Dear Ramin Setoodeh: Here Are Gays Successfully Playing Straight Characters

Ramin Setoodeh, Newsweek‘s ire of gay Hollywood, is being attacked by Broadway and television vets for dissing Sean Hayes. Last night he went on television to defend himself. It did not go well — not because his fellow guests attacked him, but because it’s as if he didn’t even bother researching his case studies. Which is sad, because his case studies are television shows, and how hard is it to buff up on those?

On The Joy Behar Show, Setoodeh says the only reason we can believe Neil Patrick Harris‘ heterosexual Barney character on How I Met Your Mother was because we were introduced to him back when Harris was “straight.” And “it’s a television character” that is “over the top, funny, humorous character” and not a “romantic lead where women actually are supposed to believe him as a heterosexual character.” So what gay actors can play straight? Setoodeh doesn’t know any, because “the type that can play straight, we probably don’t know that they’re gay, because they’ve kept it a secret.” And if they stop keeping it a secret? They suddenly become unbelievable!

But we’d argue these gay actors do, in fact, go straight-for-pay quite convincingly. And it has little to do with their sexuality, and everything to do with their acting chops. (There’s a difference, Setoodeh says, between gay actors playing characters who happen to be straight, and gay actors whose straight characters are framed as romantic interests.)

• Cheyenne Jackson: Danny, 30 Rock
Matt Bomer: Neal, White Collar
• Neil Patrick Harris: Barney, How I Met Your Mother
• John Barrowman: Patrick, Desperate Housewives
• Cynthia Nixon: Miranda, Sex and the City
Jonathan Groff: Melchior, Spring Awakening
• Wanda Sykes: Barb, The New Adventures of Old Christine
• TR Knight: George, Grey’s Anatomy
• Jodie Foster: Erica, The Brave One
• Ian McKellen: Everything he’s ever done

And of course, Rupert Everett in … Shrek The Third.

Surely you know more than we. Let us know in the comments.

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  • Kieran

    Right away I can think of Rock Hudson in ‘Pillow Talk’ and Richard Chamberlain in ‘The Thorn Birds’.

  • Josh

    Let Newsweek know that they should apologize or Ramin should be fired….

    [email protected]

    Ramin has a long history of (self hating) homophobia….

    Not only did he write this piece disparaging gay actors who play straight roles…

    Not only did he write a piece that blamed effeminate gays and actors for hurting gay marriage….

    Not only did he go on O’Reilly to do a hit piece on Adam Lambert last season on American Idol (where he depicted Kris as a good straight Christian and Adam as a godless heathen gay even though it was known that Adam was Jewish)…..

    But he also blamed that 8th grade kid (Lawrence King) that was murdered by his classmate (who shot him in the head in class) for his own murder because he dressed effeminately at school and therefore was flaunting his sexuality.

  • bc

    Correction: NPH plays Barney, not Barry

  • delurker again

    Will Ramin be on Morning Goods any time soon? ;)

  • thedarkchariot

    When Kristin Chenoweth gets mad at you? Yeah. You’re a douche.

  • J. Clarence

    Oi Vey. I don’t understand how we can in most other situations criticize Hollywood because they don’t pick gay actors to play straight roles, but then criticize a journalist for given the reason why Hollywood executive do exactly that a face.

    The bickering I have seen from the gay community in response to Setoodeh’s article seems more like denialism than anything else.

    In his original article he talks about how the roles the actors play like Danny on 30 Rock and NPH on How I Met Your Mother demonstrate the fact that Hollywood would let a gay actor play a straight role when the character in particular is an exaggeration rather than a more realistic drama. He also mentions how and why lesbians have an easier time playing straight (i.e. Nixon, Sykes, Foster (though she just hints at it, which kinda reaffirms Setoodeh’s point). And I’m not going to touch Spring Awakening.

