Jeff Weddell/SundanceTV (NEW YORK) — Sarah Wayne Callies is a veteran of beloved escapist series like Walking Dead, Prison Break, and USA Network's alien invasion show Colony — but her new show Unspeakable hits much closer to home.
The SundanceTV series chronicles one of the largest medical disasters in history: the accidental HIV and Hepatitis C infection of thousands of people in Canada via tainted donated blood.
Callies stars as a tireless whistle-blower mom of an infected hemophiliac son, who is based on show creator Robert C. Cooper. Her character exposes the tragedy and those responsible.
In real life, Cooper was infected with Hep C., but many of his fellow victims were essentially handed a death sentence when they were infected with HIV in the early '80s, before there were treatments for the disease.
The subject matter hit home for Callies, as she tells ABC Radio.
"The first person I ever watched die, died of AIDS," she says. "And the only thing that was worse than watching what that disease did to his body was hearing sectors of our culture say, 'You deserve it because you're gay.'"
The person Callies lost was a literary scholar who was "like an uncle" to her. As she explains, "My parents' marriage was a war. And Joe and his partner Clifford were the ones who taught me what love was."
She explains, "The reason that I have…a cogent marriage, is because the two of them modeled for me what it means to be in a relationship with a sense of humor…where you 'ride or die' for each other."
His death came when the stigma surrounding AIDS — and anyone infected with it — was in full swing, Callies noted. That reaction, she says "broke my heart in a thousand pieces."
Unspeakable airs tonight at midnight on Sundance TV.
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