Is ’Out’ Out in Hollywood?
In an interview with Ricky Martin in 2000, Barbara Walters pressed the singer to address rumors swirling around his sexuality. Martin politely dodged the question and his star power dwindled over the years. Earlier this year Walters said that it was the only question during her entire career she regretted asking. Then last month the singer, a proud father of two twin boys, released a statement on his website revealing, "I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man."
Martin is only one of a number of gay celebrities to come out publicly in recent years including Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert, and Neil Patrick Harris, which has immediately catapulted them into the eye of a media storm. While Hollywood continues to break down barriers with television shows like Modern Family and movies like Milk-why does it continue to be so difficult for celebrities to come out of the closet? Furthermore, what effect does being openly gay have in today’s entertainment industry?
It’s been almost 15 years since Ellen DeGeneres came out on her hit sitcom Ellen making her the first gay lead character of a network show. She has since become one of the most recognizable faces on television with her popular talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show and as a judge on international sensation American Idol. While stepping out of the closet only seemed to bolster DeGeneres’s career and ratings, other celebrities have lamented that their career suffered irrevocable repercussions. Rupert Everett, co-star in My Best Friend’s Wedding, said that coming out early ruined his career as a Hollywood actor and advised other young actors to stay in the closet if they want to succeed in the business.
"It’s not that advisable to be honest," Everett said last year in an interview with U.K.’s Guardian last December. "It’s not very easy. And, honestly, I would not advise any actor necessarily, if he was really thinking of his career, to come out. The fact is that you could not be, and still cannot be, a 25-year-old homosexual trying to make it in the British film business or the American film business or even the Italian film business."
Neil Patrick Harris, star of hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother, disagrees. Harris shot to fame at age 16 for playing a teen-prodigy on Doogie Howser M.D. and spent his twenties starring in musicals and appearing in films. When rumors started circulating that the star was a closeted gay man, Harris quelled the reports in an interview with People magazine saying that he is an openly "content gay man." Addressing the rumors seems to have had no impact on the actor’s career, and in a recent interview with the hosts of The View he questioned Everett’s statements on coming out.
"With all due respect to Rupert, you can blame a lack of advancement in your career on all kinds of things, for a myriad of reasons, so I don’t think he can specifically pinpoint one reason why something might be stalling for him," Harris said. "But I was proud to know that he was who he was."
No effect on homophobia?
Yet, Everett isn’t the only person in Hollywood that believes actors should stay mum on their sexuality. During a panel held at Outfest in Los Angeles last July, Don Roos, openly gay director of Happy Endings and The Opposite of Sex, said that he does not believe it is in an actor’s best interest to come out to the press. He added that he favored actors who did not reveal their sexuality because he "prefer[s] more mystery," and that he believes celebrities coming out of the closet will not have any effect on homophobia.
Darian Aaron, editor of award winning blog Living Out Loud with Darian and contributor to Project Q Atlanta and GBM News, told EDGE that Roos’s comments discredits the intelligence of the audience.
"I believe Don is indirectly insulting the intelligence of moviegoers who are more than capable of separating the off screen persona from the actor who is playing a character on screen," Aaron said. "A brilliant actor will always be able to transcend his off screen reality and lose himself in the character thereby causing the audience to emotionally invest in the character and not the sexuality of the actor."
Yet, Aaron acknowledges that there are real pressures on actors and actresses to maintain a level of ambiguity in the public eye.
"Despite the rapid progress and greater acceptance gays and lesbians have achieved over the past twenty years we still live in a homophobic society and the entertainment industry is a microcosm of the anti-gay sentiment that is found in the larger society," Aaron told EDGE. "The fear of losing one’s livelihood or being disowned by friends and family after coming out has been ingrained in our DNA. While an actor can hope that his artistic contributions will continue to be valued and judged based on merit without his sexuality being a factor, the reality is there’s a real possibility that a once promising career will either stall or fizzle completely once the truth is disclosed."
Aaron believes that many openly gay actors fall into the inescapable trap of typecasting. However, he cited Wilson Cruz, who played openly teen Ricky Vasquez on My So-Called Life, as an openly gay actor who has taken conventional typecasting to his advantage. Cruz has played a number of diverse and multidimensional gay characters on successful television shows including Noah’s Arc, Pushing Daisies, and The West Wing. Aaron stressed the importance of celebrities to be honest about their sexuality for the greater good, regardless of the barriers that may confront them.
"We live in a culture that glorifies celebrities and when they talk people listen," he said. "It’s been proven that those who know gay and lesbian people are more likely to support the fight for equal rights. Millions of people who watch Ellen DeGeneres on a daily basis and who may never have come in contact with an out lesbian now know one. They’re realizing while her bank account may be massive, she is not much different than the average woman who wants to live in a world where she is able to thrive professionally and personally. Sexual orientation doesn’t change that basic desire."