    The point of Setoodeh’s piece in Newsweek, and what most people seem to be missing, isn’t that gays cannot ever play a convincing heterosexual role, but rather that it is the way in which we put so much emphasis on sexuality as a society that it instinctively taints our perception of an actor. The problem Setoodeh is trying to get to is that the problem isn’t the actor, but rather the audience.

    Studios aren’t going to hire someone if they have evidence that it won’t sell, and as Queerty recently posted about contrasts, studios/agents will go to great lengths to keep certain parts of an actors life, i.e. their sexuality.

    And you know what to put the nail in the coffin of this story, watch Promises, Promises and tell yourself if Sean Hayes played a convincing straight role, like the actor who played him before did. The New York Times review clearly didn’t think so.

    And Kieran, Rock Hudson is probably the worst example to counter Setoodeh’s point as he spent his entire life denying his sexuality because he knew it would ruin his career. In fact Setoodeh mentioned exactly that in his original article.

  • Joe K

    You have not gone back far enough. These were people in the closet at the time, or just barely in the closet. the studios did know about them however. They were hired for thier ability to bring in money, or being a man’s-man ( i always loved that term)

    James Dean
    Cary Grant
    Dirk Bogarde
    Rock Hudson
    Danny Kaye
    SIr Richard Chamberlin
    Montgomery Cliff
    Will Geer
    Sir John Gielgud
    Sir Nigel Hawthorne
    Tab Hunter
    Gordon Kaye (who actually played a womenizer in ‘allo ‘allo)
    Sal Mineo
    Anthony Perkins
    David Hyde Pierce
    Tyrone Power
    Robert Reed
    Dick Sargent

    None of them could play straight roles and be convincing at all….

    There are more but those are the only ones i can find and think of right now.

  • Josh

    Raymond Burr was also gay. He was in a committed relationship with his partner for 30 years wasn’t he?

  • Joseph

    @J. Clarence

    Well, then, why didn’t Setoodeh frame his article around that thesis? He didn’t; instead, he used Newsweek specifically as a pulpit to ATTACK openly gay actors that he–in only his opinion–didn’t “act” convincingly straight. Nowhere in his original article does he either offer genuine examples of gay actors who have convincingly played straight nor does he offer an explanation why the studios are afraid to cast gay actors in straight roles–instead, he reinforces their beliefs that audiences won’t buy gay actors in straight roles by projecting his own opinions on to the piece. To now come back and say something different is thoroughly disingenious.

  • edgyguy1426

    His write-off of NPH as being a broad character was not a good defense.

  • Nick

    In addition to actors of classic TV and Film, here are some more contemporary gay actors playing it straight:

    From Indie Films:
    Michael E.R. Walker & Maximiliano Torandell – Eating Out 3
    Matthew Montgomery – Fear House
    Guillermo Diaz – I Think I Do
    Simon Callow – Bedrooms & Hallways

    Canadian Television:
    Luke MacFarlane – Iron Road
    Steve Cumyn – Paradise Falls

    American Television:
    Christopher Sieber – Two of a Kind
    George Takei – Star Trek & Heroes
    Philip P. Keane – The Closer
    Guillermo Diaz – Weeds; Guest appearances on TV as a Thug
    Roger Rees – Cheers (Love interest for Rebecca – Robin Colcourt)
    Kevin Spirtas – Days of Our Lives
    Jesse Tyler Ferguson – The Class; Guest appearance on Ugly Betty (as love interest for Betty)
    Sam Harris – The Class
    Jonathan Slavin – Better off Ted
    Jaason Simmons – Bay Watch (Notorious Ladies’ Man Logan Fowler)
    Chad Allen – Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (Character was married, had kids, and became sheriff of town)
    Malcolm Gets – Carolyn in the City (eventual love interest for Carolyn)
    Daniel Butler – Fraser (as Womanizer Bulldog)

    British Television:
    Russell Tovey – Being Human
    Simon Woods – Rome

    Pink Elephant in the Room:
    Zachary Quinto – Star Trek & Heroes

    Even in the world of porn gay men can play it straight:
    Jack Wrangler
    Blake Riley – Shifting Gears

    This list is not inclusive, and I apologize for the length of this post and if left any obvious roles/actors out.

