Richard Chamberlain: Gay Leading Men Should Remain Closeted

The one-time leading man tells the Advocate:

Rc You were a wildly successful closeted actor during a period of time when coming out was unheard of, but the climate of acceptance has significantly changed in recent years. How do you feel about gay actors who still remain closeted as we near 2011?

"It’s complicated. There’s still a tremendous amount of homophobia in our culture. It’s regrettable, it’s stupid, it’s heartless, and it’s immoral, but there it is. For an actor to be working is a kind of miracle, because most actors aren’t, so it’s just silly for a working actor to say, “Oh, I don’t care if anybody knows I’m gay” — especially if you’re a leading man. Personally, I wouldn’t advise a gay leading man–type actor to come out."

When can a leading man come out — when he’s 69 and promoting a memoir?

"I have no idea. Despite all the wonderful advances that have been made, it’s still dangerous for an actor to talk about that in our extremely misguided culture. Look at what happened in California with Proposition 8. Please, don’t pretend that we’re suddenly all wonderfully, blissfully accepted."

Chamberlain was outed by French magazine Nous Deux in 1989 but only publicly came out in his 2003 autobiography, Shattered Love, at the age of 69.

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  1. I don't see how it helps LGBTQ people for young aspiring gay actors never to achieve careers or public visibility as a direct result of agents and casting directors passing them over in favor of straight competitors who are just as talented and will be seen as "better investments" by the industry.

    It's one thing to say that Famous Actor X Should Come Out for the public impact such a statement would make - though again, the question of the ideal moment for maximum impact is very hard to calculate. But young actors who are out from the beginning are greatly reducing their career prospects, which means they're far less likely to ever be in a position to be a public role model - they will always be competing for roles, and being openly gay is going to be a liability. Not only is it unfair to demand that the actors give up their dreams, no greater good is achieved by them ending up working in an office instead of in front of the cameras.

    (And yes, there's Chris Colfer, but he's playing a gay character written for him in a uniquely gay-affirmative project - how far Colfer's career goes after Kurt graduates is a huge question mark. He might end up spending his younger years playing a succession of two-dimensional sassy gay sidekicks and when he's older endlessly repeating Albin in bad regional theater productions of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. GLEE is such an anomaly that you can't draw general conclusions from it.)

    Posted by: Sancho | Dec 26, 2010 12:57:47 PM

  2. I like Richard, but not that much. He's no Sir Ian McKellen.

    Posted by: Natira | Dec 26, 2010 1:10:21 PM

  3. Chamberlain is from the old school, and unfortunately, the old school still has much sway in Hollywood.

    Posted by: niles | Dec 26, 2010 1:12:55 PM

  4. Without being catty; if you were a good enough actor wouldn't it NOT matter if you were gay or not?

    I mean, if we look at Neil Patrick Harris, he's playing one of the most masculine, womanizing, misogynistic men on television. So well, in fact, that he's nominated for awards.

    Hell, even Sean Hayes, who's INCREDIBLY flamboyant (and yes, I realize it took him awhile to come out, but I don't care about that; it's each person's own personal right whether or not they come out." is in one of the most successful plays on broadway right now as a straight male courting a young woman.

    And lest we forget about the heterosexual men who don't care playing gay or straight; James Franco, Antonio Banderas, Daniel Craig, The Culkin Brothers, etc etc.

    This isn't about being gay or straight in Hollywood, this is about whether or not you can hack it; and if you're good enough, it obviously doesn't matter if you're queer or not.

    Posted by: Nicholas | Dec 26, 2010 1:19:52 PM

  5. I am gay actor and have been out since I was 19 -- in 1979. Never in a million years would I trade my self respect and living open and honestly for more money and fame. If we all took Mr. Chamberlain's advice, nothing would ever change. He couldn't be more wrong. People like True Words are part of the problem not part of the solution.

