Typecastaways – actors who are gay are afraid of being typecast – Brief Article

Craig Chester

Sometimes making gay movies is like being a sexual anthropologist. While I was filming Kiss Me, Guido, another gay actor asked me if I was going to do an interview with the reporter from a gay magazine who was on the set that day. “Yeah, he’s a friend,” I quipped as I scrunched my bleached blond hair. The actor responded, “Well, I’m not meeting with him. It’s nobody’s business who I sleep with.” I could tell where this was going. “Of course,” he continued, “you’ll probably be on the cover, Mr. Openly Gay Actor. I don’t wanna play gays for the rest of my life? With that, he grabbed a puff and began powdering his face with limp wrists.

“Why not?” I asked. “What’s so terrible about that?”

He didn’t answer.

That was 1997–the same year that Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet and everything changed. Four years later we’re inundated with images of gayness all over the tube. Gay people have arrived–you’d think. Yet while there are more gay roles, it’s mostly straight actors playing them. Sure, there are some gay people playing gay roles on TV–closeted gay people (with rare exceptions). Which makes one wonder: Have things really changed if people can play openly gay characters on TV but not be openly gay in real life?

I can understand their apprehension. Working as an actor means beating insurmountable odds, and even those who have earned that rare place at Hollywood’s table think they’d be squeezed out if they were open about being gay. Yet it’s not just career suicide actors fear; it’s that apprehension I heard on the Guido set four years ago. Actors don’t want to be relegated to playing the three kinds of gay roles currently available in Hollywood: the funny guy (Jack); the straight-acting celibate saint (Will); or the drug-taking sex addict (Brian and friends on Queer as Folk). These types exist, certainly: My role in Kiss Me, Guido, Terry, was based on a sexually empowered, fabulously confident flamer I knew in New York–yet I don’t want to play variations of Terry forever and ever.

When I started in independent films a decade ago, I took on a number of meaty, three-dimensional gay roles: Nathan Leopold in Swoon, TV writer and recent widow Mark in Grief, snooty art dealer Fred Hughes in I Shot Andy Warhol. After those parts, Terry was a comedic lark. These days, while there are more gay roles out there, there is never a gay character I read that makes me want to run excitedly to the audition. Just variations on Jack and Will and Brian.

Straight people can be anything, TV tells us, from killers to kooks to oncologists. And while gay people are not like everyone else, they’re also not like one another.

But difference is not what Hollywood is about–it’s about money. Don’t confuse Hollywood’s desire to profit off Jack, Will, and Brian with social altruism. Jumping on a successful trend (“We need a gay show!”) can hardly be called in-the-trenches political activism. This is a business, and every single TV show, gay or straight, is a gamble for the big jackpot. Will & Grace hit that jackpot not because it’s gay but because it’s funny.

We can’t expect TV to do the work of social education for us. Even for those wonderful pro-gay executives who sincerely want to do their part, the first order of business is profit, just as the first order of business for a closeted gay actor may be financial security. For gay actors and the closet, it’s a catch-22: Everyone will come out when the social climate changes, but the social climate won’t change unless everyone will come out. It’s the same old story. If we actors can’t come out and stand up for ourselves instead of being silenced by fears of unemployment or being typecast, there won’t be openly gay actors to demand better roles–or even to demand the leading gay roles currently available.

Step one on the road to coming out is admitting that being gay or lesbian is relevant to your work, your characters, and your life. Any omission of it implies that being gay is a horrible thing–even if you’re on a hit gay TV show and you have a Porsche. I drive a VW bug, and guess what? It’s not the end of the world.

Chester is writing a book about his evolution from born-again Christian to openly gay actor, due out in 2002.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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