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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Pink Spotlight on B.D. Wong

The Pink Spotlight Bradley Darryl Wong (born October 24, 1960), known as B.D. Wong, is a Tony Award-winning American actor who is best-known for his role in the Broadway production of M. Butterfly and for his role as Dr. George Huang on NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

B.D. WongWong, a Chinese American, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Roberta Christine (née Leong), a telephone company supervisor, and William D. Wong. He attended Lincoln High School before graduating from San Francisco State University.

Wong gained attention for his Broadway debut in M. Butterfly. The play won multiple awards, including several for Wong. He is notable as being the only actor to have been honored with the Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Clarence Derwent Award, and Theatre World Award for the same performance. He has had starring roles in All American Girl, Oz, Jurassic Park and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, with guest appearances on The X-Files and Sesame Street.

Wong, who is openly gay, was in a long-term relationship with talent agent Richie Jackson. In 2000, the couple had a son together named Jackson Foo Wong, who was born through a surrogate mother. In 2003, Wong wrote a memoir about his experiences with surrogacy entitled Following Foo: the Electronic Adventures of the Chestnut Man. Wong and Jackson ended their relationship in 2004.

You may think of B.D. Wong as Father Ray Mukada, for six seasons, the cockeyed- optimist priest on HBO's gritty series Oz. For others, Wong will forever be Dr. George Huang, the smoldering forensic psychiatrist on Law & Order: SVU, the NBC-TV spin-off series that has become more popular than its progenitor. But, if you're Jackson Foo Wong, B.D. Wong is simply Daddy.

Despite apparent ease with onstage nudity and edgy characterizations, B.D Wong can be a very private person. He often answers media questions by simply stating, “That's much too personal!” Until last year, 5-year-old Jackson Foo Wong had two daddies: Wong and his spousal equivalent Richie Jackson. Since the couple separated in the Summer of 2004, Richie is no longer Jackson 's father. He's the boy's blood uncle because Jackson Foo is the product of Richie's sister's egg and BD's sperm.

As for B.D., his beginnings were far more traditional than his son's. Arriving on October 24, 1962 , in San Francisco, California, Bradley Darryl Wong was born to heterosexual parents in the city's Sunset District. Early on, Wong was interested in music. His affinity was encouraged by his family, and it led to the child's discovery of acting.

Demonstrating his penchant for privacy, Wong has revealed little about his early years. He claims not to have been raised in any religion, developing an avid interest in Bible stories because of musicals such as Godspell, Jesus Christ, Superstar, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Mentored by a “color-blind” drama teacher, Bradley became a part of the Bay Area community theater scene while still a student at Lincoln High School.

Following graduation from San Francisco State University, Wong relocated to Manhattan, where he began performing in dinner theater and off Broadway. After making his professional acting debut at 20, in the New York Town Hall production of Androcles and the Lion, Bradley won small roles in CBS-TV's Simon and Simon, and PBS' Sesame Street, before making his feature film debut in The Karate Kid II (1986).

Bradley Darryl shortened his name to B.D. before his Broadway debut in the gender- elusive M. Butterfly. Playing Song Liling, Wong made one of the most auspicious debuts in Broadway history, winning Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Clarence Derwent, and Theatre World awards for his performance. To this day, B.D. is the only actor to win every one of these prestigious honors for the same show.

His historic stage triumph led to featured roles in Jurassic Park (1993), and, the same year, as the gay Kico Govantes in HBO's adaptation of Randy Shilts' landmark AIDS novel And the Band Played On. Despite this gay role and one as a flamboyant wedding planner in 1991's Father of the Bride (and its 1995 sequel) B.D. remained closeted publicly. Privately, Wong's sexual orientation was known and supported.

Even before his lavishly acclaimed and awarded Broadway debut, Wong was in a committed relationship with his agent Richie Jackson. In 2003, B.D. described his partner of fifteen years to the Advocate as “a New York Jew who never steps off the curb until the light turns green.”

Of his decision to remain closeted publicly until 2003, Wong revealed to zap2it.com, earlier this year, “I'm a pretty private person, just not a big discloser in general, but also there was an issue of my career. Acting was really my entire world, but I entered a field that was particularly non-welcoming to me as an Asian-American. The opportunities already were somewhat limited to me, so it felt almost like a kind of career suicide to be completely out as a gay man. I bought into that for a long time.”

Difficult though it was, Wong consistently managed to be cast in roles that were either racially blind or those than went beyond the borders of Asian-American stereotypes.

In 1998, he began thinking that perhaps acting had been his entire life for too long. Maybe he needed something more that he could call his own, yet share with Richie. Wong and Jackson entertained thoughts of fatherhood. By the time the clock struck 2000, the couple was infanticipating. A surrogate mother, Shauna Berringer of Modesto, California, carried the twins produced by B.D.'s sperm and an egg from Richie's sister Sue.

Here's where Wong and Jackson's story crossed over from highly unusual to unique. A normal human pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks, or nine months. 28 weeks into the pregnancy, Shauna went into labor.

For B.D., his sons' birth changed everything. The twin boys, expected during the dog B.D. Wong and Jackson Foodays of August, arrived in time for Memorial Day. First born was Boaz Dov, followed fifteen minutes later by Jackson Foo. Boaz Dov passed from this world ninety minutes after entering.