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    @J. Clarence: That’s not the point of the writer’s piece. Here’s some advice: If not one else but you got the thesis you got from something you read, that means you are wrong. Not the bulk of writers.

  • Scot

    Here’s my two cents – Meredith Baxter, Ellen DeGeneres, Lindsey Lohan, Wesley Eure (the kid from Land of the Lost who lived with Richard Chamberlain for years!) I’m sure I can come up with more.

  • Random Rashes

    Sean Hayes is not an actor he stinks. It’s all his fault.

  • alan brickman

    Because of all the attention it caused…there will be more articles…but better written ones….

  • alan brickman

    should he have said obviously gay instead of openly??….

  • alan brickman

    it’s hilarious how many actors will get outed during this “outrage” against Newsweek

  • alan brickman

    Yes Gay media rush to Sean’s defence…cause he doesn’t blame gay media for anything….

  • fredo777

    Jonathon Groff also plays Jessie on Glee. Well, at least he did. I’m not sure if he’s still on or not b/c I haven’t caught the Laryngitis episode yet.

  • J. Clarence

    @Joseph: I disagree with your assertion entirely. Setoodeh does in fact give an explanation. I think the issue that most people just don’t like to hear it.

    In his original article here is what Setoodeh wrote: “This is admittedly a complicated issue for the gay community, though it is not, in fact, a uniquely gay problem. In the 1950s, the idea of “color-blind casting” became a reality, and the result is that today there’s nothing to stop Denzel Washington from playing the Walter Matthau role in the remake of The Taking of the Pelham 1-2-3. …For gay actors, why should sexual orientation limit a gay actor’s choice of roles? The fact is, an actor’s background does affect how we see his or her performance—which is why the Tom Hankses and Denzels of the world guard their privacy carefully.”

    He goes on to say, “It’s not just a problem for someone like Hayes, who even tips off your grandmother’s gaydar. For all the beefy bravado that Rock Hudson projects on-screen, Pillow Talk dissolves into a farce when you know the likes of his true bedmates. (Just rewatch the scene where he’s wading around in a bubble bath by himself.)”

    Now a lot of people attacked Setoodeh, because of that “Hayes is really gay” remark, but let us all remember when Hayes came out we all collectively went “Duh”.

    He doesn’t reinforce what Hollywood already does, and has been doing for decades, he simply states it for what it is which few people have been willing to do–and the backlash he has received is likely why. And I think by doing so opens up the door for us to have an actual conversation about this practice both the heterosexual community and the gay community (though we have been complaining about it for years).

    Will Americans buy into an openly gay character playing a serious straight? We haven’t a gotten a chance to test that, but what we can infer from past practices is this (1) straight actors can play gay roles but the reverse is not true (look at the cast of Queer As Folk as a prime example), (2) gay actors openly have commented about how they have worried about the way in which coming out as affected their carrier, examples Bryan Batt; (3) we have many gay actors and celebrities who stay in the closet, or in Cooper’s entertain a public secret, and are occasionally mocked by us because of it.

    Even NPH has in some ways been the semi-exception that proves the rule here. The perception of him has a actor has change considerably since he came out. He’s become more famous in a way, but his sexuality, whether it is hosting the Tony’s or the Emmy’s becomes a facet of his act. But who knows lets wait to see him play the role in a serious drama as the husband with a dark secret and see how it is received by the public, or even if he gets offered that role in the first place.

    Hollywood for all of its liberal stances on issues is still at the end of the day a business, and I think the fact that studios have been unwilling to go out on the ledge and cast gay actors to play straight characters in certain kinds of roles (not the exaggerated comedies) says something, which we may not like to hear but something we have all acknowledge in one way in another for a while.

