Hollywood finally has gotten it together–sort of–and begun packing its movies and TV shows with leading LGBTQ characters. And who’s benefitting most?
Hint: not LGBTQ actors.
Timothée Chalamet, 22, scored a Best Actor Oscar nomination and became Hollywood’s new It Twentysomething for his performance as a gay teen in 2017’s Call Me By Your Name. Meanwhile, Armie Hammer earned career-best reviews for joining him under the sheets as his older lover. (He’d already fallen for Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2011 biopic J. Edgar.)
Lucas Hedges, 21, played gay teens in Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, two 2017 Best Picture Oscar nominees. His Three Billboards character was more shades of gay, but the implications were anvil strong. He’ll probably be competing for Best Actor next year for his upcoming role as a 19-year-old pressured into gay conversion therapy in Boy Erased.
Playing gay has never been so awards-friendly. Since Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger were Oscar-nominated for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Sean Penn, and Christopher Plummer all have won Academy Awards for doing it, too. Colin Firth, soon to reprise his role as Meryl Streep’s gay ex in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, paved the way for his The King’s Speech win with a Best Actor nod for playing a gay professor mourning the death of his lover in A Single Man.
Moving right along to the T in LGBTQ, Eddie Redmayne was Oscar-nominated and Jared Leto nabbed the gold for their portrayals of transgender characters in The Danish Girl and Dallas Buyer’s Club, respectively. Over on TV, Arrested Development dad Jeffrey Tambor scored two consecutive Emmys for playing a transgender dad on Transparent.
Andrew Garfield is one of Broadway’s most recent beneficiaries. On June 10, he won a Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Play for his run as Prior Walter, a gay men with AIDS, in Angels in America. (His co-star Nathan Lane took Best Featured Actor in a Play.)
What do all but one of these guys with the resume-boosting LGBTQ roles have in common? Lane aside, they’re all straight.
Gone are the days when playing gay was considered as much of a potential kiss of death to a straight actor’s career as coming out was to a gay one’s. Although a few were brave enough to go against the flow during those dark ages, for the most part, they stayed in their lane.
But as times have changed and “gay” is no longer a dirty word onscreen, straight actors are reaping most of the rewards (and awards). Assorted performers have come out as gay in recent years, but they aren’t the ones grabbing the bulk of the suddenly coveted gay roles. The Queer Eye guys get more play than Matt Bomer, Zachary Quinto, and Jonathan Groff combined.
The conventional thinking has always been that if people know an actor is gay, they may have a hard time buying him as a straight character. In 2012, Less Than Zero author Brett Easton Ellis infamously pooh-poohed the idea of Bomer playing the male lead in Fifty Shades of Grey because, in his opinion, he couldn’t be believable as arrow straight.
I doubt he would have noticed Bomer’s alleged swish if Bomer weren’t out, but many casting directors clearly have similar concerns. Do they think audiences wouldn’t accept gay actors as gay characters either?
Nothing against Andrew Garfield and Timothée Chalamet, who should have won that Oscar, but why are straight actors getting the bulk of love for playing gay characters?
I don’t blame the stars. They’re just doing their jobs. I love that so many straight actors are no longer afraid of kissing a guy onscreen or outright refusing to do so – as Will Smith did while filming 1993’s Six Degrees of Separation – but I wish Hollywood’s current gay boom didn’t revolve mostly around them.
I blame the people behind the scenes, the same ones who still think women can’t open movies and black actors don’t play overseas. Casting directors can show closeted actors that they really are free to be who they are by holding calls for out gay actors. Even if Hollywood’s hiring gods won’t entrust them with the hottest heterosexual roles, those powers that be can still seek them out for the best gay ones.
Some are getting a shot. It feels almost revolutionary that a gay actor (Jussie Smollett) co-stars as a gay character on the hip hop drama Empire, or that openly gay soap star Greg Rikaart portrays an openly gay con artist on Days of Our Lives. But here’s the Days catch: Rikaart’s Leo is just a side man. Straight actors play the daytime drama’s three main gay characters.
Is this sending a message to closeted performers that even if they were to come out and get hired to act what they know, they might still miss out on the meatiest parts?
Brit Ben Whishaw, who was once set to play the role of Freddie Mercury that went to Rami Malek in the upcoming Bohemian Rhapsody, came out in 2013, and he’s continued to work steadily. He was the guy who fell for the title character in The Danish Girl, and in May, he played Hugh Grant’s lover in the BBC miniseries A Very English Scandal. Now it would be nice to see him take the gay lead in a major film.
All those young gay actors who are still in the closet, afraid of coming out, could use the encouragement. They could use their own Timothée Chalamet or Lucas Hedges. They could use a next big thing who plays gay and doesn’t get asked what it’s like to kiss a guy.
It’s not like people all over the world don’t do that every day.