Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Straight Stars Steal the Spotlight

I recently read that actor Michael Douglas will be portraying singer-pianist, Liberace, in a made-for-HBO film, and that Matt Damon will portray his lover, Scott Thorson (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1291580/). I also read that Sacha Baron Cohen is slated to portray singer, Freddie Mercury, of the legendarily awesome rock band, Queen in an upcoming biopic (http://articles.latimes.com/2012/oct/15/entertainment/la-et-ms-freddie-mercury-biopic-sacha-baron-cohen-star-20121015). While I applaud these exceptionally talented actors for their openness and willingness to play characters of different sexual-orientations than themselves, I find the casting decisions to be a bit disappointing.

Hollywood is aware of the close-minded conservatism of American audiences, and for this reason, they are unwilling to cast openly homosexual actors in heterosexual roles (with a few notable exceptions: Neil Patrick Harris, Zachary Quinto). Hollywood studios do not believe that mainstream audiences will accept homosexual actors portraying heterosexual characters. They expect that making such casting choices would result in a lesser box office draw. From a strictly financial perspective, this makes sense, because money is all they really care about anyways. However, I do not understand why homosexual characters are predominantly portrayed by heterosexual actors.

To illustrate the history of this phenomena, below is a shortlist of heterosexual actors, and the respective films in which they portrayed homosexual characters (from here: http://movieline.com/2010/12/28/30-straight-actors-who-have-gone-gay-for-a-film-role/):
  • Robert Redford, Inside Daisy Clover (1965) (Golden Globe Nomination)
  • Marlon Brando, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)
  • Al Pacino, Cruising (1980)
  • William Hurt, Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) (Oscar Winner)
  • River Phoenix, My Own Private Idaho (1991)
  • Tom Hanks, Philadelphia (1993) (Oscar & Golden Globe Winner)
  • Will Smith, Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Total Eclipse (1995)
  • Robin Williams, The Birdcage (1996)
  • Greg Kinnear, As Good As It Gets (1997) (Oscar & Golden Globe Winner)
  • Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ewan McGregor, Velvet Goldmine (1998)
  • Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) (Golden Globe Nomination)
  • Hillary Swank, Boys Don't Cry (1999) (Oscar Winner)
  • Ed Harris, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep, The Hours (2002) (Oscar winner, and multiple nominations)
  • Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci, Monster (2003)
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mysterious Skin (2004)
  • Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain (2005) (2 Oscar Nominations)
  • Tracy Morgan, The Longest Yard (2005)
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote (2005) (Oscar Winner)
  • Sean Penn, James Franco and Emile Hirsch, Milk (2008) (Oscar Winner, and Golden Globe Nominations)
  • Colin Firth, A Single Man, (2009) (Oscar Nomination)
  • Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey, I Love You Phillip Morris (2010)
  • Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right (2010) (Golden Globe winner)

If openly gay actors are not cast as heterosexual characters in films (with the occasional exception), and many homosexual roles are dominated by straight actors, then what roles remain available for gay actors? Moreover, why do straight actors win awards when they portray gay characters (see list above)? Is it that much of a stretch? Is it not an actor's job to portray other people?


  1. well, i guess the jury is still out on james franco...

  2. The intention of my post was not to determine the sexual orientation of specific individuals. The list of movie stars in my post was for illustrative purposes, and was not compiled by me. Additionally, 'jury' implies judgment, and judgment implies determining wrongdoing; neither of which applies to sexual orientation.