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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is it homophobic to suggest that gay actors shouldn’t play straight roles?

I noted recently in connection with the Jim Carrey/Ewan McGregor movie I Love You Phillip Morris, a gay love story starring two straight men, that the writers of the film pointed out that they couldn’t hire gay stars because no one is gay in Hollywood… or at least not out about their sexuality, anyway. It’s long been “assumed” — in the same way that Hollywood makes lots of assumptions about its audiences on no basis in fact whatsoever — that if we all knew, for instance, that Russell Crowe was gay, we wouldn’t believe him as a straight Robin Hood (or any other character) in love with a woman. It sounds preposterous — we have no trouble believing that a temperamental actor is actually a reporter or a cop or a scientist — but there is, at a minimum, a hurdle for a gay actor to overcome in the preconceptions of those doing the hiring for movie roles: Rupert Everett recently advised gay actors to stay in the closet if they want to work in America or Britain, and it does seem as if he could have been a far bigger star than he is if he hadn’t come out.

So: Gay actors hide who they are because they’re afraid they won’t get work. It’s just the way Hollywood works.

And then along comes Newsweek writer Ramin Setoodeh — an out gay man — who suggests, in an essay called “Straight Jacket,” that gay actors simply cannot play straight:

The reviews for the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises were negative enough, even though most of the critics ignored the real problem—the big pink elephant in the room. The leading man of this musical-romantic comedy is supposed to be a single advertising peon named Chuck who is madly in love with a co-worker (Kristin Chenoweth). When the play opened on Broadway in 1968, Jerry Orbach, an actor with enough macho swagger to later fuel years and years of Law and Order, was the star. The revival hands the lead over to Sean Hayes, best known as the queeny Jack on Will & Grace. Hayes is among Hollywood’s best verbal slapstickers, but his sexual orientation is part of who he is, and also part of his charm. (The fact that he only came out of the closet just before Promises was another one of those Ricky Martin-duh moments.) But frankly, it’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is. Even the play’s most hilarious scene, when Chuck tries to pick up a drunk woman at a bar, devolves into unintentional camp. Is it funny because of all the ’60s-era one-liners, or because the woman is so drunk (and clueless) that she agrees to go home with a guy we all know is gay?

Setoodeh goes on to imply that Hollywood’s aversion to casting gay actors in straight roles isn’t a matter of Hollywood’s prejudices getting in the way, but just plain reality:

While it’s OK for straight actors to play gay (as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger did in Brokeback Mountain), it’s rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse. De Rossi and Harris do that on TV, but they also inhabit broad caricatures, not realistic characters likes the ones in Up in the Air or even The Proposal.

That sounds to me like Setoodeh is saying that bigotry is not only justified, it isn’t even bigotry! And he keeps digging the hole:

Most actors would tell you that the biographical details of their lives are beside the point. Except when they’re not. As viewers, we are molded by a society obsessed with dissecting sexuality, starting with the locker-room torture in junior high school. Which is why it’s a little hard to know what to make of the latest fabulous player to join Glee: Jonathan Groff, the openly gay Broadway star. In Spring Awakening, he showed us that he was a knockout singer and a heartthrob. But on TV, as the shifty glee captain from another school who steals Rachel’s heart, there’s something about his performance that feels off. In half his scenes, he scowls—is that a substitute for being straight? When he smiles or giggles, he seems more like your average theater queen, a better romantic match for Kurt than Rachel. It doesn’t help that he tried to bed his girlfriend while singing (and writhing to) Madonna’s Like a Virgin. He is so distracting, I’m starting to wonder if Groff’s character on the show is supposed to be secretly gay.

It seems odd to focus on an actor’s personal life when, obviously, the issue — if there is an issue at all — should be with the performance and with the direction.

In response to Setoodeh’s essay, Glee creator Ryan Murphy has called for a boycott of Newsweek:

This article is as misguided as it is shocking and hurtful. It shocks me because Mr. Setoodeh is himself gay. But what is the most shocking of all is that Newsweek went ahead and published such a blatantly homophobic article in the first place…and has remained silent in the face of ongoing (and justified) criticism. Would the magazine have published an article where the author makes a thesis statement that minority actors should only be allowed and encouraged to play domestics? I think not.

