IF YOU’RE A GAY ACTOR WANTING TO PLAY A STRAIGHT ROLE, YOU DON’T GET CAST

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BY TIM TEEMAN
The London Times

Colin Firth summed up a strange Hollywood agony concisely this week, as he was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a gay college professor in A Single Man. “If you’re known as a straight guy, playing a gay role, you get rewarded for that,” he said. “If you’re a gay man and you want to play a straight role, you don’t get cast — and if a gay man wants to play a gay role now, you don’t get cast.

“I think it needs to be addressed and I feel complicit in the problem. I don’t mean to be. I think we should all be allowed to play whoever, but I think there are still some invisible boundaries which are uncrossable.”

Actors are forever lauded for their “bravery”, but when it comes to gay rights (and wrongs), Hollywood is streaked with cowardice, prejudice, self-interest and hypocrisy. This supposed hotbed of creativity and licentiousness is weirdly sexually conservative and behind the times.

Rupert Everett, Firth’s co-star in Another Country and a leading man-in-waiting until he came out, recently advised gay actors not to do the same. His career had been impeded by his honesty, he believes — although his life is freer as a result.

As the internet continues to thrum with rumours of who “is” or “isn’t”, the hypocrisies and absurd concealments of many gay actors are scabrously laid bare in the West End play The Little Dog Laughed, in which a gay Hollywood star, in love with a rent boy, is forcibly kept in the closet by his monstrous agent. She believes, and Hollywood bosses in general seem to concur: who’s going to buy a heterosexual character on screen if the cinema audience knows that in private he is not heterosexual? Bang goes our desirable hunk, bang go our profits.

A few movie actors, led by the formidable figure of Sir Ian McKellen, have tested this seemingly ridiculous thesis and won. But would we really sit in the cinema and think: “He’s gay so we can’t believe he’s actually in love with that woman”? The point of good acting is surely to convince us of all kinds of things.

The climate of fear for actors and celebrities is bizarrely arcane in a profession chocca with gays, especially when they are also the producers, agents and ones in control: it’s not just nasty homophobes oppressing gay men but gays themselves.

It’s even more ludicrous when you think of all those actors forever banging on about the raw truthfulness of their craft (while scurrying around hiding their gay partners), considering that this prejudice is being practised in supposedly more enlightened times. It’s still the repressive 1950s in Hollywood.

There used to be many vexed arguments about the rights and wrongs of outing, but, given the amout of prejudice out there, given the almost total invisibility of openly gay celebrities and powerbrokers, given that a few openly gay figureheads may actually prove a positive focus, a round of outings would do much to cleanse the entertainment world of its self-injected poison. It may even lead to more than one mass-market, gay-themed film in a blue moon being made, and dissolve the ridiculous acting boundaries that Firth eloquently alluded to this week.

And really, come on, do gay actors have that much to lose? What kind of life do they want to live? Given the amount of dahling-dahling air-kissing around their day jobs, do they honestly believe that the public, after the initial tabloid brushstorm, would be that surprised or shocked? “Ordinary” people face the same “journey”, with comparable risks and worries, and tough it out.

The San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, a true action hero, once said that the biggest weapon gays could use to secure equality was to come out; a powerful statement, bigotry displaced by numbers. Hollywood’s stars and powerbrokers could do worse than examine their consciences and heed Milk’s wise words. Or let the outings begin. It would do us all some good.

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