It’s 2014 And These Actors Are Still Terrified About “Playing Gay”

the-night-shift-brendan-fehr-interviewThere are some who decry gay pride as redundant in 2014 — an excuse for those affluent enough to throw down for pricey events and pop the latest designer drugs.

Those same people would tell you that with all the strides made in mainstream gay acceptance and rights, the need for our community to take to the streets and shout “Here we are!” to the world has lost its edge.

And they aren’t completely wrong. But they sure aren’t right, either.

Just in time for some of the world’s biggest cities to embark on their weekends of rainbow flamboyance, we hear two stories out of Hollywood that show just how relevant our visibility is.

“Playing gay” has traditionally been career suicide for an actor. And even though that theory has been thoroughly disproved (Will Smith, Darren Criss, Andy Samburg, Paul Rudd, Jake Gyllenhaal, etc., etc.), this outdated stigma that playing gay will somehow forever scar your future prospects of landing roles is very much alive.

And perhaps it’s still even a bit true, which is even worse.

First there’s Brendan Fehr of NBC’s The Night Shift, who took on the role of a gay doctor, but not without enduring some serious internal conflict.

Normally I’d commend Fehr on speaking so honestly about his struggle over accepting a role that makes him uncomfortable, but then he went and said this:

To play a homosexual on network television, what are the risks? There’s a whole bunch of them. What are the rewards? Not as many.

“Not as many.”

Ask any struggling actor if they think there are any rewards to taking a gay role on network television. I expect they’d be able to find one or two.

To his credit, Fehr did end up taking the role, stepping outside his comfort zone along the way. And that’s great. But he clings to the idea that he’s doing something riskydangerous and brave.

Daniel Radcliff recently took on the role of gay poet Allen Ginsburg in Kill Your Darlings, and nobody cared. Granted he was already a huge star at the time, but audiences are smart enough to realize that those projected people on the screen in great lighting are just actors playing parts.

enhanced-15000-1403737869-15Then there’s True Blood’s Luke Grimes, who abruptly left the cast in December citing concerns over the “creative direction” of his character. When he came on to the show it was as hunky straight vampire boyfriend of Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), but when he learned he’d eventually wind up in a gay romance scenario with Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), it was time to jump ship.

Just to be clear for those who haven’t seen True Blood, it has to be one of the goriest shows ever created (except of course for Game of Thrones). Body parts routinely explode, the death count is off the charts and the camera does not shy away from closeups of horrific injuries.

And that violence is greeted as “normal” by cast members and audiences, but a little same-sex storyline has one of its actors running off the set and hiding behind his publicist.

Grimes’ publicist denies it all of course, saying, “Luke always had an out clause as a means of pursuing other opportunities which arose in the form of features…”

But sources close to HBO say otherwise.

Gay stigmas are still very much alive in Hollywood despite an ever-expanding cast of LGBT characters on screens small and large.

But perhaps we’re headed towards a tipping point where refusing to play gay could actually harm a career more than it helps it. It’s not such a crazy thought.

H/t Buzzfeed, Too Fab

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  • thisismylife247

    It’s a shame that someone would limit their career growth in this manner. But what can you expect: Luke Grimes grew up in a religious family, his father is a reverend and he attended a Christian high school

  • masc4masc

    Actors have to be excited about who they’re playing. If they’re not, they SHOULD walk away. It could screw up the role. Why not give the role to an actual gay actor anyway? I read Grimes left because there were supposed to be a lot of same-sex love scenes he didn’t feel comfortable doing, and the writers weren’t willing to write them out or change anything. No different from an actor walking away from a role that requires nudity if they don’t wanna do that.

  • bnard620

    If he doesn’t want to play something then so be it. An actor should be allowed to accept or decline whatever comes their way. I mean it would be the same thing with nudity, if you don’t want to do it then you don;t but then you don’t get the part. its that easy, it’s not that big of a deal

  • onenuthing

    So let me get this straightish…It’s alright for a Christian to portray a vampire or spawn of Lilith (a controversy demigod of the Christian religion – the first Eve)? Or be in a movie that was voted the most erotic book of the decade? But it is not okay to portray a homosexual? Why do actors take roles knowing the subplot and then think its okay to make demands because they are making a name for themselves? All this is doing is hurting the fans of the show. Be comfortable in your own skin and do the job you are hired for.

