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17 Straight Actors Reveal Their Approach To “Playing Gay”

urlJohn Lithgow gives a thoughtful and tender performance as a gay man in the upcoming Love is Strange, and was recently asked about his other famous role as transgender Roberta Muldoon opposite Robin Williams in 1982’s The World According To Garp (pictured right).

He told the Huffington Post that he, “just decided to underplay everything [and] make her a perfectly normal person — in fact, a person who is utterly unaffected,” and that the character, “feels more herself than she’s ever been,” adding, “In that sense, it was revolutionary.”

Here’s how 16 other famous (assumedly) straight stars approached LGBT characters.

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 12.18.19 PM

Jim Carey — I Love You Philip Morris

“What I’m doing for the gay community is loving and tolerating. Accepting everyone on equal terms.” When asked about getting down with Ewan McGregor? “A dream come true. I mean look at the guy.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 12.19.19 PM

Michael Douglas — Behind The Candelabra

“Once you get that first kiss in, you are comfortable. Matt and I didn’t rehearse the love scenes. We said, ‘Well–we’ve read the script, haven’t we?’ The hardest thing about sex scenes is that everybody is a judge. I don’t know the last time you murdered somebody or blew anyone’s brains out, but everyone has had sex and probably this morning, which means everyone has an opinion on how it should be done.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 12.19.54 PM

Heath Ledger — Brokeback Mountain

“It was certainly a surreal moment the first time I had to kiss Jake, but once that was done, I quickly realised that it didn’t make me want to run out and do it again. And you think, OK, what’s the next shot? Those scenes were just a small part of the package.”

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Heather Graham — Gray Matters

“I liked that it was about someone kind of learning to accept themselves for who they are and celebrating who they are. I kind of felt like I could relate to that even though I hadn’t gone through the exact same thing but it’s hard to really learn about yourself and to accept all the different parts of yourself. I thought it was a very happy story.”

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Hilary Swank — Boys Don’t Cry

“I knew that if I couldn’t pass as a boy on the street then the movie wasn’t going to work. I was in it 24/7. I was sleeping with the sock in my pants trying as much as I could to be like Brandon Teena. This is a person’s life, this is someone who really lived, it wasn’t even a fictional character and I felt a huge responsibility to him. When I got the part I thought ‘I can’t mess this up, this story is too important.’ I received so much mail from that movie, running the full gamut from trans people to people who said, ‘this has changed my outlook.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 12.23.31 PM

Ewan McGregor — Velvet Goldmine

“Sex scenes are strange and awkward and a bizarre thing to be doing. The (Christian Bale) sex scene was fun though! We were in Kings Cross; he plays a journalist and I played a rock star and we had a shag on the roof in Kings Cross and they wanted to shoot a wide shot. We heard the kind of ‘action!’ (from the film crew on another rooftop) and we, you know, we start slowly, and then it went on and on, and we’re really going now. And then I thought ‘I would have come by now’, so I lean over and say ‘I think I would have come by now’, and I look over at the other roof, and the crew are already packing up. They must have thought it was a sensitive thing and wanted to leave us to it.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 12.24.10 PM

Daniel Craig — Infamous

“There was never any self-consciousness about it. I always think that’s how a love story needs to play out anyway, because it’s just this friendship that starts growing, and if it turns into sex, it turns into sex; but it’s not like two young men meet in a bar, go out back and fuck. This is about two human beings really sitting down and trying to figure each other out.”

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Colin Firth — A Single Man

“If you’re an actor who is afraid to play a character because they’re gay, you should probably go and get yourself sorted out, actually. Grow up. I certainly didn’t walk around gay, thinking gay, brushing my teeth gay.”

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Robin Williams — Birdcage

“I grew up around gay people, I remember walking down the streets one day and the Sisters of Indulgence, specifically Sister Mary Boom Boom, looked at me and said, ‘There goes the neighborhood.’ I thought that was wonderful.”

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Chris Plummer — Beginners

“Having to kiss my boyfriend of the moment, who is of course as butch as they come – I think he was more nervous than I was. I felt that I was sort of an oldish hand at it by the time we’d finished our relationship. You can’t get away from it; you have to do it. So we did it, and closed our eyes, and it was all right.”

