Jane Lynch Not Sure if Audiences Will Ever Accept Gay Actors in Straight Leading Roles

Jane Lynch adds her voice to the debate over gay actors and straight leading roles. She's not sure if audiences will ever buy it.

Says Lynch to AfterElton: Lynch

"I don’t know when or if that will ever happen. I think because since most of the world is straight — and maybe we'll get to a place where this will happen — most of the world is straight and we want the audience to project their hopes and dreams for love and romance onto those actors. And if it’s not in some way possible, maybe never probably, in their mind that it could never happen, then they're not going to do it. You know, most people are straight, and I think that’s probably why."

She adds:

"This is a business of projection and desiring people from afar. And watching people go through trials and tribulations, so there has got to be some truth to it, in terms of, "I could see myself with that person." Because the leading man and lady are the person we want them to fall in love with, and most of the audience is straight. So for right now, we can only use straight actors."


  1. Brent Z says

    Uh oh. She’s right, but boy did Richard Chamberlain get raked over the coals for saying the same thing recently.

  2. psgoodguy says

    i am not sure i agree with her. i watch a movie purely as an escape from reality. if i can imagine and believe 12′ tall blue people from pandora i can pretty much believe anything, given that the actor is good at her job.

  3. Danny says

    The real deal SHOULD be that Hollywood makes movies reflecting the social mix in the same proportions as the society–which would make an appropriate percentage of gay roles available. This really should be a non-issue. But with Hollywood as notoriously hypocritically homophobic as it is, I see little chance of this happening in my lifetime. And yet, with the market acceptance of the proliferation of gay characters on television and, to a lesser extent, in film, why should it NOT be so?

    As the viewing public become increasingly exposed to kissing of same-sex couples it will be increasingly accepted. For the generation coming of age now this is a non-issue–except among the home-schooled and those taken to hate-churches.

  4. justme says

    It’s a shame she’s giving cold comfort to the people so desperate to believe the worst, even if she does it free of malice and bitterness, like Chamberlain or Everett.

    Jane Lynch is a goddess. She’s also old. No, she’s not Chamberlain old, but she’s ancient to an 18 year old and the 18 year olds are the one who are driving this issue now. Someone Jane’s age can’t see what’s happening among people decades younger. If she could, she’d know better.

    In short, she’s wrong. It’s great that she’s free of bitterness and hate — because of her spectacular and deserved success, and that she arrives at this conclusion despite of that — but she’s still wrong. We won this fight already, now we’re just waiting for the kids we won it for to grow up and join our stars of today by being our stars of tomorrow.

  5. searunner says

    I love Jane Lynch, but I feel like the bigger problem is that being gay and out is still relatively new, particularly for celebraties. I think if we’re able to move past the need to catergorize, identify and stigmatize people for being the “other”, people will be able to have gay actors doing straight leading roles.

  6. Jerry says

    Jodie Foster is still not out…
    Sean Hayes is out but not working much…
    Catherine Moennig is sort of out and working only in shows not many people are watching, playing characters where her sexuality isn’t explored at all…

  7. searunner says


    I love Jane Lynch, but I feel like the bigger problem is that being gay and out is still relatively new, particularly for celebraties. I think if we’re able to move past the need to catergorize, identify and stigmatize people for being the “other”, people will be able to “buy” gay actors doing straight leading roles.

  8. Wes says

    btw has anybody noted that this entire debate only seems to apply to gay MEN? Lots of people enjoy seeing portia de rossi act like a hetero with no problem.

  9. Elli says

    Neil Patrick Harris is busy proving her wrong every day in his portrayal of uber-straight horndog Barney Stinson and he’s 100% believable in the role. I’m not saying it’s easy to break out of the stereotypes, but so long as actors are willing to play by Hollywood’s rules and stay in the closet, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that people can’t accept gays playing straight roles. Kind of like once upon a time people when couldn’t possibly see women working outside the home.

  10. Leo says

    Some say Hollywood mirrors society and vice versa. Thus, gay actors will be accepted as straight characters by audiences when gay people are more accepted in general and its not seen as some “block” to the audiences suspension of disbelief.

