Actor Harry Hamlin has voiced his thoughts on Hollywood’s changing attitudes toward LGBTQ characters in film, revealing that his own portrayal of a gay man almost derailed his career.
Hamlin stepped into the role of Bart, a gay screenwriter, in 1982’s Making Love. As written by gay writers A. Scott Berg & Barry Sandler and directed by Arthur Hiller, the film tells the story of a closeted, married man who falls for Hamlin’s Bart, leading them both on a journey of self-discovery. It was the first-ever gay romance produced by a major studio.
Now 68, Hamlin says that despite the groundbreaking nature of the movie, showbiz doors slammed in his face.
“It was, like, 10 years too early, I guess, and it completely ended my career,” Hamlin told the podcast It Happened in Hollywood. “That was the last studio picture I ever did. The door shut with a resounding smash.”
Prior to Making Love, Hamlin’s star had been on the rise, having appeared in hits like Clash of the Titans. He thought playing a gay man would offer a chance to show his dramatic range, and a certain amount of courage other actors hadn’t shown. “They’d gone out to every major star, and they’d all turned it down, because at that time, the idea of a gay world was still not accepted,” he added.
Making Love scored lukewarm reviews at the time, and Hamlin’s career wouldn’t recover until 1986 when he nabbed the lead on NBC’s iconic drama LA Law. He would earn a Golden Globe nomination for his performance, and appear in five seasons of the show.
Still, despite the career woes of the time, Hamlin embraces his work in Making Love. In recent years, the film has come to be seen as something of an overlooked classic, an idealistic pre-AIDS romance the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again for more than a decade. He appeared in The Celluloid Closet discussing his work and the reaction to the film and also has spoken at retrospective screenings of the movie alongside Barry Sandler.
“Not a week goes by when people don’t come up to me and say – and I’m serious about this – in the supermarket, anywhere, on the street, and they thank me for doing that movie,” Hamlin says.