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Chiwetel Ejiofor — Kinky Boots

“Even though I loved the part, there’s always this possibility that it just wasn’t in me; that I’d throw on the wig and say the lines and look like a moron or a fraud. But actually something different happened. It was like I had been released!”

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Dennis Quaid — Far From Heaven

“I don’t think it’s such a big risk anymore, unless you sort of get it wrong. And with this, I just felt that the story was told with such sincerity and it wasn’t a send-up or a spoof of something. It really dealt with what was going on with these people. I didn’t have any second thoughts about playing it.”

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Terence Stamp – The Adventures Of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert

“It wasn’t something I’d have ever considered really. I thought it was a joke, but a woman friend of mine just happened to be present when I was getting calls from my agent about the script and she pointed out to me in a very incisive way that my fear was out of all proportion to the possible consequences. That’s the thing about fear: you’re only really subject to it as long as you don’t spot it. It’s not easy to realise when you’re turning down things from fear or genuine discernment.”

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Annette Bening – The Kids Are All Right

“It’s really a very simple story — family, teenage kids. The moms have been together their whole lives, one of them has an affair, and they stay together in the end. The details are very specific to our time and these two women. But it’s just a story. It’s not even about being gay. That’s just incidental.”

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Seth Green – Party Monster

“A character’s sexuality is far less challenging than developing their personality. At the end of a day, your character loves someone—man or woman, it’s the same kind of love.”

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Cher – Silkwood

“(Director Mike Nichols) said, ‘I have to tell you something. This is a wonderful part. She’s a lesbian, but she’s a wonderful lesbian.’ I said ‘O.K., fine, it doesn’t bother me.'”


  • 10 Comments
    • Billy Budd
      Billy Budd

      Very nice.

      Aug 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • SteveDenver
      SteveDenver

      When Matt Damon was asked about his role in BEHIND THE CANDELABRA by a particularly prurient columnist, he replied, “It’s acting and I want to do the most convincing job possible. I was never asked about the love scenes with other women and how difficult those were because I wouldn’t wipe wife and kids from my mind.”

      Aug 21, 2014 at 5:41 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Stache99
      Stache99

      One more reason to miss Robin Williams.

      Aug 21, 2014 at 6:32 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Maharajah
      Maharajah

      @Stache99: Indeed!

      Aug 21, 2014 at 9:11 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Alton
      Alton

      I hope we’re rapidly reaching a point where we can actually have openly gay men playing gay roles. Mark Ruffalo and Taylor Kitsch were just fine in Normal Heart, but couldn’t Rupert Everett have played Ruffalo’s part? Couldn’t Wentworth Miller have played Kitsch’s? I’m not saying that straight people should be forbidden from playing gay roles, but until it’s more or less accepted that openly gay men can play straight roles, I’ll remain sick of hearing about “brave” heterosexuals who “don’t have a problem with playing gay” because “love is love”. Yeah, we already know that, assholes.

      Aug 21, 2014 at 10:42 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Curtispsf
      Curtispsf

      @Alton: While I don’t disagree with your premise that it would be nice to see gay actors playing gay roles, straight actors who play gay roles (at least in the not so distant past) have taken career risks. If they get it right and are not just “playing” gay, it’s another mark up on the wall of understanding.

      I think calling them assholes is using too broad a brush. IMHO

      Aug 22, 2014 at 12:04 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • tyler2400
      tyler2400

      Robin was amazing huh guys? God… :-(

      Aug 22, 2014 at 5:58 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Tim
      Tim

      Velvet Goldmine….. sigh.

      Aug 22, 2014 at 7:56 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • TVC 15
      TVC 15

      @Tim: Truly. Ewan was so dreamy in that movie.

      Aug 25, 2014 at 4:52 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • JayHobeSound
      JayHobeSound

      Weird watching Terence Stamp in other roles and thinking about ‘Bernice’. Same with Hugo Weaving – the drag performer w/a son in ‘Priscilla’ – was also the lead in ‘V for Vendetta’ – testament to their range as actors!

      Aug 26, 2014 at 7:20 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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