B.D. and Richie had no time to mourn their first born. They were immediately plunged into a battle to save Jackson 's fragile life. They did, however, nickname Jackson Foo, “the chestnut man,” because they thought he had the worldly-wise, weary face of the old men who sell chestnuts on the streets of New York.

Premature birth was not solely responsible for Boaz's death, and Jackson 's fight for life. The boys suffered from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. With this condition, only one twin receives blood from the placenta. The other twin takes blood from his sibling.

Jackson Foo went into intensive care, remaining hospitalized for the next three months. It was during his son's hospitalization that B.D. began sending long, emotionally-charged, sometimes riotously funny, e-mails to friends. The e-mails elicited enthusiastic, supportive replies from hundreds of friends.

Later, when a publisher's encouragement was added to that of the almost one thousand friends that he had e-mailed, B.D. compiled the e-mails, both outgoing and incoming, into a heartfelt book, Following Foo:The Electronic Adventures of the Chestnut Man (Harper Collins, 2003). The critically-acclaimed 400-page volume is about Jackson Foo, the loss of Boaz Dov, and JF's two daddies.

The book is also Wong's official, public “coming-out.” As he told Gay City News in 2003, “I wanted a reason to help me come out. And this book became a reason and that allows me to do it 1,000 percent. I'm perfectly happy going on TV now and saying, “I'm a gay man. I'm happy and proud to say that.”

B.D.'s lifelong angst about his sexual orientation ended. He put it this way to the Daily Pennsylvanian, last month: “I was no longer blinking an eyelash about my sexual orientation because I had a human experience – parenthood – that transcended my fear of being judged.”

About the price of coming-out publicly, B.D. shared this concern with the Advocate in 2003: “Some days, I think, ‘You're never going to work again.' I think there's a real reason to worry, as anyone reading this magazine can understand. The book, for me, means I'm calling into question the whole career thing. But that's OK.”

Wong needn't have worried. Professionally, he's thrived. His Emmy-winning television series continues to be a ratings' winner, and he recently starred on Broadway, this time in a revival of Stephen Sondheim's 1976 hit, Pacific Overtures. Beyond that, two newly-completed motion pictures await release.

Sadly, it was B.D.'s relationship with Richie Jackson, and not his career, that was sacrificed on the altar of his public coming out. The very private Wong remains silent about the specifics of his and Richie's 2004 break up. But the agent is said to be in a new relationship with theatrical producer Jordan Roth.

Health-wise, Jackson Foo Wong is doing remarkably well these days, but his Daddy admits to contemplating what might have been had Boaz Dov lived.

B.D. has been vocal about his motivation for becoming a parent, in 2003, telling Gay City News, “It's too much of a pain in the ass to have a kid just because you think it's great as a gay person to do that. I had a real strong impulse to be a father, to share a relationship with a person….a parental blood relationship.”

Among the many things learned upon becoming a father, B.D. shared these insights in 2003, with his hometown paper, the San Francisco Chronicle: “Prior to the day the sky opened up,” the birth of the twins, “I wasn't totally me for some reason and now I'm getting an idea of who I am.”

After wrestling the twin demons of race and sexual orientation for most of his life, Wong, today, is much more comfortable in his Asian and gay skin, telling the Daily Pennsylvanian, “Ironically, the two things that I loathed about myself were the things that were rich about myself.”

A self-described control freak, B.D. now understands that there are things in life for which even the most controlling person can't prepare. For everyone, the future comes without a warranty.

But one thing is certain. In print and out, on the streets of New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, as well as at home, B.D. Wong will be following Foo, loving his chestnut man, for the rest of his life.

*Wikipedia, and AfterElton.com


Anonymous said...

Being a grandmother of a child born 3 months to soon, 3 pounds and has spent the first 10 months of her life in the PICU fighting for her life, I can well understand what Mr. Wong thought, felt and feared. It is wonderful to know that his son is what we call typical, or baby is not, she is a miracle as is Foo. Mr. Wong, we all wish you many blessings in your life and with the life of your child.

Anonymous said...

I agree, sorry to hear about your grandchild. I could only imagine and wish her well and will pray for her.
Dr. B.D Wong is how I know you and I have loved you since then. You are one AMAZING ACTOR! I wish you well and your son well, I hope we keep seeing you in more movies and television shows; SVU #1!!!!

Anonymous said...

B D Wong, I love you like a grandmother should and love you on SVU and everything else you do. Now listening to you read books--even bought Season 1 of Oz! I really fell in love with you and Foo through your book and how you sat with him all those long hours and so wish you could have kept them both. I'm a very senior citizen and I love Asian people because of those Asians who were so kind o me in a situation where friendship counted so much--a lady in my sixties in institutions of higher learning. Go with God and always do good.

Anonymous said...

B.D., I find it sad that you have struggled so much with your race, until recently. My husband was born in HK, and didn't know a word of english when he arrived in Aus. He unfortunately was made fun of by his grade 2 teacher, but now he is more Australian than she. When I first met him at age 23, he was definitely not Chinese, but had an intriguing intelligence. I guess because he didn't read chinese, he never considered himself to be one. Over here, people generally see through to the thoughts and persona of the person, bot so much their appearance. The only time he doubts his race is in HK, because he doubts his cantonese ability.