Gerald McCullouch’s story
Openly gay actor Gerald McCullouch’s resume is as diverse as his acting range. Most commonly known as firearm technician Bobby Dawson on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, McCullouch has also appeared on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Navy NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service, 7th Heaven, and Melrose Place. In addition, McCullouch stars in a number of upcoming independent films including BearCity and The Mikado Project. McCullouch told EDGE that vacillating between straight and gay characters makes his experience as an actor more enjoyable.
"For me, it’s my job as an actor to pretend to be different people," he said. "Obviously, there’s shared experiences and insights with the gay characters I have the opportunity to play but that doesn’t hinder my imaginative capacity to pretend to be a person of heterosexual orientation at all. And my job wouldn’t be nearly as fun if I was only regulated to playing one type of person."
McCullouch recently shot an episode for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit where he played a father whose daughter is found raped and murdered.
"It was a very emotional scene and was one of my favorite and richest acting experiences to date," he told EDGE. "Why would I want to close myself off from such an opportunity? Concurrently, I was appearing in an off-Broadway play called Daddy, which I received excellent reviews for as did the play itself. It was a gay-themed story about two middle-aged men being forced to examine their relationship when a much younger man steals the heart of one of the friends. Being gay, I felt I was able to tap into that role with a depth I couldn’t have reached if I wasn’t gay. Both jobs were extremely fulfilling and beautiful experiences. I don’t understand why my sexual orientation should affect my opportunities to play such diverse roles."
In 2003, in the fourth season of his role as Bobby Dawson on CSI, McCullouch’s personal life eclipsed his professional life. At the time, McCullouch was promoting a gay independent film he directed, The Moment After, and his character’s sexuality on CSI came into question during interviews. In turn, McCullouch filmed a scene for the episode Grissom Versus the Volcano, in which his character is revealed to be a gay man in a committed relationship with two children. Yet, the scene ended up getting cut on the editing table because "the writers and producers weren’t sure if it was accurate for the ballistics specialist to be homosexual."
"I got very excited about the possibility of being the only gay character on the show; however I am just as passionate about being an openly gay actor playing a high profile straight role so I was fairly indifferent with the outcome," McCullouch said. "In the end, I wish it would’ve remained in the episode. I think having a masculine gay character that is the gun specialist on one of the top shows in the world would’ve been a strong role model-and consequently broken a barrage of stereotypes."
While McCullouch successfully balances his career as a straight character on network television and an openly gay character in independent film, he admits that he has been faced with the barriers of being honest with his sexuality from the beginning.
"I have been fortunate enough to work consistently throughout my career, mostly on low profile jobs, so being out was never a factor for me," he told EDGE. "I’m a rather brazen individual and to hide who I am doesn’t interest me. I know of many jobs I wasn’t able to audition for or be seen for because of my sexual orientation. Sadly, many of the people who said ’no’ were gay themselves-gay producers, directors, and casting directors who don’t think openly gay actors can play anything but themselves so there is some truth to [Everett’s] statement. Things are changing daily though. Personally, I am where I am and have no idea what life would’ve been like had I made different decisions."
It all comes down to money
Jim Halterman, founder and editor of JimHalterman.com and a frequent EDGE contributor, spends his days conducting interviews with celebrities like dancer Louis Van Amstel of Dancing with the Stars and comedian Chelsea Handler of Chelsea Lately. He got an inside look at the entertainment industry early on in his career as an Executive Assistant at Sony Pictures Television, and later as a writer for Beverly Hills 90210. Halterman believes that Everett’s lack of success stems from poor choices in his career and not from his sexuality.
"It could just as easily be said that his subsequent film choices hurt his once blossoming career way more than any gay awareness by his fans," he told EDGE. "His movie with Madonna, The Next Best Thing, was dreadful and even though he played an openly gay man in that film, fans knowing he was gay probably had little to do with that film’s failure-it just wasn’t a good movie. And while Everett has worked steadily, I don’t know that his coming out hurt his career."
As an insider in the entertainment industry, Halterman believes it is often an actor’s own fear and self doubt that sways them from coming out of the closet. While he said that it would be naïve to think that homophobia doesn’t exist in Hollywood, he stressed that an actor’s fear should never be the driving force behind whether or not they decide to disclose their sexuality. He added that Harris’s role as a womanizer on How I Met Your Mother is evidence that typecasting of gay actors is beginning to dwindle.
"I think fear is the biggest motivator and that fear takes over any decisions about whether a performer should be honest about who they are or not," Halterman told EDGE. "There’s one actor in television who was openly gay and relatively unknown until his new show became a hit out of the gate. Suddenly all mention of his gay life disappeared from the internet and it’s never discussed for fear it will tarnish his rising star. While I thought it was probably the show’s decision, I later found out through a close source that it was the actor’s choice to quiet his personal life from the press. Was that to create a mystery for the actor? Hardly. It’s just plain old fear."
After Martin announced his homosexuality after a decade of speculation, the news spread like wildfire on the internet and many celebrity gossip blogs quickly congratulated the singer for his fearlessness. But Sean Bugg, co-publisher of Washington D.C. based Metro Weekly, told EDGE that Martin’s reveal did little to excite him.
