Jim Carrey, Ewan MacGregor, Annette Bening, and Julianne Moore all play gay characters in upcoming movies. Progress or more straight actors opting for Oscar bait? And are gay actors themselves getting overlooked?
I Love You, Philip Morris and The Kids Are All Right are both said to be contributing to the normalization of gay protagonists in the movies — and not just as tragic figures, as Brokeback Mountain and Philadelphia arguably were. And yet this hasn't changed the reigning disconnect between gays and lesbians onscreen and their real-life counterparts in Hollywood.
A Single Man star Colin Firth was blunt about the dynamic last month:
"There might be risks for a gay actor coming out," he said. "The politics of that are quite complex, it seems to me. If you're known as a straight guy, playing a gay role, you get rewarded for that. 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 still uncrossable."
As always in Hollywood's lagging progress, it's hard to know whether that disconnect comes from what America actually wants and can relate to, and what studio executives believe America wants. (Or what actors and their publicists think studio executives think America wants.)
The writer-director of I Love You, Philip Morris is quoted in the Independent saying,
"People have asked us, 'Why didn't you hire gay actors to play these roles? Well, there are no gay actors in Hollywood! None of them are out of the closet. With the exception of Ian McKellen, who is too old for the part, it's exceedingly rare to see that. And it sucks because they're actors. If a straight guy can play gay, why can't a gay guy play straight? It's just as convincing. But there's this perception in marketing, somehow the public can't overcome this idea of, 'There's a gay guy kissing that straight woman – my God!' I don't understand that."
In other words, there surely already are gay Hollywood mega-stars — it's just that they haven't come out yet. As for openly gay actors who might be overlooked (for gay or straight roles), it's difficult to come up with a list of the underrecognized and deserving — precisely because we don't know their names yet. So far, television — and especially comedy — seems to be a safer haven for openly gay entertainers.