    Posted by: StillMarriedinCalifornia | Dec 26, 2010 1:20:24 PM

  6. Chamberlain was a leading man back when white men were threatened with jail for marrying black women, and men were threatened with jail for even dancing with other men. It was, indeed a very different time.
    He trivializes and reduces to "silly" the choice some people make to be honest in this new and less unenlightened era.
    I've never heard ANY out actor even once say anything approaching: "Suddenly, we're wonderfully, blissfully acepted."
    Ellen faced up to homophobia at the height of popularity of the comedy show on which she was the lead. NPH's career has only gotten bigger.
    If an actor like Tom Cruise were to suddenly announce that he's gay and he doesn't care if anyone knows anymore, it would be far from "silly." He has more money than most people would spend in a hundred years. To some people, especially those who don't NEED a job, helping to change the world for the better may be more important than that next job or paycheck.
    And in this day and age, being out and honest means some doors will close but others will open. But at least those doors that open can be stepped into with integrity.

    @True Words: Hearing an actress mention her spouse's name is a far cry from hearing her describe what she does with her husband's graphically-described penis.

    Posted by: GregV | Dec 26, 2010 1:27:00 PM

  7. Yeah but GregV you would pay attention to the penis size as that is all of the message that you took from my words...sort of my point....

    Posted by: True Words | Dec 26, 2010 1:31:28 PM

  8. He is, regrettably, an old man with an old man's world view.

    No wisdom imparted here.

    Posted by: MarkDallas | Dec 26, 2010 1:32:13 PM

  9. I really wish Chamberlain had remained closeted.

    Posted by: Keppler | Dec 26, 2010 1:32:31 PM

  10. Just a follow-up to Brian's thought about being "who you are in your chosen profession": there's an assumption here that a person's romantic/sexual life is their "authentic" life, while their career is the way they pay their bills and support that life - which leads to the conclusion that a person should be willing to give up a career for the sake of fully living their romantic/sexual identity.

    This isn't true for everyone. I know a lot of writers and performers whose careers are their real calling; writing or acting or dancing or singing is at the core of their being, and it's every bit as important, if not more so, than any romantic relationships they might have. It's true that most people have a job that funds their "real" life, but for some people, it's what they do that gives their lives substance and meaning. They sometimes don't make the best life partners, but that's because a romantic relationship isn't what they need most to feel fulfilled. You can't assume that everyone should make the same life decisions based on love being the unquestioned top priority.

    Posted by: Sancho | Dec 26, 2010 1:40:24 PM

  11. "an old man's world view"

    It's thank to the world view of a LOT of old men that you're not cowering in the closet, legally a criminal, and skulking around highway rest stops before returning home to a loveless marriage with a woman.

    Damn whippersnappers...

    Posted by: BobN | Dec 26, 2010 1:55:44 PM

  12. There may be a handfull of openly gay actors who have successful careers, like Neil Patrick Harris.

    But I mean - come on. Chris Colfer plays a gay character.

    I don't think Chamberlain is being mean or wrong. He is being realistic. He is right. An actor who is working is lucky to be working as an actor. Most actors are working in offices, bartending, or waiting tables to pay their bills.

    We still have yet to see the public buy a leading man who is openly gay play a straight love interest on film in a big scale. I am talking on a Matt Damon or Brad Pitt leading man level.

    It is easy for us to point fingers and tell what is morally right or worng but are we all going to chip in on any lost income or pay bills when the jobs stop coming? Everyone is so quick to judge and preach when they are not in that position - it is laughable.

    Posted by: Tell It Like It Is | Dec 26, 2010 2:04:09 PM


    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 26, 2010 2:13:14 PM

  14. They're actors. They create unreality. No one believes what they say anyway.

    Posted by: justiceontherocks | Dec 26, 2010 2:40:58 PM

  15. RC is trying to justify his closeted past. We won't really know what happens to an A-List actor who comes out until a few do. However, there are very few leading roles compared to character roles, so one is making one's life more difficult pursuing that. The advice should be clearly delineated if given at all: don't bother with going for leading man roles if you are gay, closeted or not. The purpose of stars these days is to get the movie made, not to get the tickets sold. Stars don't sell movie tickets these days. Rather, they get the movie financed. The people who finance movies try to reduce risk by buying star "power" despite all the evidence that stars have no power. The idea is that stars will get the free publicity needed to push the movie in more theaters where the first weekend gross will represent 80% of the movie's profits and before word-of-mouth kills the movie dead for viewers. Everything is geared towards the first-night, first weekend figures, and for that you need star power. It's a failing strategy, a desperate strategy, but seemingly the only way to reduce risk.

