Comment: Playing it Straight

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The recent popularity of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender genre as seen in award winning films such as Brokeback Mountain and Transamerica, has helped bring gay issues to the fore and raise the profile of many of the actors involved.’s Marc Shoffman asks why none of these stars are actually gay.

The acting industry has undergone a major facelift over the last three hundred years. Women are now allowed to play female parts, whilst black people can play themselves, instead of using “blacked up” white actors.

So why when it comes to gay parts are we expected to accept that Jake Gyllenhaal is a gay cowboy and Felicity Huffman is a transgender woman.

Meanwhile gay actor, John Barrowman lost a part on Will and Grace for being too gay. He blamed the rejection on “homophobic Hollywood.” So do you have to be gay to play a gay character?

In the same way a woman would have the best understanding of a female part, you would think a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person would surely be best equipped emotionally and physically for a gay role.

EastEnder’s Leslie Grantham had us glued to our TV screens gasping at the evils of Dirty Den for many years. Was his character more believable because he had in the past been convicted of murdering a taxi driver in Germany while in the army?

Real life must help an actor prepare for a part. But does that mean we should expect EastEnders to only cast East End gangsters for their criminal roles?

Some would argue a good actor can portray anything, indeed that is what award ceremonies are their to recognise and thespians such as Felicity Huffman receive just praise for their portrayals.

Laurence Olivier won an Oscar in 1966 for the lead role as a black man in Othello and played a Jew in the Merchant of Venice. Both convincing and applauded performances.

It isn’t as if gay people are being rejected from all parts, and that is where Mr Barrowman’s cries of “homophobic Hollywood” fall. Gay actors are seen in many top screen roles such as Ian Mckellen, who has played many straight roles can boast Oscar nominations and golden globe awards.

To insist that a gay role can only be played by a gay person would be like asking Charles Manson to play a serial killer, it would be believable but not necessarily the best performance.

It seems that as long as an actor is good enough he or she should be able to portray anyone or anything. And the fact that Brad Pitt wants the ultimate gay love story, and Catherine Zeta Jones is being tipped for a transgender role, is testament to a society opening up a bit more to gay issues.