    Casting a gay actor under a straight role risks people not going to the theater or viewing the television screen because of that “block”, which risks a loss in profit. The majority of studios don’t want to take that risk and the rest are just homophobic. As JustMe pointed out, this could largely be a generational issue.

  11. Bryant says

    Perhaps this tendency toward rejection of gay actors in straight roles has some of its roots in what we call “gaydar.” With society sponsoring homophobia left and right, that little brain tickle many people feel when exposed to someone gay has come to carry a negative connotation. Since acting is about fooling the audience into believing a character, that process may be interrupted when our brains tell us someone isn’t of the right sexuality to be with another character. I’m reminded of that awful Spanish word used to describe gay people – “maricon.” That word basically means “someone who is trying to trick you.”

  12. Leo says


    It makes perfect sense why the entire debate applies to mostly gay men as Hollywood fuels and projects the society we live in.

    Today, lesbians support a male driven patriarchal structure whereby its implied that their service to straight men is porn fodder, forever playing the “underling” position. Gay men challenge the concept of a male always being “on top”, both literally and figuratively, and thus the patriarchal structure rejects them.

  13. TampaZeke says

    Strange how readily audiences will accept a straight man in a gay role or a closeted gay man in a straight role.

    Hell, gay people can’t even get GAY roles these days.

  14. justiceontherocks says

    NPH doesn’t prove anything except that he’s a talented and marketable comedic actor. But romantic lead in a heterosexual context on the big screen – that will not happen.

    In Hollywood acting has always involved creating an image both on and off screen. Until the money guys are persuaded it won’t hurt them, part of that image will mean guys creating a straight image. This is all about the money – like it or not.

  15. Leo says

    Exactly Justice…

    EVERYONE seems to throw out the NPH card when we’re actually talking about a romantic lead in a big blockbuster film. Would NPH ever be cast in something like that? I highly doubt it. I’d love to be proven wrong.

  16. maxx40 says

    I sorta agree with Lynch but for different reasons. To pick up on her logic, “straight” is the biggest projection of them all! It’s a carefully honed construct in Hollywood that keeps actors/actresses relatively blank as real sexual beings. That’s what “straight is: blank. And that’s why Charlie Sheen has never had a successful romantic comedy–his sex life is far from blank. “Gay” comes with assumptions, myths, etc. Until “gay” can be successfully commodified and exploited as “straight” is, until it reads blank, there won’t be a romantic lead who is gay.

  17. Latebrosus says

    @Justme & Elli: don’t forget, both Jane Lynch and Neil Patrick Harris won for best comedy acting at this year’s People’s Choice Awards. Pooh-pooh that as you may, but I believe most voters are aged 18-25.

  18. Zlick says

    I’m not sure that we are all projecting our desires onto actors in roles. Seems a little too simplistic and backwards-Freudian to me.

    But to the extent that kind of thing is happening, I don’t experience – as a gay man – any less gushiness over the straight love portrayed in the movies than does the person sitting next to me in the theater. Under Lynch’s theory, shouldn’t that be too foreign for me to deal with? So I call *bullshit* on her whack-job theory. Whether it’s the studios or the audience, it’s homophobia plain and simple if an actor’s real-life sexuality inhibits you from buying into their pretend sexuality while you are happily buying into their pretend everything-else. Sheesh.

  19. PB says

    Agree with Tampazeke. I love Jane, but this is like saying Brokeback Mountain wasn’t believable because the actors are straight. C’mon. Of course it was.

  20. stolidog says

    jane is right, in the context of the hollywood leading man and the whole rom-com thing.
    but the thing about hollywood is that if they’d make better movies with varried characters, or blockbusters that just need action stars, not leading men, then there would be thousands of roles that gays and lesbians could take and not just be the sassy gay best friend.

  21. Rowan says

    God you guys are being so stupid.

    It isn’t that complicated.

    A woman in the mid west or mid country internationally,like to think that the person they fancy, will, maybe if not realistically be involved with them but they wish, they could be.

    Come on, think about that.

