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What about straight actors in gay roles?

The subject of a gay actor playing straight parts has come up in the comments before, but I think for me personally, that’s more to do with the actor’s skills than anything else.

For instance, if a certain actor we all love and are really devoted to would turn out to bat for the other team, as it were, some people would argue that it would be too weird to watch him play straight relationships on screen. For instance, wouldn’t it be weird if Thornton was gay in real life?

Don’t look like no limp wrists to me, sonny.

I think it’s more to do with how the actor portrays the character. With Thornton, I’d say “whoa boy, you sure could’ve fooled me!” for instance. In Serenity, we finally see Kaylee and Simon get together. The actor playing Simon, Sean Maher, came out last year. Him and Kaylee? That seems genuine enough to me.

If it was someone who was completely over-the-top super camp, yes, it would be odd. Consider Graham Norton (not an actor, but bear with me) snogging a woman. I wouldn’t believe it for once second. John Barrowman got to try it on with both sides in Torchwood, and he’s incredibly camp as himself on TV. Still managed to get with the ladies quite well, if I remember correctly. Which I might not, because I never watched a lot of that show.

Consider Sean Hayes, who played the flamboyant and very, very gay Jack in Will & Grace. He would refuse to say one way or the other, because he didn’t want the audience’s expectations be influenced by who he is in real life and instead focus on the character at hand, and the character’s sexuality. Fair play to him. I saw him in some kind of biopic, and found it incredibly hard to focus, as I kept expecting him to do a “Just Jack” pose. Apparently, he has since come out. Or rather, claimed he was never in the closet in the first place.

There is another side of this, though. Straight actors playing gay characters. How ’bout that one, then?

From the same series, why not Will himself? Eric McCormack is straight, played a gay character. Never saw that show thinking it was so weird that a straight guy played a gay character, because he was good at it. Probably helped that I don’t associate McCormack with anything either, to be fair.

When or if you do associate an actor with a particular role, your brain can really go into meltdown mode if you see them in something far removed from that role. You’ve typecast them in your head and forever more, they’ll be that character. Imagine my head exploding when I saw Peter O’Brien get jiggy with a bloke in Queer as Folk. “WTF are you doing with that MAN?! What about Emma?!”

Peter O’Brien is Sam Patterson. End of story.

I didn’t even really pay attention after registering that Sam Patterson was doing things with another man, so if he was convincing or not, I don’t really remember. I do remember seeing Sam Neill in Little Fish. He’s a sleazy drugdealer who’s in a relationship with Hugo Weaving’s character. Kissing a bloke? Like kissing a dog’s behind, or something like that, I believe is how he described it. The funny thing is, he (Neill) looked so spectacularly uncomfortable when the two characters kissed that I just burst out laughing. Sam, I love you dearly as an actor, but I will never believe you’re a homosexual in real life. Never.

“We’re meant to be in love. Why can’t he just look at me?”
“If I keep pretending to make a call, maybe he won’t kiss me.”

I think it’s more down to how comfortable you are with yourself and your own sexuality, paired with how well you can act the opposite on screen. If you’re convincing, it doesn’t matter if you’re a straight actor playing a gay character or a gay actor playing a straight character. Either one will work, if you do it well.

So yeah.

What do you think?

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel, when there's not a plague on. Might get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted along the way.

7 thoughts on “What about straight actors in gay roles?

  1. Interesting this. Mom thought that it was less “good” of the actor playing Sheldon in Big Bang Theory when she found out he was gay… and I just don’t get that. So he is less of an actor playing Sheldon because he is gay? Because Sheldon is so very gay?! o.O We all see people diffrently I guess, but I don’t care who the actors hump with or fall in love with aslong as they are good actors it won’t matter.

    1. When I read that, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. Knowing about his sexuality in real life doesn’t make a difference. Sheldon is still Sheldon, and he’s like his own species. 😉

      That’s the thing, if you’re a great actor, you can transcend your private life. (Unless you’re Mel Gibson, but umm, don’t know if “great actor” is a good choice of words there.) Tom Cruise might act like a nutcase off-screen but I still enjoy watching him on-screen, for instance.

  2. not only do i absolutely agree with Leffe but ditto for the (law abiding) real/private lives of actors. a chef does not have to cook for everyone on his day off, why should we expect actors to continue to entertain or try to please us off set?
    okay, they’re so good that we just cannot get enough and maybe it might do something to keep their popularity alive? but how genuine do we believe reality tv to be?

    i’m really disappointed about Mel’s issue, and hope that it was caused from a temporary mental disorder.

    1. I think Mel’s thing has been going on for too many years now to be called “temporary” … :]

      It’s true what you say about chefs. If there’s anything they’re asked in interviews, it’s “who cooks at home?” and the answer tends to be that it’s their partner. So yeah, why can’t actors be allowed the same courtesy?

  3. If Thornton was gay … I doubt he’d be a hero in Victorian fiction. Gayish men in classics are more likely to be in 18th century caricatures or as comic roles in Victorian fiction.

    To digress, my favourite straight actor playing a gay role is Guy Siner as Lieutenant Gruber in Allo Allo. It seems many girls love his character so much!

    1. “Listen carefully! I shall say zhis only wunce!” 😀

      With Thornton, btw, I was rather referring to the actor rather than the character. If the character was gay, that would sort of defeat the purpose of the romance with Maggie. ;D

  4. Here’s a thought: heart-throb Richard Chamberlain as the handsome priest in The Thorn Birds, lusting after Meggie! He’s gay IRL.

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