Nathan Lane

Nathan Lane Says Straight Actors Should Be Able To Play Gay Roles

Nathan Lane

As gay actors and actresses, as well as gay roles, are becoming more prominent some productions are coming under fire for casting straight men and women to play gay. Will & Grace was once the target of such ire for casting straight actor Eric McCormick as the titular gay man, and The Normal Heart caught some flak for straight actor Mark Ruffalo playing a gay role. Award-winning actor Nathan Lane disagrees with such rigid ruling. Speaking at Live from the Lincoln Center panel on Tuesday, he said:

That way only madness lies[...]I think who's right for the part and most talented [should be hired].

There is wisdom to that. Should actors only stick with roles that align with their orientation we never would have had the wonder that is Eric Stonestreet as Cam Tucker.

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  1. With that thinking Neil Patrick Harris should never have been cast as Barney. The door swings both ways.

    Posted by: MATTROCKS | Jul 25, 2014 12:49:38 PM

  2. I've never understood this debate. The profession is performance. ACTING. Fakery. Facade. Storytelling. The sexuality of the actor is utterly irrelevant.

    Posted by: richard | Jul 25, 2014 12:50:23 PM

  3. In an ideal world the best actor should be hired. But seeing as actors are actively discouraged from coming out by their agents, then it's only fair that whenever possible gay role should go to gay actors.

    Posted by: MaryM | Jul 25, 2014 12:50:39 PM

  4. Please. Let the writers and directors figure out & cast the best actor for their particular production without all this backseat driving from the ducks and geese at Towleroad!

    Posted by: will | Jul 25, 2014 12:56:41 PM

  5. Well, I'm glad to see he agrees. I'm a theater professor, and back when I was pounding pavement as an actor, I almost always got cast as the straight character, even in gay plays! I did "Breaking the Code" and most of the male characters were gay, and I got cast as the straight MI5 agent that destroyed Alan Turning's career!. I wouldn't have acted much if I'd have only been able to play gay characters. ;)

    Posted by: Pitt90 | Jul 25, 2014 1:03:51 PM

  6. I'm sorry, MaryM, but we LIVE in the ideal world. The "best" actor is already cast. This is the actor that the creative people think "fits the part", is available, for the money they can pay, is willing to play the part. For instance, we all pretty much suspect that Travolta is at least bi and Cruise is gay, but they ain't likely to accept a part that opens the closet door too widely.

    So, you'd rather we only get the out actors playing gay roles? And I guess that limits the opportunities going the other way too? No Eric Stonestreet as Cam, no NPH as Barney, no homo-erotic roles for Hugh Jackman or Ben Affleck, no zany androgenous roles for Ralph Fienne [a revelation as M. Gustav in The Grand Budapest Hotel] or Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper. I'm sure there are women's examples, not my forte.

    As a gay man who acts, I'll audition for any ROLE I thought I could play WELL, gay, straight, middlesex, non-sexual. I'm a tea totaler but can act drunk and don't do drugs but find it easy to play stoned. I've observed others in those conditions, as I've observed straight people all my life and gay people from college on. Producers NOT giving me a role because I was "too gay" could either be a creative choice or a homophobic bias or a little bit of both.

    Leslie Jordan tells that when he was asked to do a recruiting commercial for the US Navy, that he kept trying to "butch it up" when what they really wanted was for him to "fey it up". They HAD cast the actor they wanted.

    The next step on that mad road Nathan talks about is to only listen to music by gay performers [and who knew Peter Hollens was straight!], only look at paintings by gay artists, only eat food produced by gay farmers, bakers, chefs & fast food outlets [perish the thought, a gay fast food restaurant is just a completely WRONG idea]. Sorry, that's a ghetto I want to live in. But I hope you enjoy it.

    Posted by: ben~andy | Jul 25, 2014 1:29:37 PM

  7. Of course anyone should be allowed to play anything, but, first, several so-called straight actors aren't really. Second, a gay actor has a level of understanding about a gay character's life few straight actors could attain through research. Third, straight actors tend to add annoying campy flourishes to gay portrayals to indicate "gayness." Fourth, talent trumps some of the above.

    Posted by: Richard | Jul 25, 2014 1:33:43 PM

  8. This is and has always been a silly, insipid argument from the time David Ehrenstein complained about all 4 leads in Brokeback being straight to those complaining today about The Normal Heart or even True Blood.

    For the record, Tom Cruise is not actually a fighter pilot. Anthony Perkins is not actually a murderer. And Russell Crowe is not actually a gladiator.

    It's acting.