    So, gay actor, don't bother, stick to well playing supporting roles and good scene-stealing characters. Otherwise, it's like living your life waiting to win the lottery.

    Posted by: anon | Dec 26, 2010 2:41:51 PM

  16. @Tell It Like It Is "Everyone is so quick to judge and preach when they are not in that position - it is laughable."
    And people like you are encouraging actors to be in the closet when YOU aren't in that position. Isn't that laughable as well?

    As an openly gay actor for the last 31 years, I feel I am qualified to give advice. And I say come out and be happy. I may have made less money because I am gay, but I have made a decent living and have my self respect and a wonderful husband. I have wonderful friends and colleagues (and even some fans) who like me for the real me instead of some lie that I am putting out there. I wouldn't trade any of it for fame and fortune.
    Nearly every celebrity (or non-celebrity) that has come out has said their life is so much better and regrets not coming out sooner.
    Very, very few (the bitter Rupert Everett comes to mind) have expressed any regret. That speaks volumes.
    You will be happier and you will help pave the way for others as well as making strides towards equality which will make your own future more comfortable if you come out--WHATEVER your profession.

    And Sancho--I know a few actors, gay and straight, who put their career ahead of everything else because they were so driven and performing was the only thing that gave their life "substance and meaning". Most of them, even if wildly successful and rich beyond belief, eventually realized that they were lonely and sad and realized that career does not take the place of love.

    Posted by: StillMarriedinCalifornia | Dec 26, 2010 2:51:11 PM

  17. I don't agree with giving gay actors advice to stay closeted. I think you should choose your own path and let it be so. But what Richard says is the sad truth of the Hollywood industry. So many have trotted out NPH, Jane Lynch, Chris Colfer, et al as their examples, and they're bullshit examples, especially given Richard's mention specifically of leading man types. Can ANY of you name a leading man role in a big budget movie or TV production that is currently, or even recently, being played by an out gay actor? Oh yeah, that's right. The answer is zero.

    NPH - cast as a womanizing stud BEFORE being forced out by pending tabloid reports. I love him. I admire him. I like that his career in awards show hosting and character role guest spots has boomed, but he won't be getting a leading man role anytime soon, if ever. And I can't say I honestly believe he would have ever been cast as Barney Stinson if he'd been out before HIMYM was being cast.

    Jane Lynch - a rock star in my book. Any leading man roles in her future? Doubt it. Getting less facetious, any straight romantic female leads? Doubt it. And despite what anyone thinks, Jane wasn't exactly rolling in money and affluence before Glee. She worked steadily and was awesome in her character roles. Glee was lightning in a bottle, and like many, Jane's luck crossed paths with her awesome talent.

    Chris Colfer - it's been said above by others quite well. Once Glee is over, I don't see a gigantic amount of leading man roles or even straight roles in his future. Talented, amazing kid, and I hope for more for him. And, lest we forget, he was pretty much pushed out of the closet quite reluctantly last year. He didn't come out, guns blazing.

    Addressing some of the straw men here, there's David Ehrenstein's mention of Ryan Gosling and James Franco choosing offbeat roles and doing quite well. Could either one be cast in a leading man role tomorrow? In a heartbeat. Has either been cast in a leading man role recently? Both. Would either one be cast in a leading man role if either suddenly surprised the hell out of us and came out as a gay actor? It would be nice to think so, but I sincerely doubt it.