  • ROBinNYC

    The problem isn’t Setoodah discussing the issue. The problem is he is lending creedence to the cowardice of the industry that insists Americans are to backwards to actually make the leap that gay actors can play straight roles.

    I’ve discussed the same thing on this site, as I’m an out, gay actor working in the business. Has it made it harder? Yes. Have I lost out on auditions because people know I’m gay? Yes. I’ve played straight many times. But I’m a big ol’ girl in real life…and that makes casting folk nervous. Let’s have that discussion.

    But let us not, in any way, actually affirm the wrong-headed beliefs of those in Hollywood who can’t get past this issue because they think it will affect their box office.

    There are several successful actors I know of that are ‘out’ in their lives, but who simply avoid the question publicly. And NO ONE questions their ability to play straight. It’ll be interesting to see what will become of their careers if they choose to simply be out.

  • J. Clarence

    @ROBinNYC: I don’t think Setoodeh was reaffirming or giving credence to the notion that gay actors can’t straight role. He was “picking” on Hayes as an example of his point that as a society an actor’s personal life affects how we perceive them in their role as a character. That is not a smudge against any gay actor per se, but rather of our society’s obsession with sexuality and our tendency to extrapolate things from that.

    In his response to Chenoweth’s letter, Setoodeh quotes the Times’s review of Hayes’ performance. Setoodeh wrote, “When Sean Hayes, from Will & Grace, made his Broadway debut in Promises, Promises playing a heterosexual man, the New York Times theater review included these lines: “his emotions often seem pale to the point of colorlessness … his relationship with his costar Kristin Chenoweth feels more like that of a younger brother than a would-be lover and protector.”

    To that end Stoodeh wrote, “This [the Times review], to me, is code: it’s a way to say that Hayes’s sexual orientation is getting in the way of his acting without saying the word gay.”

    That to me Rob seems like pretty much exactly what you said you are experiencing at auditions. So Setoodeh pointing that out doesn’t come across as providing cover to what the industry, but rather just stating a fact, which you admitted is the case. The anger targeted towards Setoodeh seems to be based off the fact that he is saying what we all know but don’t want to hear.

    And last let us keep this in mind Setoodeh is just a writer for a weekly magazine that just went up for sale. I doubt he article is a guiding force in Hollywood.

  • ROBinNYC

    And yet…Promises, Promises (despite the tepid reviews) is a hit. A big, fat hit…thus far. Mostly because of Hayes and (to an only slightly lesser extent) Chenoweth. So…even though Setoodah seems to believe no one can buy him in the role (and even has the Times to back him up, as long as his reading of Brantley’s review is correct), the public doesn’t seem to give a sh*t. And in the end, that’s what all this is about. The fear engendered in the business is all about money. If X is gay, then we can’t make money on it.

    But both Hayes and David Hyde Pierce (who singlehandedly kept CURTAINS running far longer than it should have) have proven that gay or not, people like them and will pay money to see them. As straight characters.

    And, just anecdotely, the only people who have ever said the sentence ‘I didn’t know you could play straight so well’ to me were gay people. Straight people don’t seem to think it’s much of an accomplishment. Cause it’s not.

  • Queerty is obsessed with Jarret Barrios. ZZZ. (John from England)

    Yo Yo guys,

    I love you Americans forget the UK!

    We have PLENTY of gorgeous men who play straight but are gay!

    Example both Michael French and Jeremy Sheffield….gorgeous!!

  • alan brickman

    And John Barrowman…nice!!!

  • J. Clarence

    @ROBinNYC: Well Rob, the success of the revival of Promises, Promises doesn’t necessarily prove Setoodeh wrong here. There is no way to extract from ticket sales whether or not the audience felt as if Hayes played a convincing heterosexual in the musical, they might have just enjoyed the musical; and you have the possibly that they bought the tickets because they see that it is a musical and they think of Hayes role in Will & Grace and put two and two together and say to themselves, “This will be a match made in Heaven.” Or you never know, conventional wisdom and Setoodeh might both be wrong, and the audience disagreed with the critics on Hayes performance.