    Why would we have media if people were not obsessed with their projections? We all have them, especially in relationships!

  22. Greg says

    …cause no girl has ever fantasied about turning a gay man straight, if only for a night.

    …and no gay guy has ever fantasied about turning a straight man gay…

  23. says

    Romantic leads in Blig Blockbuster films are hard for straights to maintain.

    “The Tourist” with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie BOMBED. And “Love and Other Drugs” with Jake Gyllenhal and Anne Hathaway died the death too.

    There are no guarantees anymore.

  24. Christopher says

    With all respect I think there is another factor at play here. Actors are essentially narcissists and Jane Lynch has to know she would never, ever be believable in a hetero role.

    Sorta has to color her perceptions and opinion.

  25. RJ says

    I think most guys here who are vehemently disagreeing with Jane are seeing the situation with gay blinders on. I dare say most of us grew up in predominantly hetero cultures so of course we’re very comfortable watching hetero-centric romances.

    Most of the heterosexual population did not grow up surrounded by examples of gay folks, therefore it will take a lot more time and exposure to such culture for them to become accepting of openly gay actors in roles stereotypically defined as hetero.

    Someone mentioned that Jane is speaking from the perspective of an older generation, which is probably true. Kids and teens these days are much more blind to things like gender, race, creed and sexual orientation. But until teens start running film and tv studios, we’re just going to have to wait till some of them graduate from college and get into positions that dictate policy in Hollywood.

  26. mark says

    I’m offended by Jane Lynch’s comments. She seems to be reinforcing the discrimination against gay men, and not making any effort to change it. She seems to be a part of the homophobic Hollywood system now.

    Human sexuality isn’t as black and white as what Jane suggests. Kinsey found that most men have some sexual feelings for men. Besides, she’s a woman. What does a woman know about male sexuality?

    Jane should shut up and take her prejudice-reinforcing elsewhere.

  27. says

    I think Maxx40 is onto something. With the internet and how it allows everyone to know everything they want to about, it also begins to blur with the roles he or she chooses. I can’t see Lindsay Lohan in any role other than a drug-addicted fading star. I can not watch a Tom Cruise movie anymore without thinking of him jumping on Oprah’s couch making an ass of himself. However, someone like Meryl Streep, who largely stays out of the limelight except professionally, I can see her be anyone (and she pretty much has).

    I think the inherent danger with a celebrity coming out is that since sexuality is considered to be such a dominant character trait and since we as a society have elevated celebrities to this weird, real/unreal status, it will be hard to think of a gay actor playing a straight role.

    Of course, this doesn’t explain why straight actors can portray gay characters and succeed in the box office, and I’d love to hear opinions.

  28. Hank says

    Oh dear. As Joan Collins said to Linda Evans, when Linda remarked that she felt like Joan really hated her, “It’s called ACTING, Linda.”

    On a more serious note, the real issue is not whether gay actors can successfully act and be accepted in straight leading roles, since Hollywood history proves over and over that they can, but whether those actors will still be accepted in those roles if they come out. Surely Jane Lynch is not suggesting Barbara Stanwyck or Greta Garbo were unconvincing leading. ladies?

  29. Hank again says

    …and I think it would be useful, and to the point, if she made that distinction more explicitly. Otherwise her remarks can be interpreted, by those willfully ignorant of gay history, to mean that there never have been gay leading men or ladies. When in fact so many of the actors, throughout screen history, who have created and embodied cultural ideals of romance and desirability, have been gay, or very actively bi, (and came out or were outed after their careers were over, which means there’s typically a time lag of a few decades.) Let’s just say a few names again: James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Brando, Cary Grant, Olivier, Tony Curtis, Errol Flynn… I don’t like to see them by implication shoved back in the closet.

  30. jaragon says

    “Brokeback Mountain: worked because of the magical chemistry between the leads- we believed they really were in love. I think that is the key to creating a convincing couple on stage or screen.

  31. michael says

    Brokeback Mountain worked because it was directed by a straight man, and starred two straight male actors, who the audience knew, or assumed was acting a part. I highly doubt that film would have been as successful if it had starred two openly gay men.