Kristen Chenoweth, Sean Hayes’ costar in Promises, Promises, has also responded:

This article offends me because I am a human being, a woman and a Christian. For example, there was a time when Jewish actors had to change their names because anti-Semites thought no Jew could convincingly play Gentile. Setoodeh even goes so far as to justify his knee-jerk homophobic reaction to gay actors by accepting and endorsing that “as viewers, we are molded by a society obsessed with dissecting sexuality, starting with the locker room torture in junior high school.” Really? We want to maintain and proliferate the same kind of bullying that makes children cry and in some recent cases have even taken their own lives? That’s so sad, Newsweek! The examples he provides (what scientists call “selection bias”) to prove his “gays can’t play straight” hypothesis are sloppy in my opinion. Come on now!

No one needs to see a bigoted, factually inaccurate article that tells people who deviate from heterosexual norms that they can’t be open about who they are and still achieve their dreams. I am told on good authority that Mr. Setoodeh is a gay man himself and I would hope, as the author of this article, he would at least understand that. I encourage Newsweek to embrace stories which promote acceptance, love, unity and singing and dancing for all!

And finally, Setoodeh responds to the criticism:

But what all this scrutiny seemed to miss was my essay’s point: if an actor of the stature of George Clooney came out of the closet today, would we still accept him as a heterosexual leading man? It’s hard to say, because no actor like that exists. I meant to open a debate—why is that? And what does it say about our notions about sexuality? For all the talk about progress in the gay community in Hollywood, has enough really changed? The answer seems obvious to me: no, it has not.

So the question is: Is it homophobic to suggest that gay actors shouldn’t play straight roles?

(Interestingly, as some evidence to the contrary of Setoodeh’s comments, Glee has gone from being a cult favorite to a ratings smash, while I Love You Phillip Morris still can’t get a North American release date, though it did play theatrically in the U.K. earlier this year. I’ve decided not to wait: I’ve preordered the Region 2 DVD, which was be released in July.)

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • bronxbee

    i give you one name among many: Rock Hudson. no one in the general public *knew* he was gay all through his long hollywood career. he played it straight — and obviously convincingly, if a generation of men and women who went to his movies is to be believed.

    last night i saw some of “The Last Time I Saw Paris” with Van Johnson and Elizabeth Taylor. VJ was totally convincing in the scenes where he is drawn to, in love with and hurt by ET’s character. there are at least a dozen actors of the old school who i could say the same about; and rupert everet too — in “A Woman of No Importance” i had no trouble believing he was in love with Minnie Driver’s character.

    it is called “acting” for a reason. i think when an actor comes out, that’s when the performance is scrutinized and every detail of every facial expression or physical expression is then marked against some “straight” checklist. and how many times have we heard “oh, now that i look back at his performances, it’s so obvious!” when, of course, it’s the same damned performance as before — just viewed through some other coloured glasses. no one looks at a straight character playing a gay character and says “oh, no, that’s just all wrong!”

    i think a good actor just knows the character he (or she) is playing and if his (or her) character is a straight person in love with another person, then a good actor has no trouble with that.

  • This topic reminds me of this thread, which might have some relevant comments.

  • Rachel Hartman

    I agree with bronxbee. If Sean Hayes isn’t winning audiences over with his performance, perhaps it’s not due to his orientation.

  • bitchen frizzy

    It seems odd to focus on an actor’s personal life when, obviously, the issue — if there is an issue at all — should be with the performance and with the direction.

    That’s true. But we always say that if the couple “lacks chemistry” then an onscreen (onstage) romance is flat and unconvincing.

    So when Sean Hayes played a straight romance, maybe it didn’t work because the audience wasn’t ready to accept a gay actor playing a straight love interest, or maybe it was because the on-stage romance lacked chemistry.

    It is possible that a gay actor that doesn’t have the acting skills to pull off a straight romance role might come across as unconvincing.

    Was Sean Hayes as good at it as Rock Hudson was? I don’t know, but maybe just maybe Setoodeh actually isn’t a homophobic bigot and was actually calling the performance as he saw it. What did other critics say?

  • Dokeo

    If Mr. Setoodeh’s point is that it’s difficult for openly gay actors to be accepted in straigt roles, he’s right. But that gay actors can’t convincingly play straight? Nonsense. To throw out a few examples: Rock Hudson and Rupert Everett in “An Ideal Husband” (yummy, yummy, yummy). As for the Jesse charater on Glee – I didn’t know the actor was gay and I didn’t notice anyting odd about the performance. I think Setoodeh was being led astray by his own preconceptions.

