Just as it is about to be revealed that her character on the CBS soap The Bold and the Beautiful is a lesbian, actress Joanna Johnson confirmed in an interview published Monday (14 May) that it is a case of art imitating life: she is a lesbian too.
'It feels weird and wrong to play this revelation about Karen's life and not talk about my own,' she tells TV Guide. 'I used to hang out with Ellen Degeneres, k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge back in the day and thought it was so beautiful they were out, even though I didn't have the nerve. When I realized I was gay in my early twenties we didn't have role models like Ellen. I'm not anywhere near as famous as those ladies, but I guess it's my turn to do my little part. It's time to live a fully authentic life.'
'I was so worried I wouldn't be employable as an actress if people knew I was a lesbian, or that I wouldn't be believable in romance stories,' she added. 'I had to deal with a lot of self-loathing.'
Johnson originally appeared on The Bold in the Beautiful as Karen Spencer from 1991 to 1994 and again from April 2009 through November 2009. She also played Karen's twin sister Caroline Spencer on the show from 1987 to 1990 then again briefly in late 2000 and early 2001.
Her latest return to the show came as Karen Spencer last July.
The show's head writer and executive producer Bradley Bell revealed two weeks ago that Karen is a lesbian and married to a woman named Danielle who will be played by soap opera veteran Crystal Chappell.
'When Brad Bell called and pitched the story I was kind of thrown,' she admits.
'I just said, 'Oh. And there was this very long pause. Then I said, 'Where'd you get that idea?' He laughed. I laughed. And I said, 'Just make sure you get me a hot wife.' And he did!
The lesbian storyline will debut on Thursday (17 May).
'We shouldn't feel pressure to make Karen and Dani some paragon of virtue,' she says. 'I think the gay community would love to see us portrayed just like any straight couple, flaws and faults and all. I wouldn't be offended if Dani strayed with a guy. Not at all! Brad should look at that movie The Kids Are All Right and do something like that because it was fabulous. I want to play the truth of life. [Laughs] Who knows? Maybe Karen should make a play for Brooke! It's a soap! There's no drama in playing the perfect gay couple.'
Off-screen, Johnson is part of a couple as well.
She and wife Michelle have been together for nine years, have adopted two children and became legally married in 2008 during a brief window of time when sex-sex marriage was legal in California.
'When we realized Prop 8 was going to pass, we thought we should try to get in under the wire and be part of the movement,' she says. 'So we ran down to the Beverly Hills courthouse in our workout clothes to get the license, only to hear it might be really hard to find someone to marry us before the election. There were all these other gay couples there, too, and somebody from the court comes out and says, 'We're picking straws if there's anyone who wants to get married right now!' And Michelle and I won!'