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Q&A: Gloria Reuben Returns to the ‘ER’

[IMG:L]When ER survived the loss of George Clooney, it pretty much cemented its immortality. All the original cast members are now gone, so when one returns for a guest spot, it’s a completely new world. Gloria Reuben played Jeannie Boulet from 1995 to 1999. She will return as the character, an HIV positive ER doctor, for one episode on Thursday, January 3. 

Reuben has been busy in the last eight years. Calling from Tulum, Mexico. she enjoyed a brief vacation after years of acting, performing music and charity work. We wrote up a medical chart to keep track of Reuben‘s return to ER and many other activities.

1: Nervous Anxiety: Guest shots can be gimmicky, so she was apprehensive at first.
“It was one of those things where I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Like if one is away from their family or something for seven or eight years and you have anticipation, you have a little bit of butterflies in your stomach. ‘I wonder how this is going to be when I see everybody?’ … and much excitement. I have to say it was really great being back. It was shocking to realize how much time had gone by, almost eight years which just seems like it was maybe a couple of years ago.”

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2: Compatible with New Talent: Reuben got along swimmingly with the new ER staff.
“Of course, as you all know, none of the original cast is there any more, but there were some people who have been there from day one, some of the nurses likeYvette Freeman. The crew has changed a lot but there’s still some guys there whom I’ve known from the beginning. It was great to see them and catch up with everybody.”

3: Sharp Memory: It was easy to slip back into Jeannie Boulet.
“It felt really, really, really good. I felt really solid being back. I loved the episode. I loved what they wrote for me so that of course makes it wonderful. It was surprisingly easy for me to step back into the shoes of Jeannie Boulet, or maybe not so surprisingly because there have been a couple of aspects of my own life that are kind of parallel to what Jeannie has been doing for the last eight years off screen. It felt really good and I’m actually very excited to see the final product and hopefully everybody will be as excited as I am.”

4: Charitable Disposition: Reuben has been working for HIV/AIDS causes in real life.
“There’s nothing as meaningful at this point in my life than doing the HIV/AIDS activism. I’m out in the world, whether it be giving speeches around the country or doing a documentary on HIV/AIDS and women and interviewing women who are HIV-positive or meeting people literally on the street who are open and honest and tell me about their status and thanking me for the little bit that I do to help make a difference. When you do those kinds of things and see firsthand the impact and the changes and the hope that the activism can give to people, that is the most rewarding. It’s a much more different kind of rush than rush than anything else.”

[IMG:R]5: Positive Role Model: Jeannie Boulet was one of the first mainstream characters to be HIV positive.
“Gosh, it’s been 13 years or something since first doing the role of Jeannie Boulet and she being HIV-positive. During that time in those first few years of doing that story line it was very intense and it became a little overwhelming. I don’t know if I was quite strong or ready enough to kind of be the ‘face’ of HIV/AIDS in the media and in the world, and still to this day frankly in the world because of the repeats that happen internationally. As I look back on that and as I stand where I stand now at this time in my life, I’m so thankful for all of that because it wouldn’t have offered the platform in which to make the difference, if indeed I have made any. I think so but there’s a certain part of me that clearly sees the amount of work that still needs to be done. It’s been an extraordinary opportunity to walk back into the shoes of Jeannie Boulet for that very reason, because since I left the show there hasn’t been another HIV-positive regular character on a network television show.”

6: TV Immortality: In the world of ER, Jeannie Boulet will never succumb to the disease.
“I knew that that wasn’t going to happen. At the beginning of the storyline we had made an agreement that the reason why we were doing the storyline was to show how somebody is living with the virus, not dying from it. So particularly at a time when the triple cocktails and the medicines were really beginning to literally give people there lives back, I knew that she wasn’t going to be carried out in a pine box. The last thing that I think all of us wanted would be for this woman who’s living with HIV to actually die from it, at a time when the possibility of medical care is a big part of regaining hope. So if somebody’s going through their own challenges on a day to day basis and something about this character that they watch on ER gives them a little bit of hope and that character was to die? No, that wouldn’t have been okay with me.”

7: New Vitality: Reuben’s charity work has taken an upswing recently.
“Of course while I was on the show it was kind of natural for there to be some activism but it actually hasn’t been as strong until I’ve been off the show. I frankly, kind of naively, thought in a way, when I left the show, a little bit like okay, my work is done. Two to three years ago when I’m reading about AIDS being the number one killer of black women in the United States between the ages of 25 and 34, it’s like wait a minute, what? The number one killer of young black women in the U.S. Okay, something’s wrong. This cannot be happening right here in the U.S. So I just kind of had to pick up the ball again.”

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8: Multitasking: Reuben has spent a lot of time exploring music and theater too.
“Being on tour with Tina Turner was an extraordinary rush and kind of the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life. That it’s a completely different experience than when I did Holiday Show with Michael Feinstein in New York City in his Cabaret Room at Feinstein’s at the Regency. Music is my first love and it will always have a very kind of soul connection for me, a unique and connected way of opening up my heart and my soul and just sharing it with people. I start rehearsals in mid January in New York at the Joe’s Pub Public Theater, a play called Conversations in Tusculum. Richard Nelson is a British playwright and director of this play and it’s kind of a parallel between the fall of Caesar, fall of the Roman Empire and politics and such and how it parallels to politics of today’s day and age. I’m always playing music somewhere, doing something with that. I recently just did a little trio of holiday songs for my new Web site and come the next year, my next goal for music is to put together a little cabaret show and do a couple of gigs in New York. Maybe Joe’s Pub might be the perfect place for me to do that since I’ll be right there.”

[IMG:L]9: Multiple Personality: Reuben has shot a pilot for TNT, so she may portray another TV character soon.
“I shot a pilot for Steven Bochco in August called Raising the Bar. Because of the strike, I have no word with what’s going on with that pilot. Hopefully conversations will continue and if TNT decides to pick up the pilot then and all going well then I would probably start that immediately after the play.”

10: Emergency Contacts: Neal Baer and John Wells, ER‘s original producers, keep in touch.
Neal Baer is a very good friend of mine, he and John Wells. Neal actually was kind of the prominent storyline writer for my character. Neal and I are very good friends and kind of through a conversation I had with Neal, John and I reconnected, which was wonderful because it has been years, and just filled each other in on what’s been going on. Of course, I told him a lot about the activism that I’ve been up to and women whom I’ve met and just kind of said, ‘God, we really did some powerful things in terms of making people take a look at the HIV virus, who gets it, how people can live with it, the challenges that they have professionally and personally and the joy.’ We were just both looking back thinking, ‘Wow, we really did some great stuff and wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do that again?'”

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