  • Bigoted, yes. Homophobic, probably not.

    But the reality of the matter is that casting directors, directors, producers, and the viewing public will filter their perception of the performance through what they know of the actor’s personal life. A “manly” performance for a hetero male will be perceived as “butch” if performed by a gay male.

    It is a downside of the entertainment biz that the public demand for details of our favorite performer’s lives mans that their sexual orientation is part of the package. Better it to be an enigma than a stigma.

    I remember years ago in business they told us that if you were in sales it was better to be clean shaven. Most people didn’t trust men with facial hair as much as those who were clean shaven. Vanity aside, if it meant the difference between closing a sale or losing it, what choice would you make for facial hair?

    It seems to be the same for sexuality in Hollywood. If it means the difference between working or not, what difference does coming out make? Once you’ve achieved a certain success level or bankability then it is between you and your conscience whether to maintain the charade.

    It isn’t right, nor is it fair. But it is a reality that, until laws reflect that sexuality isn’t always a choice and it becomes protected against discrimination, will continue to exist in the industry.

  • MC

    I think it is a matter of talent. I haven’t seen the performance in question, but perhaps Hayes, as suggested above, isn’t doing the job.

    There are loads of gay actors who are out who went on to play straight characters very convincingly.

  • PillowCaseLaw

    The biggest problem with Setoodeh’s assertion is that it focuses on “out” actors who perform in a way that he deems unconvincingly straight, then somehow transforms those observations into a claim that somehow gay actors in general are incapable of being convincingly straight. This is one of the most clear-cut cases of the spotlight fallacy I’ve ever seen, and falls just short of being analogous to “Muslims are terrorists because some terrorists are Muslim” rhetoric.

  • Hank Graham

    This is Setoodeh justifying his own homophobia and bigotry. The actors weren’t convincing to him, because he knows they’re gay.

    I haven’t seen “Promises,” but I’ve seen Sean Hayes, and he was fine. Setoodeh’s comments strike me as completely off-base.

    It’s akin to Jeffrey Wells’s extravagant dismissal of anyone who is even slightly overweight.

  • Well, the question here wasn’t “Can gay actors play straight characters?”. (Clearly they can — I add Richard Chamberlain and John Gielgud to the growing list.) The question was: “Is it homophobic to say so?” Is Setoodeh scared of gay people? Being gay himself, I doubt it. Is he a bigot? Maybe. There are certainly women who oppose equal rights for women.

    Isn’t it more likely he’s stirring up trouble? Or, if we want to be generous, we could suggest he is playing devil’s advocate. At any rate, he’s certainly attracted a lot of attention. Maybe he really believes gay actors can’t play straight; he must be very young and inexperienced if he does. Nope. I think he’s figured out the perfect way to get some notoriety…

  • Maybe his point is that with so many choices out there, you’re better off choosing a straight actor to play a straight role, because the straight actor has to act less in order to be convincing. If you’re a casting director and you consider it possible that a person’s natural mannerisms will be hard for them to shut off, then perhaps you would be more likely to choose a straight actor. But people who can’t act like someone other than themselves are not good actors anyway. I guess the conclusion is, if you are casting a straight romantic lead, and you have only bad actors to choose from you, you are probably better off going with a bad straight actor than a bad gay actor.

  • Dokeo

    @ Vancetastic

    Do all straight actors actually love (or at least lust after) the person playing their love interest? If not, then you’re still using ACTING to create that romance.

  • bronxbee

    there are plenty of instances where two straight actors in a romantic screen or stage relationship have absolutely no chemistry. i don’t think one can put it down to the actor’s orientation.

    also: i erred: it was Rupert Everett in “An Ideal Husband” with Minnie Driver.

  • If this is really about chemistry, then shouldn’t we also say that actors can’t play in romantically-entangled roles opposed people they’re not strongly attracted to? Or that you can only have people in a role that mirrors the relationship they’re actually in with that person (people playing married couples should only be couples married in real life, swingers should only be played by swingers, etc.)?

  • Also, I’d like to point out that Neil Patrick Harris was very effective as a very, very straight Neil Patrick Harris in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.

