That Sean Hayes is gay is Hollywood’s worst kept secret — circa 1998, when his character Jack debuted on Will & Grace. Played with a natural flamboyance, Hayes portrayal of the serially out-of-work mooching neighbor was either an exercise in extreme method acting, or just an extension of Hayes’ true self. Or somewhere in the middle. But with an upcoming Broadway turn opposite Kristin Chenoweth in Promises, Promises, he’s acknowledging what nobody pretended was even something worth hiding: that he’s a proud, Emmy-winning gay actor. But damn you for making him say it aloud.
Like Neil Patrick Harris pre-How I Met Your Mother or White Collar‘s Matthew Bomer today, Harris didn’t want to declare his sexuality on the record during Will & Grace for fear of breaking Hollywood’s glass closet only to have the pieces slash through his career’s carotid artery. And the prospect of speaking about it still perturbs him, thanks in part to an Advocate article that made him hate the gay media.
And there’s the press. To this day he feels burned by a story that ran in this magazine in anticipation of the series finale of Will & Grace. Titled “Sean Hayes: The Interview He Never Gave,” the one-page “Q&A” was a clip job of quotes he’d given to other publications through the years that made him look rather silly for pretending no one knows he’s gay. Hayes’s sexuality had become an open secret in Hollywood, but he’d refused repeated offers to be interviewed by the magazine, and the then-editors of The Advocate felt entitled to the real story. Understandably, that didn’t sit well with Hayes. “Really? You’re gonna shoot the gay guy down? I never have had a problem saying who I am,” he states.
Ironic, then, that the magazine he is now coming out to is also the Advocate.
Finally, Hayes gets to his true point: “I feel like I’ve contributed monumentally to the success of the gay movement in America, and if anyone wants to argue that, I’m open to it. You’re welcome, Advocate.”
That sarcasm and anger cover up years of genuinely hurt feelings. “Why would you go down that path with somebody who’s done so much to contribute to the gay community?” he asks. “That was my beef about it. What more do you want me to do? Do you want me to stand on a float? And then what? It’s never enough.
“That’s the thing about celebrity: It sets you up to fail because the expectation is so high of what’s needed, what’s wanted from you that the second you don’t [meet it], you disappoint people.”
And therein lies the rub of gay celebrities: Being famous means your personal life is exposed, voluntarily or not. And closeted gay actors, and semi-out gay actors who don’t want to confirm nor deny their sexuality, have it even harder, because they must don a shield when it comes to who they’re dating. But Hayes had the (mis?)fortune of rising to stardom before blogs and Twitter, before Facebook and TMZ. Which says much about how even in the 1990s, gay celebs felt pressure from the gay community to say it loud and say it proud. Websites like ours, then, haven’t made it any easier — but as the media environment changes, so too must celebrities looking to court it for work.
And for the record, Hayes is happily partnered. But don’t ask him about it.