Dani Strehle Staff Writer
What do Darren Criss, Nelsan Ellis, Matt Damon, Justin Bartha, Michael Douglas, Greg Kinnear, James Franco, Sean Penn, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, and Jake Gyllenhaal all have in common? They are all straight actors who have portrayed gay characters. You may be thinking: “well, they’re actors. That’s what they do, right?” To an extent, I would agree with you. But like it or not, there is still a stigma associated with gay characters in television and movies.
In my estimation, it takes quite a bit of gumption and gallantry for a straight man to play a gay character. I do not mean this to be a sexist piece by not including women on this list; but typically, society appears to more readily accept women playing lesbian roles. Charlize Theron’s Oscar winning portrayal of prostitute and serial killer Aileen Wuornos was one of the most gripping and haunting performances I’ve ever witnessed. And Hillary Swank’s performance of transgender teen, Brandon Teena, absolutely blew my mind. And, while these roles and others played by women were incredibly moving, fair or not, it seems to make more of a stink when the gay role is played by a man.
Because my editor said I could, I’ve compiled a list of my Pop 5 favorite straights actors to portray gay characters as a way to honor the men who have bucked tradition and taken a risk. Bravo, gentlemen!
Nelson Ellis - Lafayette Reynolds, True Blood:Nelson’s portrayal of the sassy and flamboyant Lafayette is brilliant. Charlaine Harris, author of the Southern Vampire Series that the show is based on, wrote Lafayette out of the story in the very first book by making him the victim of a grisly murder. When the show aired, however, he was such a fan-favorite that the show runners decided to keep him on the show. Ellis is sexy. He has a deep, velvety voice; a killer body; and charisma in spades. But when he plays Lafayette, you believe he is gay. His performance is so convincing that you kind of wanted him to date Jesus in real life and just let the chemistry speak for itself.
Jake Gyllenhall - Jack Twist, Brokeback Mountain:I love Jake Gyllenhall. October Sky and Donnie Darko are incredible movies, and Jake has always been one of my favorite leading men. There is just something about that smile that makes you want to listen to what he has to say. I did not love Brokeback Mountain like many did; and I’ve never really been able to pin-point why. It felt more like an advertisement for Wyoming and the plot didn’t really resonate with me. But the acting was superb. While Heath
Ledger seemed a bit too “cavemanish” to me, Jake awed me. You felt every moment of his love and heartbreak for Ellis. He was ready to tell the world to fuck off and live life the way he wanted to. But the world was not ready for him. I thought he was phenomenal.
Darren Criss - Blaine Anderson, Glee:I know you’re with me here, Gleeks! From the moment that Criss’ Blaine Anderson danced onto our television screens in his pressed navy and red blazer, we knew it was safe to fall head-over-heels for the unfairly adorable crooner. Criss was brought in as a friend and mentor to Glee’s groundbreaking character Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) that turned into whirlwind romance. Klaine (the nickname given to the couple) supporters are numerous, fierce, and loyal. Never before had an out teenage same-sex couple been so predominantly showcased; and certainly not on television. Criss can make you laugh, shake your ass, and ugly cry all within sixty seconds. The chemistry between Criss and Colfer is so palpable, that you truly cannot help but root for them.
Robin Williams - Armand Goldman, The Bird Cage: If you have not seen The Birdcage, for your own sake, rectify this as soon as possible. It is hysterical. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane play a gay couple (with an even gayer “butler,” played by the way under rated Hank Azaria) and a straight son. Williams and Lane’s characters live above the drag club they own on South Beach. Williams’ neurotic and masculine Armand is a perfect balance to Lane’s feminine and sensitive Albert. Williams played this role flawlessly. While the sexual chemistry between him and Lane was lacking, I think it was supposed to be. They just seemed like that couple who had been together for years and have settled into a life of comfort rather than passion. And Williams’ not only kept up with Lane, who is openly gay, he made you laugh your ass off while doing it.
Tom Hanks - Andrew Beckett, Philadelphia:Tom Hanks is my favorite actor of all time. I can say that without a moment’s hesitation. He is in innumerable movies that I count among my favorite (A League of Their Own, anyone?), and I am certainly not alone. Hanks is a superstar; he is Hollywood royalty; he has carved out an incredible career for himself with very few catastrophes marring his good name. He did not have to accept the role of a gay attorney who is fired from his job at a conservative law firm after they discover that he has AIDS. Philadelphia was released in 1993, when homosexuality was still extremely taboo. When he walked upon the stage at the Academy Awards to collect his Oscar, it was evident that his risk had paid off.
There you have it, reader: my Pop 5 favorite straight actors that have played gay characters. I find these men to be courageous and brave; as well as incredibly secure and confident in their masculinity. Not to mention, playing these roles takes a great deal of open mindedness and talent. And while all of these things should probably just be givens by now, unfortunately, they’re not. But, I do believe that we are heading in the right direction.
Do you agree with my list, or do you think there is a better choice?