  • bitchen frizzy

    But what is this chemistry? Is it real or is it acted (maybe sometimes one and sometimes the other)? And if the actor doesn’t feel the chemistry, can he do a convincing job of faking it? Is that easy for an actor?

    Also, Setoodeh touches upon gay mannerisms. It would help with a convincing portrayal of a straight love interest to set those aside – something which any decent actor should have no trouble doing, I would imagine. Doubtless, though, audience members who know the actor is gay, and want to doubt his ability to act straight, will see these mannerisms in the performance where they don’t exist.

  • I_Sell_Books

    I don’t care if an actor is gay or not. If they can’t act, they can’t act! Naomi Watts*, I’m talking to you…

    * seriously, have you ever noticed she has the same facial expression – for every. single. emotional. moment. in every movie she’s ever been in?

  • So does this mean that men who are unfaithful in real life can’t play good husbands in movies? How about actors who wouldn’t go anywhere near the army playing military heroes?

  • MaryAnn

    If this is really about chemistry, then shouldn’t we also say that actors can’t play in romantically-entangled roles opposed people they’re not strongly attracted to?

    But romantic/sexual chemistry in real life does not always translate into onscreen chemistry, and vice versa. They’re too totally different things.

  • Les Carr

    It would seem to be much the best course of action to insist that Hollywood studios employ bisexual actors, so that they can accommodate the demands of any part (so to speak).

  • Knightgee

    Yes, it’s homophobia plain and simple. We gay people have had to pretend pretty much everyday for the majority of our lives that we’re straight to avoid hate crimes? Pretending to be straight is not a new thing for us and if straight people were actually good at detecting this, we wouldn’t have managed it for so long.

    As for Setoodeh himself, he’s a total homophobe. His previous pieces indicate that he really strongly hates effeminate gay men, to the point of blaming them for gay people not being accepted in society. Go to AfterElton.com and search his name for their previous coverage of him(they got wind of this piece long before the mainstream media decided it was important enough to comment) and you’ll see his bigoted and likely self-hating history:

    http://www.afterelton.com/blog/dennis/ramins-noodle

  • But romantic/sexual chemistry in real life does not always translate into onscreen chemistry, and vice versa. They’re too totally different things.

    That was kind of my point.

  • bitchen frizzy

    We gay people have had to pretend pretty much everyday for the majority of our lives that we’re straight to avoid hate crimes?

    Is this really true of homosexual celebrities now? If so, who are the “effeminate gay men” that Setoodah is hating on? Is it fair to classify Sean Hayes as “effeminate,” at least as his on-screen trademark if not in private?

    If so, then is Setoodah totally off-base in remarking on the challenges of playing a straight man in a romance? (Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and Setoodah can have a valid point no matter his shortcomings.)

    Let’s face it: right or wrong, homophobic as may be, the public’s ideal of a romantic lead is not effeminate. Rock Hudson, yes; “queeny” (that’s Setoodah’s word, not mine) no.

    A good actor is versatile. Less good actors, even if very successful in a role or sitcom that’s perfect for them, tend to play the same persona over and over again – the Shatners and Helen Hunts of the world.

    Well, if – and I don’t know – Sean Hayes or any other gay man is a one-note actor, and that note is “queeny,” then that’s a liability in a role as a straight man in a romance. Fair? Fair’s got nothing to do with it.

    And if he can’t pull the role off convincingly, then sparing the criticism because he’s gay is more homophobic than critiquing him for being “too gay” in his performance.

  • It’s absolutely homophobic because there’s no justification. Actors are actors, and they may be good actors or bad actors but that’s irrelevant to who which gender they bed at night.

    I can’t see how this is any different than saying Korean actors shouldn’t play Japanese (despite James Kyson Lee and John Cho doing excellent jobs in such roles). Or Brookliners playing Southies. Or *thirtysomethings* playing high school students (I’m looking at you Tobey).

    Ultimately, the easiest way to defeat this argument is to find examples to the contrary, for instance: John Glover, Ian McKellan, Neil Patrick Harris. They are all excellent actors who have played roles that included romantic elements with women to no detriment. And saying that they somehow are such great actors that they were able to ‘overcome their homosexuality’ is such a disgusting sentiment I want to vomit for even thinking of it.