    I haven’t seen the show, yet, but as a member of the theater do you think Hayes played the part convincingly or was there, as both the Times and Setoodeh wrote about something amiss in his performance.

  • Joe Moore

    This guys is a moron.

  • TonyD

    Ramin Setoodeh did not state something public opinion doesn’t express with their money; blockbuster movies with an open gay male playing a heterosexual romantic lead has yet to happen. The entertainment industry rarely strays from stereotypes, out of fear of losing the mighty dollar; racial and sexual minorities are for laughs and sidekicks and when success comes from someone straying from the norm, they pat themselves on the back for their achievement. Do we continue to celebrate when Hollywood throws us a bone?

  • George

    Who’s Ramin Setoodeh?

  • gilbertdrone

    John Glover. Played Lionel Luthor on Smallville. I definitely didn’t think, “Oh, he’s gay!” when I was watching, and I didn’t suddenly stop believing in his character’s attraction to a lady when I found out the actor’s gay.

  • merkin

    I think the problem isnt that there was no validity to Ramin Setoodeh’s argument, but rather he explained himself poorly.

    Most Americans (and this is an American phenomena) cannot separate an OUT MALE actor from his sexuality. Its not neccesarily the actors fault, but our society’s. As someone raised in this culture, I have to admit it happens to me.

    Cheyenne Jackson’s role on 30 Rock was mostly non-sexual, but i thought when they did give him a straight romance it felt wooden and fake. Is that because he can’t “play” straight or, knowing he’s actually gay, I can’t “buy” him that way. he does have a bad case of gay face, though.

    Queerty’s examples don’t really disprove Setoodah’s basic point.

    Matt Bomer: Neal, White Collar (not actually publicly OUT)

    TR Knight: George, Grey’s Anatomy (his romances were completely UNBELIEVABLE)

    • Jodie Foster: Erica, The Brave One (See TR Knight)

    Ian McKellen: Everything he’s ever done (He’s British)

    Rupert Everett in Shrek The Third (a flamboyant CARTOON character)

    Also, I think the phenomenon is specific to TV and film. Theater–and theater audiences–are different. we can buy a 40-year-old stage actress as an ingenue and a gay man as a romantic lead because of the magic and fantasy of the theater.

    Ironically, I never heard of the kid from Spring Awakening before he appeared on Glee–not all us homos are Broadway queens–so I assumed he was straight and bought him as a love interest for Rachel. I havent seen the show since I read the Newsweek piece, so Im curious if my reaction will be different. Again, Im admitting to an ingrained cultural bias.

    And the reverse is true as well–its still hard for us to believe that an actor playing a gay role isnt really gay themselves, even if they deny it.

    We gays seem to be very focused on the sexuality of celebrities. Does that stop when the opening credits start?

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    There are also a ton of out character actors out there- several were on shows like Alias, for example, in hetero roles, or Brothers and Sisters in hetero roles. And that’s only in the US- we are not discussing the Uk which has a tone of gay actors in straight roles. I mean- Being Human, where one of the 3 leads is out as gay in real life, but they have shown him having full of on sex with straight female and until I read an article afterwards about him, I didn’t realize he was gay.

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    There were also shows like Bones with a male supporting character who played straight although he’s gay in real life. and on and on and on. The more I think about it, the more retarded the writer and his support seem.

  • scott ny'er

    the spring awakening dude, groff. I didn’t know that was him on Glee and totally believed he was straight.

  • ossurworld

    Let’s not forget Richard Deacon who was Lumpy’s father on the Beaver show and then Mel Cooley on Dick’s van dyke.

  • hephaestion

    Sir Laurence Olivier, whom Richard Burton said had the greatest voice he ever heard, was gay. They don’t refer to his Hamlet as “the gay Hamlet,” do they?