  • yupwhatever

    @masc4masc: I agree, actors should not have to play roles they are not comfortable with, which is exactly why Luke Grimes should have not taken the role to begin with! Everyone with half a brain knows that True Blood is a VERY sexual (both homo & hetero) show. And gory as hell to boot.

  • masc4masc

    @yupwhatever: The direction of the role changed after he had already started. Suggesting a straight guy is a “Hollywood Homophobe” just because he’s not comfortable with tonguing down another guy on camera is unreasonable.

  • Hillers

    @masc4masc: I haven’t seen the show, so I don’t know if there’s a lot of tongue being shoved down throat, but I’ve always thought that, in part, the measure of a good actor is his ability to exhibit range (with the exception of character actors who excel at one type). I mean, were they asking him to fuck on camera? If not, and he just had to show some physicality with another dude, then it’s a sort of cop out move.

  • bigrawtop

    Homophobia alive and well.

    Here’s a novel idea. Find gay actors to play gay roles. They need the work and it’s time we reward them with roles instead of outcast them.

  • yupwhatever

    @masc4masc: Character changes happen all of the time, whether the actor started playing the role or not. Hell, actors get dumped for other actors at the last minute. I’m just saying that if you’re the type who doesn’t want to kiss another dude on camera, you shouldn’t audition for a show that is known for showing quite a bit of same sex scenes from time to time.

  • DB75

    @bigrawtop: I hear what you are saying, but I wonder if that is the wrong direction. I think whom ever is best suited for the role should play it, regardless of sexual orientation. If an actor can’t pull it off, then someone else should have the role. I’d rather see a heterosexual man play the heck out of a gay character than a gay man ruining the role and getting it only because he’s gay.

    While yes, gay actors need work – one shouldn’t be passed over for their sexual orientation. It’s just another version of discrimination.

  • masc4masc

    @yupwhatever: The show isn’t that gay, and the character he read for was straight when he auditioned.

    @Hillers: Watch the show first. The sex scenes are quite racy, and the gore is gory.

  • Cam

    He didn’t seem to have a problem playing a vampire who was having sex with other vampires while being observed by doctors, engaging in murder and drinking other’s blood.

    Oh, but playing “a gay” was horrible? Don’t take the damn part in the first place, it isn’t as if True Blood and it’s plotlines are unknown.

  • B Damion

    Chile just like my off again on again man said..”Bitch.. if you don’t wanna do it? another man is just waiting in the wings for it. Ya feel me.

  • Aaron

    I am not offended that they refused to play gay roles. So what? We are so easy to judge other straight males for not being comfortable with homosexual intimacy. I would dread the day I would have to simulate sex and intimacy with a female on camera as an actor.

  • Daniel-Reader

    Not a gay character. Night Shift is a gay-sanitized-and-neutered-for-straight-audience character. The character has kissed two women and no guys. Hasn’t even been seen in same room with live same-sex partner – just a brief picture. He is also a closet case character to boot who is supposed to be brave enough to be in combat in the Mideast but too much a wimp to be out in civilian life. Is this show written by 60-year-old writers? The generation of doctors/nurses/soldiers portrayed on the show wouldn’t have a problem with it. Also, if you audition for a show after it has had several seasons, like True Blood, and you don’t bother watching it beforehand to know the possibilities then don’t bother trying out for a part on it – plenty of other more talented, better looking actors will step up. The replacement actor for the James character shows that hotter, more talented guys are always available to show they are PROFESSIONAL actors.

  • enlightenone

    Perhaps masc4masc now gets the point since I’m sure he has to take the “fem” position at least half the time!

  • enlightenone

    @Daniel-Reader: Very thoughtful comment supported by the Night Shift comparison!

  • Mezaien

    Who is he?.