  • markyd

    I really don’t have a whole lot to say about this topic, but I agree with the writer on as least one point.
    Once an actor comes out as gay, it IS difficult to buy them in a straight role.
    A lot of you are referencing gay actors that the public didn’t know at the time were gay. That is totally different. Once it’s out, personal bigotry comes into play. May not be right, but it’s the truth.
    I see NPH as one of the few exceptions, but that’s because he somehow managed to become “hip” among young folks, not to mention an internet meme.
    Ian McKellan is a fantastic actor, but when was the last time you saw him in a romantic role? Yeah, never.
    Personally, I’m not all that comfortable seeing straight guys in gay roles,either. BB Mountain skeezed me out. Then again, that may have had nothing to do with the actors.

  • Jackie

    Completely and unexcusably homophobic.

    Some of our greatest actors were bisexual. What about Montomery Clift? Would anyone say that Cary Grant wasn’t a good romantic lead? Who would deny James Dean’s talent or his chemistry with Natalie Wood? Marlon Brando famously stated that he had homosexual relationships… And come on, his role as Stanley was one of the greatest performances in movie history!

    Alec Guinness? Marlene Dietrich? Laurence Olivier?

  • Jackie

    I’d also like to add that,duh, it’s acting. It’s true that American society seems to believe that sexuality is a defining character trait, but to believe that audiences aren’t able to see the characters in a movie as anything other than the actors playing them is ridiculous. When I see a movie, I don’t think that Russell Crowe went back in time to kill Romans or believe that because RDJr played a superhero on the big screen, he really is one in real life. That’s the whole point of acting, isn’t it? To pretend to be someone else?

  • CriticWannaBe

    My problem w/the Newsweek article lies in the sense that Setoodeh is blaming the industry and society for his own limited views on performances by people like Sean Hayes and Rock Hudson. So whom is he criticizing here? “Damn the industry and society and damn them for making me feel this way about gay actors who are out!!” He’s twice victim!

    I actually saw Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth in the show and I can honestly say that I enjoyed him tremendously. It’s actually a very low-key performance and he has a true knack for musical comedy as well as a very sweet chemistry with Chenoweth. I wonder if Setoodeh realizes that Chuck Baxter is meant to be a very shy character. I’ve seen the original movie on which “Promises” is based (“The Apartment”) many times and I don’t know that I was looking for any sort of “passion” to brew between the two in the musical since it’s not really there in the movie either. I find a love story like this believable simply because it is not always a palpable physical attraction that creates that sort of undying love but a synchronous likeness of minds as well.

    In terms of getting past an actor’s sexuality, I personally feel that it has a great deal to do with the individual performance in question and not any sort of blanketed generalization on “out” actors. Rupert Everett as the romantic lead in “An Ideal Husband” gave a beautifully understated performance (Setoodeh doesn’t seem to believe that gay actors can play understated).

    Another example is Rock Hudson (I really disagreed with Setoodeh on this call): watching his movies in college, I knew that he was gay years before he outed himself in 1985. I felt the passion, the chemistry he shared with co-stars like Doris Day and Elizabeth Taylor. He was entirely believable as a “straight”, romantic male lead and he wasn’t even a good actor. He was, however, an undeniably virile screen presence that transcended any sort of preconceptions on sexuality.

    Neil Patrick Harris is so effective in “How I Met Your Mother” as an oversexed womanizer that I almost have trouble believing he’s really gay! Setoodeh rationalizes this by writing how exaggerated or “unreal” the character is. That is bullocks! Anyone who appreciates comedy knows that even the most outrageous characters require that kernel of truth or humanity to make the performance work and Harris provides that in spades. What I like is that he is able to accomplish this so well without “trying too hard” (“Hey, look, see how passionate I can be with a woman by how hard I make out with her!”). Harris strikes just the right balance.

    In the case of Hayes, I will say that it did take a little bit of time at the beginning of “Promises, Promises” for me to get past hints of his “Jack” persona, although that really has more to do with how iconic and over-the-top his character was on Will & Grace. It’s a little hard to forget. Given that “handicap”, Hayes really delivers the goods and most certainly deserves his Tony nomination for the show.

    The article does have an unstated point, however: for a great many of us who are truly invested in the power and magic of theater and movies, it is about far more than great acting. So much of that magic comes from the unspoken sexual connection that a star or actor has with the audience. I know that I have felt that connection many times and how the line between reality and fantasy can often become blurred, albeit temporarily. But in the end, I know it’s really fantasy that touches upon truth. Some of us feel it strongly despite the barrier of perceived sexuality; others clearly cannot. So, if a gay man can fantasize about a straight actor, why can’t a woman fantasize about a gay actor?