    Jane was absolutely right, but some people just can’t see past their noses. NPH is not a leading man, and will never be cast in a major film in a romantic leading role. He has a nice career playing on a mid level sitcom, and when that is over, he’ll be doing broadway musicals again. Btw, him getting a Peoples choice award, is about as significant in Hollywood, as winning a Golden Rasberry.

    I also find it stunning that people are in here going on about how “young people” are so beyond traditional gender roles, and caring about sexual orientation, when gay teens are still committing suicide, and being harrassed, and beaten everyday…..by other teens. I guess they didn’t get the memo that homophobia was over.

  32. elg says

    “I also find it stunning that people are in here going on about how “young people” are so beyond traditional gender roles, and caring about sexual orientation, when gay teens are still committing suicide, and being harrassed, and beaten everyday…..by other teens. I guess they didn’t get the memo that homophobia was over.”

    Thank you, Michael.

  33. El-Brucio says

    Unfortunately, I think Jane is right. For a romantic leading man/women to be popular and successful, the majority have to desire them both for their on-screen portrayal, but also for who they seem to be off-screen.

    I can desire someone like Vin Diesel on and off screen despite him being straight because there are so many celebrities who have been in the closet, I can easily lie to myself and say “he’s just pretending to be straight for his career”. Sure, it’s a slim chance in hell, but it’s still there.

    I imagine however that it would be rather difficult for a straight female woman to come up with a similar lie about a gay leading man. What possible reason would a leading man have to admit to being gay if he wasn’t?

    I suspect what is going to happen is that a gay actor who wants to be a leading man but be able to publicly have a boyfriend is going to have to lie and claim to be bi. It’s not like most actors’ “private” lives aren’t already heavily managed as it is for public consumption.

  34. Randy says

    I don’t agree at all. There’s about 10% of the population who has done almost nothing BUT watch actors they can’t project their feelings directly onto. So we know it’s possible.

    Good grief, back in Elizabethan times, none of the actors were even female, and people watched that.

  35. D. says

    There are always going to be some homophobes in the audience, but it is wrong to cater to that, just as it would be wrong for studios to not cast Will Smith or Denzel Washington in a lead role because there are some racists in the audience.

    I also think that most people could care less anymore. The movies that have done well this year have largely been those with good stories, and some of the biggest stars have seen their movies fail.

    Shows like Glee are seen by more people every week than a lot of the movies released, and no one cares about the stars who are out. I don’t see why it should be any different in the movies, and for Jane to just accept the status quo and not try to argue it needs to change is just wrong.

  36. Sancho says

    I’m confused: are people angry at Jane Lynch because she believes what she said, or because she said what she believes?

  37. Jerry says

    Alas, I not only agree with Michael, but I find that he is absolutely on-target right as to why “Brokeback Mountain” (though I hated it) was a “crossover” success with straight audiences. And he’s right about Neil Patrick Harris as well. As it is, the very nature of the acting profession makes all male actors suspect of “betraying” their “masculinity.” Real men are expected to be “honest” and “direct” and all that, not “act.” It is one thing for an openly gay actor to play a gay role, but when an audience is completely aware that the man they are seeing is only pretending to be into the opposite sex, particularly in a non-comedic context, straight men and women are, rightly or wrongly, turned off. You can scream all you want that “theater and movies are the art of illusion,” but there is a deep and instinctive need for people to believe that the enactment they are witnessing has a grain of authentic truth.

  38. GregV says

    I’m a big fan of Jane Lynch, but I don’t agree with her on this, and indeed I would have expected her to be a better champion for the best actors.

    A disproportionate number of the most successful hetero-role romantic leading men throughout movie history have been gay. So obviously there is no problem regarding the actor’s ability to play the role.

    The supposed problem here is that the audience can’t be permitted to know the actor’s orientation if he’s gay, because female straight audience members have to believe they could have a chance in real life to have a relationship with the actor. That would just be so unrealistic on so many levels.

    I actually get a little tired of every interview with the Modern Family cast feeling the need to discuss Eric Stonestreet’s heterosexuality, as if that should present some sort of special acting challenge.

