speech therapy

Gay-Sounding Actors Are Taught to Speak ‘Straight.’ Is That So Bad?

Are gay actors too gay to play straight? Of course not, stupid Newsweek. A guy who sticks it in other dudes has nothing to do with his acting ability (as our overlord explained on CBC’s radio show Q on Monday). An actor’s job is to transform convincingly into a character and leave behind any real-life traits an audience might bring into the act, whether it’s because a tabloid magazine says Jennifer Aniston is a bitter spinster, whether Meryl Streep is too dowdy to play a sexual character, or Aaron Paul is too handsome to play a drug addict on Breaking Bad (an actual problem creator Vince Gilligan says he dealt with in casting Paul in the part). Getting a role has plenty to do with luck and connections, but it also means eschewing your natural mannerisms: out with your hand gestures and vocal affects, and in with the character’s. Which sometimes means actors who speak in a sterotypically “gay” way need a vocal coach to make ’em straight. That’s not homophobic or problematic; it’s art. Right?

Bob Corff is, says Details magazine, “arguably Southern California’s most sought-after voice coach.” His job is to make Irish actors “speak American”; southern American actors find their inner Brit; and yes, “gay-sounding” actors to speak straight.

Actors are “often they are sent by a manager or a teacher—it’s so interesting, because I can tell what it is,” he says. “Sometimes they come in and it takes them a lesson or two before they finally admit why they’re here. Which I knew the first second that they talked. But sometimes they’ll just come right in and say, ‘Somebody said I sound gay.’ And sometimes they are married and straight but they sound gay, and that’s not gonna work for being a leading man in Hollywood at this time.”

So what is it that Corff hears that makes someone sound gay?

There’s many levels of this. With some people there’s just this little thing that’s happening, and it’s not much, but it’s just this little tiny melody and inflection that tells you maybe there’s something there. And then there’s some people who are just [Slips into Charles Nelson Reilly mode] com-PLEEEET-ly doing THIIIIS, and you go, “Well, clearly, they’re not even attempting to . . . ” And listen, I make no judgment. I mean, I’ve been in show business—I did the leads in three Broadway musicals, so I’ve been around this all my life, and it makes no difference to me. And I don’t think it should to anybody, because it’s none of our business what you do in the bedroom.

[…] Well, a lot of times—not always—but a lot of times there is a sibilant s. I work on that with people, too. You can be a girl, you can be a guy, you can be straight or gay—what it is is that your tongue is too close to the back of your top teeth, so the air has no place to get dispersed. It just bounces into your teeth. [Lisps slightly] Can you hear it on the phone?

And, if the end goal is getting someone to sound straight, what’s that like?

Straight actually turns out to be the perfect word to describe what straight guys do. It’s very straight—it has no curlicues, it has no frills or any kind of melodic turns. So they say, “Hi. How are you?” It’s simple, and the lines are very straight, instead of “Hi, how are yOOuu?” You know, women are much more melodic—their voices go up and they go down, and they even move their mouths more. There’s a lot more animation. A straight guy just goes, “Hey—this is as much energy and animation as I’m putting out for this thing.”

So is this really about getting someone to sound less gay, or getting someone to sound more like the character they are supposed to be playing, who might happen to be straight? (Of course, this assumes actors only work with vocal coaches to get a certain part, and not to speak a certain way all the time.)

See, to me, the gay sound is just like an accent. Because if somebody has an accent, there’s nothing wrong with that accent, but if you come from the South or you come from New York, it limits you in the kind of roles you can play, because you can’t play the brother of somebody who doesn’t have that accent. So often I’ll say to people, whether it’s an accent from a different country or an accent from this country or having this “gay” thing, I’ll say, “This is the question for you: Are you an actor, or are you English?” And then they have to answer. If being English is more important to them than being an actor, then they don’t need to do it.

Does speaking straight have a financial motive? As in, getting an actor more parts?

Oh, yeah. Definitely. People get work and they just call me and say, “Thank you, man.” It really has nothing to do with what they do in private, and it shouldn’t. I mean, who cares! What’s important is that you’ve mastered some little thing that gives you a foot up on the competition. I’ve worked with people from one end to the other. I worked with Vanessa Redgrave for a project in which she was a man who had a sex change and became a woman, and we had to lower her voice and get her into the man thing.