  • Pollas

    I disagree with the idea that once actors come out as gay that it’s difficult to buy them in a straight role. Rupert Everret (sp?) had been out as gay for years by the time I saw “An Ideal Husband” and “The Importance of Being Ernest” and in both cases I had no trouble believing him in heterosexual relationships. And obviously I knew Rock Hudson was gay when I saw a couple movies of his and I was able to forget his real-life orientation and buy him as being in love with his female co-leads. A good actor is a good actor. Period.

  • ryan

    For many Americans being gay isn’t about who you screw, it’s about where you stand on the pecking order. They can’t divide the act from the status.

    People can rationalize homophobia and bigotry as long as they want but by accepting it as “reality” means prolonging it in reality.

    Acting is by its very nature an art: it’s unnatural. It’s dress up, make believe and pretend. To say that heterosexual males are more natural at it that homosexual ones is so stupid it beggars belief.

    (And Rupert Everett’s career suffered because he was an insufferable pill, not because he’s gay. Two minutes listening to him talk will confirm that.)

  • bitchen frizzy

    A good actor is a good actor. Period.

    Absolutely. But a bad actor is a bad actor, and bad acting should be duly critiqued.

    If Setoodah is to be understood as saying that it’s a general rule that homosexuals should not play straight love interests, then he’s wrong.

    If he’s saying that gay actors who aren’t versatile enough – not good enough – to do anything but a one-note performance, shouldn’t play straight romantic interests, then he has a point. But, then again, that’s just stating the obvious.

    What did other critics have to say about the play and performance in question? Where can I look that up? Anyone know a rottentomatoes equivalent for Broadway plays?

  • CriticWannaBe

    The best resource for word-of-mouth feedback on a Broadway show are the reader’s reviews on the New York Times (http://community.nytimes.com/rate-review/theater.nytimes.com/show/24330/Promises-Promises/overview). You can also check out Broadway.com although I think they really edit out the negative responses in order to keep selling tickets to Broadway shows.

    The irony is that, despite the heavily mixed response to the show, Hayes is coming off smelling like a rose. And the show is among the top 5 at the box office so something must be right about this revival.

  • Should sexual orientation, as an “identity,” be treated differently from how we treat ethnicity as an “identity”? Acting is “dress up, make believe, and pretend,” as ryan says, but nevertheless we have all sorts of objections to blackface, yellowface, whitewashing, or certain minorities being seen as interchangeable with other minorities (the “they all look alike” syndrome; see for instance the casting controversy in Memoirs of a Geisha, where Chinese actors were cast in lead Japanese roles).

    There are also those who object to able-bodied actors playing disabled characters: see for instance the deaf/blind acting community’s outrage over Abigail Breslin being cast to play Helen Keller onstage.

    Where does “gays playing straight/straights playing gay” fall on this spectrum of what’s objectionable and what isn’t? Acting is pretend, but we do seem to draw some lines as to who can play whom. Are we consistent in our reasons? Should we be?

  • Once someone mentioned bringing up bi-sexual actors, the first name that popped into my head was Cary Grant, too. I think he even had a fling with Rock Hudson. (You ladies can go to your bunk now)

    To the extent that America can’t believe homosexuals playing straight people is somewhat a reflection of greater homophobia. On the other hand, when I know an actor is an idiot in real life, I have trouble when they are playing an intelligent person in a movie. Even if they nail the part, part of my brain is thinking, wow, too bad the nerd who wrote those lines doesn’t make as much money as the actor does.

    So yes, I believe a gay actor can play a straight person convincingly, but I don’t want to know their sexual orientation any more than I want to know their political orientation, IQ, religious beliefs, or marital status. It’s not so bad in a comedy like “How I met your mother” or “Frasier” when I know a gay man is playing a straight man or a conservative is playing a liberal, because I’m laughing at the jokes, but the more seriously you want me to take it, the less I want to know about the actor. I just can’t cry for a Republican.

  • Knightgee

    If so, then is Setoodah totally off-base in remarking on the challenges of playing a straight man in a romance?