"Like a number of celebrities [Martin] denies, and denies, and denies with the question over their sexuality," he said. "But then when they get to a certain part of their career-when their coming down from the zenith of their popularity and they want to get back-they come out with it. I understand that some people greet coming out with accolades, but personally I was out at 19. I know people in my field that have come out only under dire circumstances and have paid the price for being out in terms of their career. It’s harder for me when someone makes millions of dollars staying in the closet and then comes popping out a couple of decades later and kind of expects it to be a brave act."
In an article Bugg contributed to Metro Weekly, he clarified that Martin’s coming out most likely had a larger impact on the Latin American LGBT communities than it did on his own. Yet, he finds Harris’s approach more instructive on how gay celebrities should handle coming out in Hollywood.
"[Harris’s] coming out was a very different kind of situation because it wasn’t done in some sort of way where it felt calculated for him to gain something," Bugg told EDGE. "That he actually came out and corrected a factual error that is a type of factual error that’s just day-to-day public relations in Hollywood. I actually had a lot more respect for that just because of how he handled it. Obviously his career has kind of blossomed since then but is that because he came out or is it because he was so damn funny in Harold and Kumar?" (Harris plays an
In his career, Bugg has interviewed numerous gay icons including Pam Grier, Kit Porter on Showtime’s The L Word and star of cult film Foxy Brown, and Lynda Carter, star of the classic television series Wonder Woman. Bugg told EDGE that the barriers gay celebrities face in Hollywood are upheld by producers driven by profit.
"It all comes down to money," he said. "It either comes down to money on part of the producers or other people within whatever artistic business you’re looking at. Let’s say you’re looking at film-you have a lot of people who are in control of studios and casting who believe gay male actors aren’t as believable when they play heterosexual characters. Yet, it seems to go the other way-heterosexuals can play gay but not the opposite. That’s because they think they will lose money if some of these people come out. And then the actors themselves feel that they’ll lose their livelihoods and careers if they come out."
Goldman :: Everett has a point
Openly gay actress, comedian, and director, Julie Goldman has always been open about her sexuality throughout her career and hopes that others will follow suit. While Goldman admits that she’s lost roles for her sexuality and gender expression, she told EDGE that she’d rather be herself and get roles that fit her identity than cave to media standards. Similar to Bugg, she thought Martin’s coming out was too late to warrant accolades.
"For me, [Martin] coming out was not a brave act-it was annoying," Goldman told EDGE. "First of all, we all knew, second it’s not going to hurt you in any way. I want to see someone out from the beginning v and see what happens. Because I think it is detrimental-it does hurt you. Everyone I know that’s gay that does comedy or is an out actor from the beginning-they’re not famous, they’re not rich-they’re struggling. But you need to make a decision-do you want to be free? What’s your priority?"
Appearing on Logo’s Big Gay Sketch Show and HBO’s The Sopranos, Goldman balances a career between major cable television shows and smaller independent productions. Yet, unlike McCullouch, Goldman’s sexuality has been revealed in both and she believes that is more of the production team’s decision than her own. Her experiences have led her to believe that an actor can be openly gay and successful in Hollywood, but only if their gender expression doesn’t raise eyebrows at casting calls.
"I think [Everett] has a point," Goldman said. "I think that there’s disdain for homosexuality in this culture and in show business even though it’s run by gays. You need to be able to at least look like you could be straight and if you can look like that then you can still get work, like Portia DeRossi does. But if you can’t pass then you’re screwed."
Along with her writing partner Brandy Howard, Goldman has developed a webseries, Julie & Brandy: In Your Box Office, to raise funds for her newest film Nicest Thing. She told EDGE that the film is unlike any other gay independent film, because it is a romantic comedy that focuses on relationships and laughter as opposed to the drama that comes with being gay. Goldman’s goal in filmmaking is to try to put a voice to the characters of the LGBT community that have yet to be heard.
"Straight people enjoy the gayness we’ve given them over the years," she said. "I think what they can’t deal with right now is real peoples’ lives, not the stereotypes. Those stereotypes that we’ve fell into and that we’ve enabled and continue to project over and over again. I believe that is what the media has come to accept and support. I think that’s where we’re at now, trying to break through that. I wish that there were more diverse role models for LGBT kids. I would love to see more butch women and effeminate men and a broader rainbow of what gender can be rather than just the just the stereotypes that we’re given. It’s so tired."
While the examples of overwhelmingly successful openly gay entertainers remains meek, Goldman and McCullouch show that an entertainer can certainly make a living in the industry on their own terms. Goldman advices other openly gay entertainers trying to break into the industry to always stay true to themselves and set the bar high.
"Stay determined," Goldman told EDGE. "Keep your confidence up. Turn to the people that you love and trust. Don’t listen to what anybody tells you. Be fearless. Just do what you want to do-nobody has the right answer. If anybody tells you they know that if you do this or you do that this is what is going to happen-they’re lying. Nobody has the answer. You just have to do what you have to do."