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  • Mr. Enemabag Jones

    I wrote this before, and I’ll write it again–If on September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda had flown their planes into the Hollywood sign, rather than the Wolrd Trade Center towers, America would be a better place today.

  • Ethan

    sigh it’s disappointing when a hot manly gay opens his mouth and out comes a voice like a bitter old queen. instant turn off.

  • AlwaysGay

    The effeminate sounding voice some gay men have is a result of socializing with girls growing up. A select few (five or six) characteristics found typically in female voice production some gay men adopt. Gay men have the same physical characteristics as heterosexual males which means gay men can speak as low and masculine as any heterosexual male. Heterosexual males can also sound effeminate too.

  • Tommy


    That makes total sense to me. I’m gay, but I don’t have an effeminate sounding voice. I never really hung around a lot of girls growing up as I went to an all boys school and wasn’t into girlie things but loved sports.
    I think in general a person’s voice is not something that is genetically determined by is learned from the people you hang around with when you are young. For instance if your parents and your relatives and friends etc. have a Southern or a New York accent ,you will develop one.

  • MuscleBoy

    The f-ing gay lisp is so disgusting. Grow up and be men!

  • JoeyB

    Hayes is such a baaaaaaaad actor!

  • jack

    I’ve wondered where and how some guys acquire that inflection that many call gay voice, and how other guys do not have it at all.

    That said, whenever a straight (supposedly) actor plays gay, they really overdo the stereotypical voice. Can we find a vocal treatment for that – it’s doubly offensive than anything nelly you may hear in the Castro.

    btw Mr. Corff’s many credits include “voice teacher” for “Evita”:
    Would love to know if anyone in the film was “de-gayed” or was it some other alteration.

  • MickW

    You can tell when a man speaks in his head voice vs his chest…major difference in sound.

  • scott ny'er

    @Tommy: Yeah. I didn’t really do the softball thing or hang with dudes a lot during my formative years, so I’m the opposite and I think I sound more effeminate.

  • WiseUp

    I think it’s no different than actors being advised to get rid of Southern accents, New York accents, Massachusetts accents, etc. One’s voice is supposed to be more “neutral” if you’re an actor, so you can take on many roles. I’ve met lots of guys in New York who want to be actors and the first thing I think is, “You better get rid of that gay accent then.”

  • Ryan

    Yeah, to be an actor you have to be credible. If you’re playing a straight character you can’t sound like Uncle Arthur.

  • B

    No. 12 · WiseUp wrote, “I think it’s no different than actors being advised to get rid of Southern accents, New York accents, Massachusetts accents, etc. One’s voice is supposed to be more ‘neutral’ if you’re an actor, so you can take on many roles.”

    … and of course, they can get training in how to do various accents, which gets them even more roles!

  • Sed

    Somebody clearly worked with Thomas Dekker. Remember how gay he used to sound when he was younger? Think Neville on icarly.

  • Yuki

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all; they’re being advised on how to speak more stereotypically straight, which they need in order to play a stereotypically straight actor. Fine by me.

  • Scott

    @Ryan “If you’re playing a straight character you can’t sound like Uncle Arthur.”

    I thought Uncle Arthur was straight. Wasn’t he a womanizer just like Dr Bombay? Samantha’s father, Maurice, was straight and he had a similar affectation.

    Thank you Queerty. This was the most informative article you’ve done in the two years I’ve been visiting this site.

  • swarm

    Sometimes I wonder if there are really mostly gay people posting here. Do you really think it’s mostly about “low” and “masculine” voices? This thread coulda been by entirely hetero ppl it’s so shallow. This is a major big deal, a microcosm of the entire world. Actors are living in the biggest closet in the world. I’m personally sick of it ttytt. That includes you, NPH.

    You all mock Adam Lambert fans for obsession but all you have to do is watch his career interviews. Not that he’d ever “pass” for straight in the LGBT world but to middle America yes, he did for awhile.

    He unconsciously adjusts ALL of his mannerisms, inflections, posture, wrist movement (seriously), phrasing and vocab and every other “ism” as he moves through the gauntlet of hetero interviews versus homo. NOT the voice, tho. He doesn’t adjust his tone as so many people here are focused on. Yes, pre Idol he had his obvs gay inflections (and long emphasis on the “s” at ends of some words”…but only for emphasis in a spirited conversation, just like alot of gay men turn it on and off.