  • AJAnders

    On ‘Night Shift,’ all of the straight characters live in the present. The gay character lives in 1993. The main beef of his storyline is being paranoid of coming out. Gay people will always be coming out, of course, but this just feels horribly dated. With the show being two decades behind, I don’t think Brendan Fehr has much to be concerned about. He and his on-screen boyfriend will probably never do much more than a peck on the cheek anyway. It’s the straight characters that will be getting laid, naturally.

    I was never a fan of True Blood (other than sexy Ryan Kwanten) but the story with Luke Grimes is interesting. Apparently he suggested the Lafayette character could have a crush on him but he didn’t want it to be mutual. When the producers said, “no,” he left. Very disappointing. If he were on a tamer show, I may understand (but be annoyed) by his feelings. But this is ‘True Blood.’ The subject matter is well known.

  • yupwhatever

    @masc4masc: You obviously didn’t read my entire comment. *sigh*

  • pscheck2

    I know that this will not set well with many posters, but it is my contention that many of these so-called str8 actors playing gay characters, are in fact gay but they are in in denial. Lately a number of them are coming out, but prior to their coming out, they let it be known that they are str8 or have gfs or are married, etc! Now I understand their reluctance but what galls me is that most of them have to get the PR drums banging just as soon as the rumors start or when the film is released. I would prefer them to just ignore the rumors and say nothing (some do). Just say’en!/

  • DjARD


    Let’s be real here, though.

    There’s a serious psychology behind “playing gay”. The reason these men get the roles, the reason they talk about it being so “important” to them, and an act of “bravery” (even Mark Ruffalo said this about making ‘The Normal Heart’ with Hollywood’s current favorite gay shill, Ryan Murphy), has everything to do with marketing and nothing to with how right they are for the role.

    Why is there all these stuff about playing gay? Because it lets Hollywood look progressive without actually being so. It allows heterosexual viewers to feel subconsciously safe – “Hey, so this character’s not straight… but the actor is! I can relate!”. It appeals to ingrained heterosexism, not outright homophobia. Casting straight actors in gay roles means they won’t lose as much money – certain people will be less offended than if you cast an actual LGBT actor. It gives good, ‘progressive’ PR to the actor.

    And after this brave role, he can go on and play more straight male characters.

    Were a non-straight man to do that, he would not be given such a luxury. Once he came out, and even more so once he played gay, even though he might get plenty of straight roles afterwards, there would allows be a lingering meta joke. Just look at NPH.

    As a filmmaker in the independent circuit, I can tell you there are plenty of great, non-famous actors (and even plenty of closeted famous ones) who are also out and LGBT. They are absolutely capable of playing this roles. There’s no lack of great LGBT actors, ready to do these roles – what there is is greed and ingrained heterosexism, masked with supposed progressiveness.

  • Lvng1tor

    “To play a homosexual on network television, what are the risks? There’s a whole bunch of them. What are the rewards? Not as many.” -Brendan Fehr


    I guess it comes down to quality of the actor.

    As for pretty boy It really isn’t smart for any actor to leave a show in such a manor for such a reason. He’ll be seen as unwilling to do what parts call for, regardless. Too bad for him. He could have really capitalized off of True Bloods final season in a positive way instead he’s the brat who left….

    Someone call my shrink….I finally agree with masc4masc on something…Why not cast gay actors in gay roles. Problem solved!

  • money718

    Perhaps if the gay guy who he was suppose to have gay romance with was somewhat attractive, Luke would have reconsidered lol.

  • Queertogeno

    The Brendan Fehr part of this post intrigues me, since Im pretty sure that he has played gay before in movies, I think, after he was on Roswell.

  • JeffInMpls

    I don’t believe Luke Grimes jumping ship has anything to do with being homophobic. I too would jump ship if I found out I would have to make out with that race. It’s just another attempt of Hollywood to make interracial coupling seem normal. Good for Luke!

    • pscheck2

      AMEN!! It is about time Hollywood stop playing the social engineering card!

  • dazzer

    @masc4masc: If you:re serious about being an actor, you act. If you want to be a writer, you write.

    If you want to be a serious actor, you invest in and create a memorable character. You don’t do it for yourself, you do it for the audience you’re attempting to reach.

