By Paul E. Pratt A&U MagazineMay 2005
From a Groundbreaking AIDS Film Role to Fundraising Benefits, Actor Patrick Cassidy Shares with Paul E. Pratt His Take on Condoms and Compassion
For Patrick Cassidy, being born into a family full of celebrities had its benefits. Watching brothers David and Shaun navigate the tumultous waters of 1970s pop music, he opted against becoming a teen idol. Instead, Patrick decided to use the considerable acting talent and experience passed from his parents, Academy Award-winner Shirley Jones and Broadway sensation Jack Cassidy.
Patrick—whose own name has graced numerous Broadway marquees—remembers one unexpectedly valuable lesson learned from his famous family. In the long run, the star of the ground-breaking 1990 AIDS film, Longtime Companion, admits it is a lesson which might have saved his life.
“When I was single, I always used a condom. Always,” Cassidy reveals. “Always—even when it wasn’t hip to use a condom.”
Young, good-looking, and traveling to regional acting gigs around the country, Patrick eventually made his Broadway debut during the sexually liberated early 1980s. Barely out of his teens and already a rising star on New York City’s high-profile acting scene, Cassidy admits romantic and sexual opportunities with his many female admirers were abundant. Though, he contends, he seldom took women up on these offers, he knew to use protection when he did.
“Because of my family, I didn’t want to be hit with a paternity suit,” Cassidy contends. “My parents were very good at educating me about what people wanted from me. I had a real good knowledge of that, and I mean at a young age—seventeen, eighteen—which was pre-AIDS crisis. I was very aware, very conscious.”
Cassidy says he was surprised a few years ago to be saluted for his awareness during that time. The source of the reminder came in the unlikely form of a woman he met and was intimate with during those early years in New York.
“She was basically a one-night stand,” Cassidy, now forty-two, shares during a telephone interview from his Los Angeles-area home. “There weren’t many in my life, but this was one. She came up to me after a show and said, ‘You know, I want to thank you. You used a condom and protected me.’”
“I had to be honest and tell her that, at the time, it wasn’t because I was afraid I would catch a disease,” recalls Cassidy. “I just didn’t want to get her pregnant!”
As reviews of Cassidy’s early work began cropping up in The New York Times theater section, reports on an unknown “cancer,” later to be identified as HIV/AIDS, slowly emerged in others. Cassidy concedes that, had he not been so adamant about using condoms, he might have been at far greater risk of contracting the disease.
“I was really lucky in the sense that, at the time I was doing it [to not get women pregnant],” Cassidy confesses. “It turned out to be a blessing on many levels. I wasn’t out there at a time when people were not being safe.”
After years of performing in live theater and making several television and film appearances, Cassidy was asked to play Howard, a gay soap opera actor, in Craig Lucas and Norman Rene’s Longtime Companion. Though the film came at a time when society was only beginning to understand HIV/AIDS, and the disease carried with it a significant amount of stigma, Cassidy says accepting the role “was a complete no-brainer.”
“The experience was so unique,” Cassidy enthuses. “It was so, I really believe, once-in-a-lifetime. In some people’s careers, never in a lifetime. Not only were we making a great movie, it was the first of its kind. It had never been done.”
Indeed, Longtime Companion is considered the first film to put a human face on the AIDS epidemic. Alternating between vignettes set in New York City and Fire Island, the movie follows the lives of a tight-knit group of friends. From the first mention of the disease in a 1980 issue of The New York Times—where it was called “Gay-Related Immune Disorder” (GRID)—it chronicles initial disbelief as it settles into despair, acceptance and, ultimately, spiritual triumph as the gay men involved succumb to the illness. The title is culled from the Times’ refusal in those early stages to acknowledge the unions of gay men, instead referring in obituaries to the surviving party as a “longtime companion.”
Fifteen years after its release, Cassidy says he still receives fanmail and praise for the film. While he knew the film was “special,” he had no idea how Longtime Companion would impact his career.
“I think at the time we all knew it, but we didn’t realize how deep it went and how rewarding it would be—to this day,” he says. “I still get talked to about it, recognized. I don’t think I’ll ever do something else in my career that has that impact.”
Cassidy feels more than an enduring theme keeps Longtime Companion so popular. “On such a shoestring budget, the quality of performers was just off-the-charts,” he notes. “Go through the list, and it’s just an amazing group of actors. Not only that, we were breaking new ground in terms of cinema. That was such an amazing feeling for each of us.”
While people still come up to him saying Longtime Companion changed their lives, much has changed in Cassidy’s life since the film. At the forefront of changes, the actor is now married. Wife Melissa and he are parents of two young boys, Jack and Cole. With a family, he admits priorities change for an actor.
“The cost of living obviously went up,” Cassidy says. “I couldn’t go do the regional productions for no money and work for three months. I had to stay [in L.A.] and try to get a guest spot, or get a television show or get a part in a movie because it just paid more.”
His efforts have paid off with roles on some of television’s most popular shows, including Charmed, Crossing Jordan, Law & Order: SVU. During his career, Cassidy has come to know Clark Kent well, too, with recurring roles on both Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Smallville. He is even slated to appear in Westside, a pilot currently being produced for ABC’s 2005–2006 television season.
Cassidy’s dedication to family has earned him the respect and admiration of many around him. Included on that list is longtime family friend Barbara Pazmino. Having been in charge of former A&U coverboy [December 1999] and half-brother David’s Internet presence for many years, in 2000 Patrick asked Pazmino to launch his official Web site. “Family is the most important thing to Patrick,” Pazmino says. “I see how he is a loving husband and a dedicated, hands-on father to his sons. The respect I feel for him crosses over to how modestly he handles his career.” Calling Cassidy a “very humble performer,” Pazmino notes he takes roles “based on the quality of the project, even if he’s not the lead.” She adds, “He’s not aiming to be a star. He is more concerned about continuing to hone his craft.”
He is also interested in giving back, she says, noting Cassidy’s history of involvement with AIDS-related causes since Longtime Companion. March 2005 marked Cassidy’s fifth appearance at the Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event (STAGE) AIDS benefit in L.A.
As he did with Longtime Companion, Cassidy recently scored another first-of-its-kind, once-in-a-lifetime experience. This time Patrick’s achievement was shared with his mom, Jones, perhaps best known for starring opposite stepson David as the mother on the 70s hit sitcom, The Partridge Family. During the fall of 2004, Patrick reprised his role as Julian Marsh in the musical 42nd Street, costarring Jones. The duo became the first mother-son combination to ever appear onstage in a Broadway production together!
“It was definitely an event,” Cassidy recalls. The last time Jones appeared on a Broadway stage was thirty-eight years before, opposite Patrick’s father Jack, in Maggie Flynn. “Her stage legs were a little rusty. She really relied on me, since I had much more experience of it of late. I really guided and helped her along.”
Satisfying in a different way during the run of 42nd Street, Cassidy was given the privilege of delivering the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraising speeches after each performance. He says that, in addition to raising money for some terrific HIV/AIDS-related causes, he was equally proud to raise the public’s awareness—passing along a life lesson he knows too well.
“This disease is not over,” Cassidy concludes passionately. “It might not be on the cover of Time magazine every week now or The New York Times, but this disease is very prevalent and still here. It’s here to stay as long as we don’t do things to combat it, to try to find a cure, and to try to find a vaccine.”
Catch up with Patrick Cassidy’s upcoming roles and benefits at www.patrickcassidy.net.
Paul E. Pratt is a San Francisco-based entertainment and features writer, who also volunteers for AIDS Housing Alliance/SF. He interviewed singer Kristine W for the January issue.