    The other one is STILLMARRIEDINCALIFORNIA, who I'm so proud of for coming out in 1979 and being out that long. Bravo. I'm so happy for you. But, seriously, when was that last leading man or straight romantic lead part that you even got to read for, let alone cast for? There is no shame in playing gay parts, or even smaller character parts, for the rest of your life. But that was your choice.

    I know a lot of gay actors. Out and otherwise. I love my out gay actor friends and I understand the choices they've made. At the buffet that is their work, they've consciously made the choice to limit their options. It sucks that they had to do that, because one thing I can confidently say is that virtually no actor I have ever known chose to be one simply to be rich or famous. They chose that path because they like to act, they like to play persons different from themselves. Being rich or famous was only that extra thing that helped them not have to worry about the next paycheck or where their healthcare was going to come from, and not have to keep two or three other jobs that might have prevented them from making that audition for that one perfect part that would change everything.

    Do I hope that eventually changes and that some wildly famous leading man takes the charge and blazes a path for others to follow? Yes. Because I'd like so many of my gay actor friends to have more opportunities than they already do. But I don't blame them for not understanding the game as it's currently played and making the difficult choice to keep working, and frequently, in their chosen profession. Outing yourself publicly limits your options. Sucks that it's so, but it's so. Anyone who doesn't understand that should probably find another line of work.

    Posted by: MrRoboto | Dec 26, 2010 3:08:24 PM

  18. Come out or don't who really cares. But don't expect Out and Proud Americans to think you've climbed mountains and defeated demons when YOU are outed or come out. Hiding in the darkness because your work is more important than your honesty and integrity is your free choice which I won't prevent you from making. But again, you're NO HERO when you do come out under a cloud of fear and self hatred.

    Posted by: Sargon Bighorn | Dec 26, 2010 3:29:47 PM

  19. MrRoboto--I play all kinds of roles, gay, straight, leading and character. I make enough money to have health insurance and a comfortable life. There already are openly gay actors playing leading men and there will be more and more as long as people don't keep excusing cowardice and greed. All the same arguments you people are making were used to keep people of color from playing leading roles. Don't you see how you are playing right into the hands of those who resist change at every turn and keep us from achieving equality?

    Posted by: StillMarriedinCalifornia | Dec 26, 2010 3:34:31 PM

  20. Which is why the media should do its job and report truthfully on public figures even when they won't report truthfully on themselves. That's separate from any sort of political angle, but politically speaking, exposure to information about who's really gay is also the only thing that will help erode homophobia.

    Posted by: Matthew Rettenmund | Dec 26, 2010 3:59:25 PM

  21. Every career has potential negative impact by coming out --- not just acting and singing.

    He let others do the work while he took advantage of the freedoms they fought for.

    Self Serving Fame Whore ....

    Posted by: rjp3 | Dec 26, 2010 4:18:38 PM

  22. The words "leading man" ("actor who plays the leading male role") lead automatically to the concept of the role of a straight character in Chamberlain's mind (regardless of the orientation of the actor). That is probably true for most people, and this is the heart of the problem.

    What was the last gay James Bond-type or Jason Bourne-type character in a blockbuster movie?

    Posted by: Philo | Dec 26, 2010 4:48:03 PM

  23. He's right. And David E has been having kittens on all the blogs! So predictable!

    Posted by: Rowan | Dec 26, 2010 4:54:11 PM

  24. Darlings, I don't have time for the pros and cons.
    Bottom line, no pun intended,
    only an individual knows if his environment is safe to come out in.
    Self righteous activists don't know that, nor do people who have come out and want to pretend they have done something grand for gay rights. Actually, ignorant bitches who come out make us all look like hell.
    RC is right. Hollywood leading men have to appeal to a public, many of whom are homophobic.
    There are safe jobs and not so safe jobs, safe places and not so safe places.
    Again, only the inidividula knows if his environment is safe to come out in. You all don't know that, so please stop issuing orders to everyone else, heartless queens.

    Posted by: Wilberforce | Dec 26, 2010 6:38:55 PM

  25. really bad advice. Its far better to come out

    Posted by: Stephen | Dec 26, 2010 8:03:13 PM

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