    The absolute definition of a good actor is that he or she submerses him/herself into the character created and makes that character real.

    But, hey, what the frig do I know about acting. I’m just British.

    • pscheck2

      Being a Brit, I guess you said it all.

    • Stache99

      @pscheck2: Except it’s no social engineering. It’s what majority want to see on television. Thankfully, your kind is all but disappearing.

    • pscheck2

      Really? Think not!

  • Bee Gaga

    The funny thing is, I just watched the new episode of True Blood on Sunday and as an effeminate gay black man who wears makeup like Lafayette, I was happy to see finally he’s, obviously, starting to flirt again. But, I didn’t even realize the new actor guy, wasn’t the guy that was on last season. Reading this article it hit me “damn, that sure wasn’t the same guy.” Oh well, the new guy is just as cute. Sucks for him.

  • Pistolo

    If playing gay is so daunting to the sraight actors why not hire, I dunno, ACTUAL gay people? There’s no shortage of gay actors. Also, if you’re a straight actor whining about “playing gay” S-T-F-U. Big time. Gay actors almost never get to play characters who are actually gay, they’re always “playing straight”.

  • Mack

    It’s called “acting” for a reason and obviously Grimes just can’t “act”. While I think gay actors should get some gay spots, it’s acting. If a straight person cannot perform as his character, then he shouldn’t be in the part, never should have accepted it. I know his character was straight in the beginning, that doesn’t mean his character couldn’t change.

  • leonpick

    No longer my favorite show after reading this article. Your casting directors should find a better looking and more talented actor for this role. Send him back to the war and bring in a new actor. Shame on the Executive Producers for encouraging an actor to play a role that he finds uncomfortable. You assume we don’t see this as an audience? Waste of my time….next!

  • Ryan26pdx

    Looking at his IMD profile, it seems like he could have legitimately opted out of True Blood’s final season to pursue projects that appear to go through 2015. Regardless, I prefer Nathan Parsons anyway. He’s not going to look prone to being broken like a twig during his impending steamy scenes with Lafayette.

  • masc4masc

    @dazzer: True to an extent. A serious actor is also an artist, and an artist should decline a project they’re not interested in or have lost interest in pursuing any further, which is what Grimes did. Some straight guys are okay with doing same-sex love scenes, some aren’t. Some women are okay with full frontal, but it’s where other women draw the line. Everyone’s comfort levels are different. No one should be accused or penalized for not doing something they were uncomfortable doing.

  • stranded

    @Aaron and @masc4masc, People have limits to what they are comfortable with. He might be comfortable being naked and simulating sex with a woman, but not comfortable kissing a man. You can’t be all things to all people. Will it limit his career, a bit, maybe, but it doesn’t mean he’s a bad actor or that he’s a homophobe. @Lvng1tor makes a great point, I’d like to see more gay actors cast in gay roles.

    BTW: I personally didn’t like the hints that The True Blood character was going to get with Lafayette. Out of nowhere his backstory is described as a gay man who was beat almost to death by the father of his lover and who was turned by a sympathetic vampire who found him. great backstory, but it doesn’t quite mesh with how the character was introduced last year. I would have liked another actor and new character.

  • hamoboy

    @Lvng1tor: Actualy, Brendan Fehr played a bisexual gigolo in an indie movie almost ten years ago. He disappeared off the map around that time as well. Maybe he has a point. Maybe if you’re not an incredibly popular actor, in an incredibly commercially/critically successful project, you won’t get any of the positives from the role, but you’ll definitely get the negatives?

  • bobbyjoe

    As someone put it nicely on another site, if young actresses who get scenes where they have to make out with an older and/or less attractive man all opted out of their contracts because it made them uncomfortable, Hollywood would shut down. Luke Grimes is an actor. So act. All of these people defending this guy, when he’s being a giant wuss (and a homophobe), are unbelievable.

  • Cam

    @JeffInMpls: said…

    “I don’t believe Luke Grimes jumping ship has anything to do with being homophobic. I too would jump ship if I found out I would have to make out with that race. It’s just another attempt of Hollywood to make interracial coupling seem normal. Good for Luke!”