    No one ever says to an actor: “But you’re in love with Woman X in real life, so how can you convincingly play the love interest to Actress Y in this movie?

    No one says to an actor: “You’re not a doctor in real life, so how can we believe, when we see you on E.R., that we would ever go to you for surgery?”

  39. gregv says

    “…Jane Lynch has to know she would never, ever be believable in a hetero role.”

    Well, she did win this past year’s supporting actress Emmy in a hetero role.

  40. Jerry says

    “The supposed problem here is that the audience can’t be permitted to know the actor’s orientation if he’s gay, because female straight audience members have to believe they could have a chance in real life to have a relationship with the actor. That would just be so unrealistic on so many levels.”

    I suspect, Gregv, that you’ve had very little contact with straight women or heterosexuals of any sort in your life. This is not about women believing that somehow they’re going to actually make love to a matinee idol, but it is about believing that the actor playing the character on-screen really feels a deep longing for the opposite sex, maybe not the actress he is paired with, but for women in general when the actor is supposedly baring his soul through the pretext of assuming a role. Most heterosexuals could accept an openly gay actor playing “straight” in a non-sexual, non-romantic role (i.e. Gandolf, LOTR), but romantic eroticism is a whole other ballgame. It is that smidgen of authenticity that counts when the film is about love and sex in a non-facetious context (as opposed to NPH’s TV show). And that is where an openly gay actor will be simply not be accepted, even by the most liberal and logic-minded straight crowd.

  41. Tell It Like It Is says

    I think everyonevis missing the point. Jane Lynch does not like the fact – but she is being honest. Pay close attention to her words about it being a business of projection and desiring people.

  42. Chad says

    I disagree. We happily accept ‘black’ actors playing ‘white’ roles (I’ve seen all black casts for ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof’).

    Given time and brave people, it won’t be considered an issue. But it’ll take time.

  43. Chris says


    HOld it, you mean to tell me, that the world can accept a straight person acting gay no problem – hell it enhances their carrer, especially women!

    If the world accepts this then how can they not accept a gay man acting as a straight husband? Isn’t there an unwritten rule somewhere that behind every f@g there’s a hag?

    Hollywood elite needs to wake up and realize it’s surrounded by gay / straight actors in opposing roles all the time.

    Someone show this girl the French Mistake clip from Blazing Sattles. How about Will and Grace?
    Seriously. Are the Hollywood execs that dense?

  44. christopher says


    Please. Her role in Glee is hetero in name only. And the wholly embarassing scenes in which she was asked to pretend to care for the Schue character were beyond unbelievable. When she stands close to a man and tries to act like she’s feeling sexual tension you could see her squirming from the moon.

  45. says

    Maybe I am foolish, but I like to think that if an actor is really good, he or she can play ANY role and be believable in it.

    I have seen it, see it even now, and like to believe the public would agree.

    Have a great day!


  46. Don says

    A lot of the success of Brokeback to it’s gay audience, was that it starred hunky straight actors playing gay which is a big albeit effed up fantasy that many gay men have.

    Had they cast Neil Patrick Harris and Cheyenne, it would have been a bore for most gay men to watch because it eliminates the butch straight guy wishful thinking factor. Gay men always want what they can’t have…

  47. Gabe R L says

    Everyone explaining why brokeback mountain was such a success, including Don, is right. And I laughed out loud when I saw El-Brucio’s comment about Vin Diesel being straight!

  48. just a guy says

    I think Jane Lynch just showed a little bit of her own self-loathing. Or her loathing of gay men. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing else to see here. (And no I don’t give a d*** how rational and objective she thought she was trying to be. And, no, I don’t adore her any less…or do I, ha?)

    Now…MAXX maybe said the most interesting thing in this thread. People see “straight” as blank, as anything. But not gay. Instead they see gay as a caste, a carefully-defined-as-separate sexual being. I think all that is bullsh**.

