>Can Gay Actors Play Straight?

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Ramin Setoodeh wrote an article for Newsweek [HERE] on straight actors playing gay roles, and how they can do it, but gay actors, openly gay, playing straight roles doesn’t work. He basically says that gay actors are bad actors because they can’t convince an audience that they’re straight.

And while–and I’m gonna say it–Setoodeh does have a point. But it isn’t the actors, or the roles, or Broadway or the movies; it’s the audience that has a hard time believing a gay actor as a straight character.

I think where Setoodeh went wrong was in basically making his point by using the performance of recently out-actor Sean Hayes, in Promises, Promises, on Broadway. Setoodeh says that he doesn’t “believe” Hayes is a straight man on-stage, that he isn’t believable as the love interest to Kristen Chenoweth, citing a New York Times review that called Hayes performance “wooden” and “insincere” as proof that gay can’t play straight.

Maybe that review is right, but maybe it’s because the part wasn’t right for Hayes, not because he’s a gay man. Gay men have been playing straight on Broadway for years, openly; and gay men have been playing straight in movies for years, closeted: think Rock Hudson.

Handsome. Virile. Manly. As gay as a picnic basket. But not open about it.

There has been all kinds of hubbub about Setoodeh’s piece, er, article, from everyone from Kristin Chenoweth, who wrote a response [HERE] in which she called Setoodeh homophobic; for the record, Setoodeh is an openly gay man, who has been attacked for being everything from a homophobe to a self-loathing gay man to an Arab who should only write about terrorism. That last part is true, and, again for the record, Setoodeh is American, born in Texas, of Iranian descent. Let’s talk about what he wrote, but refrain from personal attacks; it’s the discussion that matters.

Cheyenne Jackson, an openly gay actor who plays straight, and hot, on Broadway all the time, said of Seteoodeh and his article:
It was infuriating on so many levels. Not only does [Setoodeh] say that a gay man can’t play straight, he got personal, picking on Sean Hayes in Promises, Promises, [pointing out] certain scenes where he thinks [Sean] is stiff and uncomfortable. And then he picks on Jonathan Groff, who just came out. He’s a young teen heartthrob [in Glee]. He’s so talented and so delicious and needs our love and support. Instead, [Setoodeh] says he’s not believable at all. It was very veiled self-loathing. Really upsetting.
Everytime we go forward, some asshole like this takes us back a bit. I was really glad that Kristin Chenoweth wrote what she did. She sent it to me before it went out and about. I was very proud of her. For me to stand up and say, ‘F*ck you,’ that’s what you’d expect. But for someone like Kristin, she stands up for what she believes in and is very committed.

Michael Urie, also openly gay, and appearing on Broadway now, says:
Look, I’m not from f*cking Vienna [he’s playing Viennese designer Rudi Gernreich in The Tempermentals]. We’re all actors, and the audiences get it. When I saw Sean Hayes in Promises, Promises, it was a full house and everyone was completely in love with him. And I saw it at a Wednesday matinee full of tourists. They’ve all seen Sean in Will & Grace, and they loved him and believed in his relationship with Kristin. It worked.
And to attack, to quote Ugly Betty, someone [like Groff] recently ‘hatched from the gay egg’ is unconscionable and he should strung be [up]. [Groff] made everyone want him in Spring Awakening. And Cheyenne was f*cking Elvis in All Shook Up. He was sexy and hot. He’s always playing straight. And people buy tickets to see him. No straight critics accuse Sean Penn of not being able to play Harvey Milk or [criticize] Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.

See, it isn’t about the actor, it’s about the audience. Setoodeh points out Sean Hayes as his example to prove his theory, but Hayes spent years playing a gay man on television, and then recently came out in The Advocate. I think the audience can’t separate Sean Hayes’ homosexuality from Sean Hayes’ performance in Promises, Promises. And until we have an audience that understands that its acting, we’ll çontinue have this discussion.

But to denounce Setoodeh, I think is a bit ridiculous. Sure, he got off the mark by making the article about Hayes–and also dragging in recently out actor Jonathan Groff, who’s now appearing as a straight boy on Glee. That’s the wrong approach. Discuss why audiences may, or may not accept a gay man playing straight, don’t make a blanket judgement against all gay actors being unable to play straight.
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6 Comments

Filed under Actors, Cheyenne Jackson, Closeted Gay, Gay, Michael Urie, Ramin Setoodeh, Sean Hayes, Uncategorized

6 responses to “>Can Gay Actors Play Straight?

  1. >Sean Hayes was nominated for a Tony for his performance in "Promises, Promises". I think that's enough proof for Ramin Setoodeh.

  2. >Sean was just so perfect as Jack in "Will & Grace" that it is hard to see him playing anything but that. However, I think there are a lot of gay actors playing straight that have been VERY sucessful…Rock Hudson, Robert Reed, John Barrowman & Neil Patrick Harris on "How I met your mother"…just to name a few

  3. >Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and George Clooney, are all convincing when they play straight characters. Oh wait, we're talking about out actors. My bad.

  4. >I find this all so insane. He sees one performance by Hayes, and makes a sweeping judgment. He sees an episode of Glee, and passes judgment on Groff, who was spectacular in Spring Awakening, playing Lea Michele's boyfriend. Sure, some people hear a person is gay and can't think of anything but their sex life – they are in the wrong, not the performer. I find it easier to believe Hayes as a str8 man than Tom Cruise as a sane one…

  5. >I think because we know they're gay we can't see them straight?

  6. Dan

    >can we stop the insanity sometime soon please? Wonder has a great point!

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