    Just watch him on the great Larry Flick series especially the “Soaked/Sheety moment” interview and you see the real Adam unconsciously letting his barriers down being “his” normal. Or several other gay/gay friendly interviews or film of him with his Zodiac Show family. He’s even visibly more comfortable in Europe (slightly) than here, although they were just as rude interviewing him as anywhere. I bet he was shocked, too esp the Finland (or Sweden) show on TV – the alleged sexually progressive capital of sexual EQUALITY – uh, NOT. “GAY” is alive and well as a punchline there too.

    It’s an interesting thing to watch, fan or no fan for ppl who ARE interested.

    Every actor knows the deal, even Adam was told he was too gay in The Ten Commandments but when he was the ONLY ONE with a good review they couldn’t fire him. But they were ready to. This entire matter is poignant and sad, actually, and just another reason that the haters here need to rethink their harsh about that particular brave person. LGBT people live this way day in and day out, even working at a grocery store or other mundane job.

    One step in progress would be for gay people who want to be actors to just STOP living in the freaking closet world. Won’t happen in my lifetime.

  • DR

    It’s acting, this comes with the turf. Some straight guys have to lose their accents, lisps, or other speech idiosyncrasies. Comes with the job, especially if the accent is heavy.


    Are you guys seriously advocating that an Isaac Mizrahi gay can play the role of Maximus in “Gladiator” as well as Russel Crowe did it or even better when Gareth Thomas does it? Queeny gay actors DO NOT stand a chance in a hyper masculine role. For instance I’m often embarrassed for John Barrowman in his role at “Desperate Housewives” as a straight masculine terrorist. He struggles to make his every move-even the pointing of a gun-masculine to disastrous and laughable results. It’s pathetic how you guys defend Sean Hayes. That man is testosterone deprived and try as he may, he can never be a convincing romantic lead.

  • Jai


    Why do I get the feeling that you probably have the biggest lisp in the world? Just sayin’.

  • Samwise

    @jack: I also get very annoyed when straight actors playing gay overdo it. Some people may jump on me for saying this, but I think Sean Penn did this in “Milk.” Have you ever heard recordings of the real Harvey Milk? He didn’t sound anywhere near that stereotypically gay.

  • Charles

    Samwise: I totally agree with you. The resemblance was physically stunning, but Penn was waaaaay too effeminate compared to the real Milk…

    As for the “gay accent”, I don’t think it comes from “socializing with girls”. IME, I’ve never met any guy with a gay accent who didn’t have ties with the gay community. The gay accent is a “learnt” accent that comes from the community, and you “get” it by being around other people who have it, just like any accent.

    And as for gay actors and their behavior, 18 said it all.

  • Alexander A.

    If it’s for a role, then whatever. Actors have to do stupid stuff all the time to get parts. I think it only becomes a problem if you’re doing it day-to-day, because you’re worried about being such a flaming queen… in Hollywood… where everyone in the industry is a flaming queen. Grow up, LA. This is why no one likes you.

    Seriously, though, I don’t care either way. I think we gays have bigger fish to fry. Like, has anyone heard back on when we’re going to be equal citizens yet?

  • jack

    The experience of having a large fan base and all its accoutrements vs. the “common” life we live have a grand canyon between them. Of course Adam Lambert can do whatever he wants, because negative press only boosts his ego and google page views.

    The next step with this discussion is how it relates to what we experience day-to-day, and how these media presentations affect the way others perceive & interact with us. I have no desire to wear heavy eyeliner, insert an affected accent into my speech pattern or sing along to Glee.

    The limited concept of “gay” employed generally by media should open further to include who I am.

  • Menlo

    I think this is fascinating. A great deal of the gay accent is learned just like any other accent. The longer you are around certain people you begin to pick up on their way of speaking and mannerisms. Through generations of oppression certain modes of expression have been perpetuated and even secret dialects created. Personally, I have never found it especially attractive.

  • ewe

    Will and Grace was about a lonely gay man living vicariously throught his straight female roommate and his over the top gay negative stereotype for a neighbor. That show never catered to anything positive about being gay.

  • ewe

    I forgot to mention the rich fag hag who was a fat drunk. Oh no, “this was not heterosexual bias at all” I SAY FACETIOUSLY.

