Last week we reported that out British actor Russell Tovey (right) had been signed to play — gasp! — a gay character alongside fellow out actor Jonathan Groff in HBO’s upcoming original series Looking. This inspired us to look back in time to see which others openly out actors were OK with taking on the role of a gay character. While audiences and critics are often quick to offer kudos, Oscars and generous applause when a straight guy can “transform” on the screen to play a gay role, people are seemingly astonished to think a gay man could play it straight on screen (um, isn’t that what acting is all about?).
Hollywood is seemingly homo-resistant — or at least squeamish to the notion of a gay leading man — so many in our homo brethren are afraid to take on roles that represent the skin they really live in off-screen on TV and film for fear of being forever pigeonholed as “that gay actor.” Well, to hell with that! We’re offering our kind of kudos (ie. high-kicks, air kisses and raised mimosas) to praise some of our openly gay actors who’ve proudly played queer in TV and film.
Although he was all over the tube as a child actor, Allen didn’t play gay onscreen until 2005’s Third Man Out which was the first in a series of TV-movies based on the novels by Richard Stevenson about a gay private dick.
Though fanboys contested whether his character was actually gay our bisexual, openly gay Barrowman made gay (or bi) mainstream in sci-fi with his beloved Torchwood character.
Although not out until he was 69 (he announced his homosexuality in the biography Shattered Love) Chamberlain embraced his new peace in later roles by poking fun at his closeted persona in TV shows like Desperate Housewives, Will & Grace and the film I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.
It’s a new generation for gays on TV, and Colfer became a role model (if not a reluctant one—at least initially) for countless kids and young adults when Glee debuted on Fox in 2009.
Though we all remember him from My So-Called Life it wasn’t until he grew older that Cruz capitalized on his gay caché. He’s played gay in a number of homo-specific films as well as more mainstream Hollywood fare like He’s Just Not That Into You.
The bisexual actor (who lately identifies as gay — if we insist on a label) has embodied so many “is-he or-isn’t-he?” characters throughout his long and varied three-decade-long film and stage career. But he played unequivocally gay in last year’s 1970s-set Any Day Now which tackles issues about adoption and homophobia in a decade of supposedly free love.
Always open about his sexuality, Diaz might be most familiar for playing an assortment of thugs and drug dealers (most notably Weeds) but he never was shy about portraying gay. He embodied a drag queen in the 1995 film Stonewall and a gay nurse in the short-lived NBC series Mercy.
Now, unfortunately, he’s mostly famous for being a bitter queen, Everett was a pioneer of sorts when it came to playing gay before being gay was popular in roles like The Next Best Thing and My Best Friend’s Wedding.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson
This ginger had a couple of short-lived series (playing straight) under his belt before he exploded on the scene with his straight-laced-gay-lawyer role on the comedy hit Modern Family.
Now you can see him on that grating Nicole Scherziner Herbal Essences commercial, but this swoon-worthy stud made many of us stand at full attention during his stint as Hal Sparks’ love interest on Showtime’s Queer as Folk.
Neil Patrick Harris
Probably best known nowadays as hetero Lothario Barney on How I Met Your Mother, the man who was Doogie did play gay before being “officially” out of the closet—most memorably as an ex-gay (wink! wink!) on Will & Grace and as another “gay friend” in The Next Best Thing.
Although his Jack McFarland character was über-gay on Will & Grace, the star didn’t officially come out until years after he exited his Emmy-winning role.
You might recognize the the triple hyphenate writer/actor/director from Logo’s gay-themed Ski Trip or its 2008 sequel, but the openly gay actor is probably best known for the playing not gay in his 2006 comedy Dirty Laundry with Loretta Devine and Jennifer Lewis.
The unapologetically flamboyant comedian might be diminutive but he always makes quite the impression on screen whether recurring as Karen Walker’s arch-nemesis, Beverly Leslie, on Will & Grace or in Sordid Lives or the upcoming American Horror Story: Coven.
You can think of so many of his roles and wonder whether he was playing gay (The Lion King’s Timon, anyone?), but in something like The Birdcage nobody would protest since his gayness in that role could be seen from space.
Most recently he had a short stint on Smash, but you probably remember his handsome mug from the Sally Field soaper Brothers & Sisters where he played boyfriend Scotty to one Field’s onscreen sons.
Sir Ian McKellen
Gandolf is as out an proud as they come and his Oscar-nominated role in Gods and Monsters proves that sometimes (just sometimes) critics can recognize a fine gay actor in a transformative homo role.
John Cameron Mitchell
The writer-director-star of the film version of Hedwig and The Angry Inch was nominated for a Golden Globe for this role, arguably his finest and most famous.
Though not “officially” out during his initial run as the titular character on Noah’s Arc, the handsome actor never denied being gay and he never shied away from gay roles in films like Boy Culture and Another Gay Movie.
While he’s only played gay in…oh, wait. Wrong list. Sorry.