time warp

That time Harry Hamlin played a gay man in 1982 and it almost destroyed his career

Making Love

Actor Harry Hamlin has opened up about starring in the groundbreaking gay romance Making Love, and how the film almost destroyed his career.

Hamlin spoke to People as part of the 40th anniversary of the film, which debuted in 1982. It followed a Los Angeles writer, Bart (Hamlin), who falls for a closeted man named Zack (Michael Ontkean), who is married to a powerful TV executive named Claire (Kate Jackson).

The film hailed from romance master Arthur Hiller (Love Story), and gay writers Barry Sandler and A. Scott Berg. Berg and Sandler partially based the script on their own relationship.

Looking back, Hamlin recalls the painful reception to the movie and the dire effect it had on his career.

“I was told by a lot of people, you can’t do that movie,” he said. “I think it had been offered to pretty much everybody in town and everyone had turned it down because they thought it might be damaging to their careers.”

“I didn’t see it that way. I was looking for something serious and something meaningful, rather than doing a movie about vampire bats invading a small town in the Midwest, which is the type of fare I was being offered at the time.”

Hamlin said it was his agent who really encouraged him to take the risk.

“He said I was somewhat Teflon because I was out in the press having had a son with Ursula Andress,” he explained, referring to the couple’s son, Dmitri, who is now 41. “And he said, ‘Everyone knows you’re straight so you’re going to be okay.’ But I didn’t really pay much attention to any of that noise. I thought it was interesting and bold. I was attracted to that.”

Upon release, Making Love scored mixed reviews and mediocre box office sales. According to Hamlin, his agent turned out to be wrong and taking the part almost ended his career.

“For years, I’d think was that the reason why I stopped getting calls? And finally realized that was the last time I ever did a movie for a studio,” he said.

“As far as the film business sort of shutting the door, I think it just had to do with the fact of the studio system being a closed system and once they saw there could be some confusion about my sexuality, then they just said they didn’t want to take the chance.”

He added, “If they were contemplating having me be a love interest to a young female star, the thought was, ‘How is the audience going to react?’ Even though I was straight, I think the perception at the time was that anybody who could play gay must be gay.”

Lucky for Hamlin, he would later score his best role on the small screen in the legal soap opera LA Law. The show revitalized his career and made him into an international sex symbol.

Now 70 and married to reality TV star Lisa Rinna, Hamlin says he’s proud of the film, despite the initial reaction. In the 40 years since release, Making Love has found a devoted audience who see it as an overlooked early gem in queer cinema.

“Regardless of the effect it had on my film career, I went on to have a great career — and I still do. I’m very proud of having done that movie,” Hamlin concludes. “Now a gay love story can be told freely. There’s been a Teutonic shift since 1981 in people’s conscious and how they approach human sexuality.”

For our dissection of Making Love, check out our anniversary interview with writer Barry Sandler, who shares his own memories of making the movie, its effect on his own career, and its reemergent legacy.

Watch the trailer for Making Love below…

Related: ‘Making Love’ celebrates 35 years. Barry Sandler muses on how far cinema has come.