    He is, because he is bringing his perception of the actor into the theater and letting it rule the performance. Sean Hayes is not playing a flamboyant gay man in this play, that is simply a perception Setoodeh isn’t willing to let go of, but he insists on attributing his own inability to see past these people’s sexuality to their sexuality and not his own limited imagination. He doesn’t belief Jonathon Groff plays a convincing romantic rival and straight guy on Glee. I’m sure that will be a surprise to his numerous female fans who had no clue he was gay till reading Setoodeh’s article. Setoodeh wants to blame “unconvincing” performances on something naturally wrong with gay actors who play straight, rather than examining his own biases that are at work.

  • Knightgee

    I also think people here who are playing devil’s advocate for Setoodeh by seeking some bit of intelligent critique in his piece are giving him far too much credit. Again, read his previous work, heck, read the article in question. This isn’t about chastising the homophobic nature of the industry or anything of the sort, nor is it about simply calling a few gay actors bad romantic actors (as many of the ones he listed as being unconvincing were quite beloved by women as believable romantic foils), this is about him blaming gay actors for his own biases against them. The key feature that seems to matter to him is their out status. Apparently these performers would have been more believable if he went into each performance not knowing they were gay, yet this is somehow their fault for being unconvincing (but only in light of their orientation being revealed) and not his.

  • Kathryn

    How has no-one mentioned John Barrowman yet? Very openly gay, and very successfully plays omnisexual and straight characters (is in Desperate Housewives at the moment).

    Of course it is possible for gay actors to play straight characters – as Mr Barrowman says, you’re playing a relationship, not a sexuality. Of course the audience have to be willing to suspend disbelief – that’s true with every acting performance – and if they are really determined not to believe a performance because of what they know about the actor then they will convince themselves that it’s the actor’s fault. But it’s not, it’s the audience member who is not putting in their half of the work.

    I may add that I recently sat through a play featuring an openly gay actor who I like playing 15 different characters – ranging from a straight teenage boy, a gay colleage student, a drama student of non-specified sexuality to the straight middle-aged father of one of the lead characters, and found him utterly convincing throughout the whole thing. But then part of teh joy of theatre is that the audience understands that it has to work a little bit harder to fill in the corners of the canvas, that it’s a representation of reality and not an attempt at realism.

  • wooster182

    Aaron Sorkin gave the best response in an article to this odd situation and I agree with him. The original author isn’t homophobic. He’s just wrong. It’s not about whether an actor is gay or straight. We know way too much about celebrities period to ever go into a film 100% innocent and completely focused on their acting. The Brangelina triangle comes to mind and it did to his as well. The guy’s article was poorly written and had little focus. He also seems to know little about gay actors’ filmography considering he didn’t mention Jane Lynch at all in his article who is also in Glee and who did a fabulous turn as Julia Child’s straight sister in Julie and Julia. He also neglects to mention that Gale Harold played one of the most brilliant gay roles ever on film in Queer as Folk and no one knows whether he is straight or gay. It doesn’t matter. It was fantastic. And he’s good in straight roles as well.

  • I think Wooster brings up many good points. The only logical solution to this problem is to boycott magazines and TV shows that tell us about actors’ personal lives, or at the very least skip those articles. And even if no one else does, you can benefit as much as I do from a 95% innocence of behind the scenes knowledge of actors’ lives and just enjoy the movie.

    I shall call it the Movie Purity Movement. Sounds a lot better than Movie Ignorance Movement, doesn’t it?

  • Dokeo

    Paul, will you be encouraging Movie Purity Balls? ‘Cause if so, Pamela can probably help with the planning. :-) http://www.flickfilosopher.com/blog/2010/05/051710watch_it_pamelas_prayer_christ.html

  • Wonderful idea. Everyone should dress as Disney princesses and princes, Peter Pan’s lost boys, or elves. Well, I’d make a more convincing dwarf…

  • Dokeo

    Awesome! And everyone could take a solmen pledge to renounce TMZ.

  • Truth > Fiction

    Look at men like Matt Bomer…he had played straight roles for the first ten years of his acting career and no one would have not believed he was straight if he had not come out of the closet.
    Having said that it has jot changed his ability to portray a straight man. So it is propose rousing to suggest gay men cannot play straight but straight can play gay!!
    To be honest I find most straight actors who play gay men are often over the top in their portrayal and or really stiff so …yu be the judge

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