  • Hugh Knowit

    SSCHIEFRSHA considering Russell Crowe has played a semi nelly gay man in a film already i dont see why the opposite cant be true
    considering how many gay actors have been closeted for so long and no one seems to have a clue anything is possiable

  • ed d


    I realize this post is ancient but I couldn’t agree with you more. Thomas Dekker just never sounded quite “right” even as he started to get a bit older. He’s a decent actor all by himself…..but I only feel its fair to give the guy a little EXTRA acting credit for his performance that he is required to have to put on practically 24/7 to sound less gay. It probably sounds like I’m being a homophobe by saying that a person can “sound” gay but……I’m gay and I think I have a little insight.

    Did anybody happen to see him in his foreign (French I believe) interviews discussing Kaboom? WHAT A DIFFERENCE! I also saw the outtakes from Kaboom and there were two separate “bloopers” where he breaks character and returns to what I assume is his normal speaking voice. INCREDIBLE! Give that man an oscar! I’m not sure if links are permitted in posts but I’ll give it a try. Check out http://dekker-daily.com/wordpress/2011/08/25/chris-zylka-thor-joins-thomas-on-the-secret-circle/ and watch the Kaboom outtake video. Its total night-and-day a couple of times! Most noticeable is when he breaks character while he’s sitting in the car with his female costar (Haley Bennett) and it appears that he has forgotten his line and he says “I’m going to keep dramatic pausing instead of reading what it says” and also when another female costar trips and falls down and once again he breaks character and says “are you OK? Are you OK? Are you alright?”. I’m pretty sure that this voice is his REAL SPEAKING VOICE and not the toned-down in-the-middle tone we usually hear from him.

    He also sounds MUCH different in those French videos with Greg Araki. I feel sort of bad for the young guy because I have a feeling he’s under some pretty tight pressure from his management I feel almost perverted for saying so but I think Tom is an EXTREMELY ATTRACTIVE young guy and its really too bad that he he is either being pressured by his people or pressured by the industry to keep his sexuality in check. The reason I say that I feel perverted is that I am a 41-year old guy from a rural Midwest small town and I guess I never grew up because of the stifled lifestyle I feel trapped in. As far as my attraction to younger men such as Tom I partialy blame the pressures I have also felt my entire life to conform and I don’t think I ever really GREW UP. I was mature and acted 25 when I was 15….and now I’m over 40 and I still act 25 and am attracted to guys around that age.

    Its too bad that he has to “butch it up”. He’s in a large/accepting community. I really wouldn’t wish the type of pressures to conform like this even on my worst ENEMY…..let alone a young man who really seems quite talented and from every interview segment I have see, a very mature and articulate guy as well.

    It F#O)@## SUCKS A$$ doesn’t it Tom? If HE were to acknowledge he was gay he could possibly screw up his career……if someone like I were to acknowedge it I’d likely get the crap kicked out of me. He very likely has the support of many family members and friends at least. The longer he waits to come out though the more difficult it is going to be. If ANYBODY can attest to that fact it would be me…. If I were him and I truly was gay (I’d say 95% likely that he is)I’d come out sooner rather than later because it only GETS WORSE as you get older. Hopefully his new TV show and upcoming movie work will solidify his standing in Hollywood so he can actually come out if he is gay.

    It feels WRONG for me to be so strongly attracted to someone that is SO MUCH YOUNGER than I am, I almost wish I could sit him down and talk to him and ask him “DO YOU WANT TO END UP LIKE ME?!!!!”

    I agree with the others that have said so though……He is SUPER SMOKIN’ HOT! Regardless of what he is and whether he decides to tell the world or not. He sure seems like someone I’d like to sit down and have dinner with though. Even if he IS much younger than I am. Good luck to him regardless of what he is (gay/straight/bi)and what he plasns to say antying about it.

  • ed d

    I read my own post above and realized it sounded rude and bitchy! Especially the first paragraph or two! I can’t believe I actually said he never sounded quite “right”. That was a dumb thing to say. Who am I to determine what is right or wrong? There is no such thing in this case. I sound like the judgemental ASSES that would have said something like that in the first place. I don’t see a way to edit it out so I’m following it up. It was not my intent to come off that way. I apologize to anybody that it may offend in the future.

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