and make them think and make them laugh, but it's not my job to comfort them.' Kearns has been challenging audiences as a writer, director, and actor for more than a quarter century, appearing in numerous films and television shows and penning such stage successes as Intimacies and Rock. But he's perhaps best known for his candidness about being gay and HIV-positive, a rarity in Tinseltown. 'It has always been important for me not to hide,' explains Kearns, who has been open about his sexuality since the mid 1970s and his serostatus since the early 1990s. 'Early on I knew that I could not stifle--I could not camouflage--who I was if I was going to be a good actor and a good writer. You can't fulfill any real artistic viability if what you're constantly thinking about is not letting people know who you really are.' Kearns's latest project is Going In: Once Upon a Time in South Africa, a memoir based on his and his adopted daughter Tia's work with AIDS-orphaned children in Johannesburg. The piece just debuted at Santa Monica, Calif.'s Highways Performance Space.

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