    Posted by: crispy | Jul 25, 2014 1:53:29 PM

  9. Crispy, how dare you bring logic into this.

    Posted by: Tyler | Jul 25, 2014 1:58:56 PM

  10. alas, it's the wrong question. it's not about whether or not a straight person "should be able" to play gay roles, it's about whether or not openly-gay actors are ever going to be able to considered viable casting options. and that'll take time. there's a glass ceiling for women of a certain age, for people of colour, and for LGBT people. straight white men can play whatever they want, as the roles are written for them, even when the roles are gay.
    within each subgroup of "not a straight white man" actors there are the few handfuls who get considered for roles. in time, hopefully, there will be room for more than just a handful.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jul 25, 2014 2:01:47 PM

  11. @ Richard,

    You said, "a gay actor has a level of understanding about a gay character's life few straight actors could attain through research"

    I guess Law and Order SVU shoudl only hire convicted rapists and murders to TRULY understand the mindset of those characters. Maybe next we will start banishing Americans for playing roles that are Britishor vice versa.
    Whoopi Goldberg has said in her career that if she waited for roles that called for middle aged black woman with dreads she wouldn't be in any films. She would audition and try for ANY role available.

    Posted by: Seanumich | Jul 25, 2014 2:11:35 PM

  12. Yes Richard: and Nathan Lane didn't camp it up in Birdcage or his guest spots on Modern Family?? Rolling my eyes.

    Posted by: MATTROCKS | Jul 25, 2014 2:12:51 PM

  13. Watching Mark Ruffalo in the Normal Heart, I was amazed by how convincing he was. I don't think a gay actor could have done it as well or any better.

    Posted by: john | Jul 25, 2014 2:15:30 PM

  14. It's a difficult question for me. I'd like to see LGBT folks play LGBT characters. But I want LGBT folks to play heteros also.

    This discussion reminds me of when I saw Jeffrey Wright in "Angels In America" (the TV version). You couldn't convince me that Jeffrey Wright wasn't Gay. He must've observed and studied Black Gay men for a year before doing that part.

    Some actors (Gay or Straight) are just damned good at acting.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Jul 25, 2014 2:27:17 PM

  15. I thought they have.

    Posted by: Matt27 | Jul 25, 2014 2:43:39 PM

  16. Obviously straights should be able to play gay, but the the issue is that there isn't enough representation of gays in media as it is. So that's why people get upset. Gays really aren't getting the big roles (proportional to population) as straights are, so when they don't even get the roles that they could most likely channel and empathize with, there must be something going on under the surface -- and that's that there is still a stigma. Gay stories are fine, but a gay actor? Yikes.

    Posted by: pablo | Jul 25, 2014 3:54:51 PM

  17. There is much wisdom in the comments of Little Kiwi and Richard. I will add that if an actor known to be Straight plays a Gay role and turns it into a stereotypical mess with no nuance at all, we the Gay public have the right to rip him a new assh*le! And too, a Gay actor who does the same thing shouldn't be above criticism.

    Posted by: Stuffed Animal | Jul 25, 2014 4:06:06 PM

  18. Trolls always think they're right.....

    Posted by: styler | Jul 25, 2014 4:14:13 PM

    Thank you! You beat me to it :-)

    Posted by: CakeWalk | Jul 25, 2014 4:18:11 PM

  20. Look Kiwi, you and Stuffy share the same position on this issue.

    That should give you pause to reconsider!

    Posted by: crispy | Jul 25, 2014 4:36:57 PM

  21. @ Richard. You're right it's a ridiculous manufactured issue. I want to direct the actor who can and will do the part. I do not care in the least who he loves. If it's a gay role and the straight guy brings it, he's in and vice versa.

    Posted by: Sean | Jul 25, 2014 4:44:30 PM

  22. What @LITTLE KIWI said. The issue isn't straight actors getting cast in gay roles. It's Hollywood systematically excluding openly gay actors from any role that has a romantic or sexual dimension. Gay roles are reserved for confirmed straight actors to prove their credentials: what serious actors they are and how impressively they can transform. Casting a straight actor in a dramatic gay role is an opportunity for an Oscar, and the valuable publicity that comes with it. Not so when casting a gay actor in the same role. There's nothing special about an actor playing himself. Tropic Thunder—where Robert Downey Jr. plays a white actor cast as a black man—satires this brilliantly.

    On the other hand, straight roles are reserved for straight actors, because, we're told, audiences won't believe and desire an openly gay actor in a straight role. And a gay actor playing straight isn't impressive. It's boring. Almost everyone and every role is straight. Straight is ordinary.

    Posted by: JJ | Jul 25, 2014 4:57:29 PM

  23. If straight guys can do gay porn, then straight actors can certainly do gay roles.

    It's called acting.

    Posted by: Randy | Jul 25, 2014 5:01:25 PM

  24. "Trolls always think they're right....." says one of the biggest trolls on this board. Constant b*tching and complaining from that one.

    Posted by: MATTROCKS | Jul 25, 2014 5:01:57 PM

  25. I think the argument was more valid back in the day when it was pretty much impossible for out gay actors to be cast in any role at all. This kind of thinking has changed to a large extent.

    I agree with Nathan Lane, though I do have to say that when a gay actor plays a gay role it is nice not to have them hear about how bravenotgaygrossedout they are.

    Posted by: Daniel | Jul 25, 2014 5:07:04 PM

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