    It’s always funny when some bigot from NOM never got the memo that their plan to try to foment problems between the gay community and the black community was leaked out a few years ago and that they are sadly obvious when they come on a page like this. Nice try though. Must be fun being you and trying not to cry when all of these pro-gay court decisions come down and make you realize you’ve wasted your life for the last decade or so.

  • B Damion

    @ Cam…whats tragic is a large majority of black people would agree with JeffInMpls. Some people just simply don’t want to see the races mix.

    Honestly, I have always felt more at home with another black man. It just is what it is. Sorry.

  • Stache99

    @hamoboy: Times have changed. I hope he never gets hired again. I sure wouldn’t with his quit at a drop of a hat with anything that makes the puss uncomfortable history.

  • RIGay

    As for Luke Grimes, we’re watching season 6 on DVD, and I am seeing him doing a good impression of player for all teams in his performance.

    But the show is off the rails. Totally off the rails. I don’t know what the perceived problem is other than he probably does not want to be associated with a dead franchise. His character is like “Cousin Oliver” on “The Brady Bunch”; adorable but too little too late. Why waste the talent.

  • Maude

    Hey Dan Tracer,
    “Here we are!”
    Don’t you think that’s a little bit different than:
    “We’re Queer, And We’re Here. Get Use To It!”

    Why should you be trusted with the truth, when you fear to tell it?

    Those queers that spoke with the guts it took to defy ‘the man’ at a time when their very lives were undoubtedly at stake, and many did lose their lives while others were beaten and maimed not only by ‘the man’, but by ordinary straight citizens to the point of a visit to the ER and many being hospitalized.

    I was one of them in Greenwich Village, NYC. and though I was a patron of the Stonewall before the night of the raid, I wasn’t there the night of the revolt against the raid, but I was in a few other gay bars on other nights that were raided before then, and I can tell you sir, changing the words that came out of the mouths of those brave men because you are afraid is despicable, and you owe me and every other queer who live those days an apology, and Queerty owes all of the gay population of readers of this site a retraction.

  • masc4masc

    I also feel like the intensity of the ‘love scene’ is a factor conveniently being left out of Dan’s rage-baiting. Will Smith’s gay role, presumably in Six Degrees of Separation, didn’t really require him to have to do anything physical with the other actor. If memory serves correct, that scene pretty much opens with him and the hustler simply hopping out of bed because they’d been caught. Anyone’s who has seen True Blood knows Luke Grimes would’ve been expected to do a lot more than hop out of a bed with Nelson Ellis. This seems like accusing hetero men of being homophobes because they don’t want to be physically intimate with other men; has the sensitivity really gotten to this point?

  • Keebler ILF

    When I watched the season premier of True Blood I was confused about who that
    dark haired guy was playing Jessica’s boyfriend. Thanks to this article I now know that he replaced Luke Grimes. The new hottie is actor Nathan Parsons. He also plays a werewolf on The Originals, and was in The Brotherhood V: Alimni.
    I read somewhere else that Luke is being considered for 50 Shades of Grey.

    Brendan Fehr was in the movie Sugar (2004). I can’t remember if his character
    was gay, or a gay for pay hustler.

  • Lvng1tor

    @hamoboy: The same thing happened to him that happens to a lot of actors..they get a break and then a dry spell. The actors of a higher quality, ability and lets face it…who are liked by better agents/producers/directors are cast more often…he can blame his dry spell of anything he wants but until I see a quote or hear a recording on TMZ that says “yeah…he was a forgettable actor of a common face body type and average talent but we really didn’t cast him again cause he played a fag and here in Hollywood we don’t like them dudes” then I’ll believe it.

  • dbmyers

    @onenuthing: And let’s not forget not only is he being asked to play gay but also explicitly doing so with a flamboyant (and oh so cute) BLACK gay man. Way too much for some christians!

  • dbmyers

    @masc4masc: Is he an actor or a poser?

  • sangsue

    @Keebler ILF: Gay for pay junkie.

  • remyfacade

    Brandon Fehr played a gay hustler in the movie sugar, so whats the problem

Comments are closed.