    And Will Geer, who played Grandpa Walton, America’s ultimate grandpa, was gay.

    Paul Winfield, who played Martin Luther King, Jr., was gay. No one ever accused him of feminizing MLK.

  • hephaestion

    Ben Daniels, who played straight Tony in “Beautiful Thing,” is gay. No one had a clue.

  • Glen Gibson

    Don’t forget that Robert Reed was a gay actor who played the ideal American Dad in “The Brady Bunch” in the 1970s. He had everyone convinced that Mike Brady was the perfect Hetero, married-with-children, and USA’s ultimate father-figure.

  • Suzygoo

    Moi! Every hetro male I have dated, I acted like a straight woman. Told them it was that time of the month so no nookie but we can do other stuff. Why sometimes I would loudly say ” why that is the biggest thing I have ever seen and no way is that thing is coming near me”. No one has every complained that I was not a straight woman and they all left smiling. I should be in the movies!

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    @scott ny’er: I didn’t know who he was either. Also thought he was straight.

  • Michael David

    it’s not okay for gays to play straight because they’re not convincing – but it’s okay for straights to play gay because, what, we’re nothing but stereotypes very easy to follow (so easy in fact that straights playing gays win awards after awards after awards)?

  • Armel


  • Jade Plant

    Craig Parker, a fine actor from New Zealand who is apparently gay according to a variety of published sources (print and online), has played any number of apparently straight characters, including Claudius Glaber on “Spartacus” and Darken Rahl on “Legend of the Seeker,” et cetera.

  • KevMusic

    Looking beyond the poorly framed article, the truth is the big juicy film roles go to the A-list actors because there is a better chance for a hit. If there was an openly gay A-list actor in Hollywood who has a track record for hit films, he too would be a contender for those juicy roles. In Hollywood, regarding big budget films, it has little to do with talent and more to do with marketability.

    Regarding Sean Hayes performance in “Promises”, the issue could be that he’s not a good fit for that role and have nothing to do with his sexuality nor ability to play straight. Not every role is right for every actor. My partner performs off-Broadway, is openly gay and has always played straight characters, sometimes with romantic story lines. Even women who know him, know me and know we are together, get caught up in his performance. Why? He finds a way to connect to the truth of the character. Perhaps Sean didn’t make the connection. Or perhaps, the night the reviewer went to the show, Sean wasn’t on his game. It’s live performance and some nights are better than others.

    I would argue for Ramin’s next article on the topic, instead of pointing out what we already know about casting in Hollywood, challenge audiences to be more intelligent, more sophisticated and look beyond their obsession with sexuality as a means to separate, emasculate and devalue.

  • Scot

    Ricky Martin played a straight soap hunk before he was out!

  • Scot

    Ricky Martin on General Hospital.

  • Atticus

    Alan Cumming.

  • Speck

    As soon as Paul Reubens got busted for his porn theater gayness, I could never buy Pee Wee Herman and Dottie as a couple again.

  • Thobdy Nepotts



    Question # 2: Who cares what the %^&* that obscure douchebag has to say? My guess would be closeted, envious of the success of others and a confirmed nitwit to boot!

  • Kelsey Barnes

    Matt Dallas(?) I’m not sure if he’s ever officially come out, but he acts very “straight” in films and shows, but only seems gay in interviews and on the Kathy Griffin show. He’s hott, so if he is gay, good for the guys! another unattainable hottie, we gals cant get! lol. ;0

  • Ping

    @Jade Plant:
    Apparently. But you can’t believe everything that’s written online or in mags.

  • Jeffro

    Wow, I use to watch Matt Bomer on Guiding Light. I would never have guessed he was gay.

  • Nin

    @Jade Plant:
    I hardly believe anything written in mags. As of what Craig Parker himself has said, the media twists things you say to make it sound better. I have myself noticed that, as what I once said in an interview was changed to something completely different.

  • Laky

    Craig Parker is Openly Gay(Coming out- in 2008)

Comments are closed.