    I think there’s a bit of denial of sexual fluidities here. And for it to change would take a generation or so of glbt kids growing up ok with such sexual fluidity. Then it won’t matter so much. And Jane and maybe the rest of us will have nodded off by then. But we still have to work for that world for our kids. And maybe kids today ARE growing up in a world a little bit more like that. Let’s not declare the impossibility.

    Dare to dream folks.

  49. bobbyjoe says

    Well, one things for sure, straight audiences will never accept gays as leading men if GLBT actors keep being weak little wimps and self-sabotaging the whole thing. Good thing Rosa Parks didn’t sit there wringing her hands about what white people would and would not accept, offering interviewers a lot of self-pitying naval-gazing.

    You only get to a different world by envisioning that different world, not picking it apart with every fret, worry, and fear that pops into your head and giving cover to those who want to cut us out of the picture. You want openly GLBT actors in leading roles? PUSH FOR IT.

    This is a case where it’s a pity Jane Lynch isn’t more like her character. Sue Sylvester would never accept being told she has to be second-class in anything.

  50. just a guy says

    ahh…Aunt Jane. Wonder if she’ll apologize? Or else prove herself an Aunt Jane for real? Hmmm…

    In any case, I’m not gonna let Aunt Jane make my choices for me. I don’t think Hollywood decisionmakers should give her embittered “reality” much credence either.

    I did expect better from her though. Maybe she’ll pull through. If her character on glee said that, I’d laugh it off. But, no, a real person said it.

    Not gonna lie. Less of a fan now. We have a lot of good lgbta friendly shows to watch. Glee is slippin off my list. But C.Colfer may keep it there. We’ll see…

  51. Gabe R L says

    Does the name Robert Gant mean anything to anyone. He is a very talented, gorgeous, masculine actor who was convincing as straight onscreen and off. But since he came out, he has trouble getting work and is now doing commercials? Jane does have a point. Chad Allen is another example. And calling jane ‘old’ just seems childish and spiteful.

  52. gregv says

    @Jerry: Your assumption that I’ve had little contact with heterosexuals is far off the mark.

    But I feel quite sure that the vast majority of heterosexuals I know have had no more problem “suspending disbelief” to indulge in watching someone like Robert Gant play a character dating the opposite-sex Phoebe on Friends as they would watching David Schwimmer play a paleontologist (when he’s really “just” an actor who might know little about dinosaurs).

    @GabeRL: Robert Gant’s most famous role yet was playing gay, and other than a stint in Caroline in the City, the various guest roles he’s gotten before and after coming out have been very similar.

    As for Chad Allen, he’s had 12 years to audition since Dr. Quinn went off the air.

    Compare the four years immediately after that show when he was IN the closet (with the most high profile roles being one episode of Love Boat and one episode of NYPD Blue) to the most recent four years (when he was well established as OUT of the closet and got guest spots on Dexter, Criminal Minds and CSI Miami).
    I see no evidence that coming out hurt his career at all.

    Very few actors manage to be in one hit show/film after another.
    For example, Mary Tyler Moore was pretty much America’s sweetheart throughout the ’60’s and ’70s and then pretty much disappeared from view.

    If she’d come out as gay, I know people would be saying that’s the reason, but really, more than 99% of straight actors NEVER get to play a leading role on a hit show or in a blockbuster movie.
    And very, very few of those who do are lucky enough to replicate that success over and over through the decades.

    One of these days, someone who’s out of the closet, sexy, AND a great actor is going to be cast in a hugely coveted romantic lead and then he’ll be doing the talk show circuit with titles under his face saying something like “Hollywood homophobia officially over?”
    The novelty of it will generate publicity all over the place, and afterward nobody will keep asking if it can be done.

  53. Gabe R L says

    Greg, you are clearly quibbling. I’m well aware that his most famous role is than of a gay man. Duh! He was typecast at times as ‘the boyfriend’ (a woman’s boyfriend!, but still he was a talented actor with a lot of promise who was convincing as hetero, and now his chances in front of the camera may be gone. Now he does movies for limited audiences on cable and commercials. Chad Allen has done some prominent work here and there, but most of it has been things that few people watch, and you know that. I am not trying to be hateful, just realistic, something a lot of you could try.