The 25 Hollywood stars who went gay for pay

Will Smith smiling in a lilac shirt and black jacket

Films are an important voice for a lot of LGBT people as they offer vital representation in society. Actors do an important job of starring as our favourite characters in films.

However, very few LGBT roles are filled by openly LGBT actors. Actors who are open about their sexuality are struggling to carve a successful career path for themselves – a fact that is not helped by their heterosexual counterparts filling up roles that some might argue should be reserved for them.

PinkNews has compiled all a list of all the Hollywood stars who have gone “gay for pay” on the big screen.

1. Marlon Brando in “Reflections in a Golden Eye”

American actor Marlon Brando on the set of Waterfront, directed by Elia Kazan.
Marlon Brandon played a sexually repressed solider in 1967’s Reflections in a Golden Eye. (Getty)

Marlon Brando plays a married soldier on an Army base in the 1940’s who’s homosexuality is repressed. Brando was the fourth choice for the role after the original actor Montgomery Clift died. Richard Burton and Lee Marvin turned the role down before it was offered to the Oscar-winning actor.

2. Hugh Grant in “Maurice”

Close-up of British actor Hugh Grant (in costume as Clive Durham) during the filming of 'Maurice' (directed by James Ivory), London, England, December 1986.
Hugh Grant played gay Cambridge student Clive Durham in 1987’s Maurice. (Mikki Ansin/Getty)

Grant plays the wealthy Clive Durham who confesses that he is sexually attracted to Maurice, who eventually returns Durham’s feelings.

3. James Wilby in “Maurice”

James Wilby acts as Maurice Hall in the film 'Maurice' (directed by James Ivory) in London, December 1986.
James Wilby played the titular character in 1987’s Maurice. (Mikki Ansin/Getty)

4. Meryl Streep in “The Hours”

Meryl Streep arrives for the UK film premiere of 'Florence Foster Jenkins' at Odeon Leicester Square on April 12, 2016 in London, England.
Meryl Streep played a lesbian woman in 2002’s The Hours. (Getty)

Streep stars in the early 2000’s film as a lesbian, Clarissa Vaughan. Vaughan is the title character of the novel which the film is based off. We see her caring for a close friend with AIDS and planning a part for him in his last days.

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5. River Phoenix in “My Own Private Idaho”

Actor River Phoenix (1970 - 1993), star of "Stand By Me," playfully poses during a 1988 Los Angeles, California, photo portrait session. Phoenix, a rising young film star, tragically died in 1993 outside a Sunset Strip nightclub of a drug overdose.
The late River Phoenix played a gay hustler in 1991’s My Own Private Idaho (George Rose/Getty)

Phoenix appears as gay hustler Mike Waters, who suffers from narcolepsy in the loose adaption of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV”. Phoenix’s character travels across the US from Oregon to Idaho in the search for his estranged mother.

6. Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia”

Tom Hanks in a black jacket and scarf at the premiere of Philadelphia
Tom Hanks at the premiere of Philadelphia. (Getty/Ron Galella)

Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “Philadelphia” as Andrew Beckett, a closeted gay lawyer who contracts AIDS.

7. Antonio Banderas in “Philadelphia”

Tom Hanks feeds a baby while Antonio Banderas watches in a scene from the film 'Philadelphia', 1994.
Antonio Banderas (left) with Tom Hanks in 1994’s Philadelphia. (TriStar/Getty Images)

Banderas plays Miguel Álvarez, Hank’s partner, in “Philadelphia”. It was one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to acknowledge HIV and AIDS and the impact it had on homophobia and the LGBT community.

8. Cher in “Silkwood”

American actors Cher and Val Kilmer arrive at the 56th Academy Awards, where Cher is nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Silkwood.
Cher right, pictured with Val Kilmer) was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in 1983’s Silkwood. (Bill Nation/Sygma via Getty)

Cher plays the lesbian character Dolly Pelliker in Silkwood, a film about the life of Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep). The film marks a turning point in the LGBT icon’s career as one of the more “serious” films she did.

9. Will Smith in “Six Degrees of Separation”

Will Smith smiling in a lilac shirt and black jacket
Will Smith played gay con artist Paul in 1993’s Six Degrees of Separation. (Getty)

In this 1993 comedy-drama, Smith plays Paul, a gay con-artist who works his way around the Upper East Side with his charming charisma.

10. Robin Williams in “The Birdcage”

Robin Williams in The birdcage by Mike Nichols
Robin Williams in 1996 film The Birdcage. (Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty)

Williams plays the openly gay owner of a South Beach drag club, Armand Goldman. In the comedy, Williams has to play it straight when his son’s future in-laws come to visit.

11. Dame Judi Dench in “Notes on a Scandal”

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 27: Dame Judi Dench during the unveiling of a new plaque commemorating her friend and fellow actor Sir John Gielgud on Cowley Street in Westminster on April 27, 2017 in London, United Kingdom.
Judi Dench played a schoolteacher with a homoerotic obsession in 2006’s Notes on a Scandal. (John Phillips/Getty)

Dench plays history teacher Barbara Covett in the 2006 psychological thriller Notes on a Scandal. It follows Dench as she begins to have feelings for the new art teacher, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett).

12. Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry”

Hilary Swank accepts the Oscar for Best Actress at the 72nd Academy Awards
Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her portrayal of trans man Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty)

Swank plays a young trans man, Brandon Teena, who has an intimate relationship with Lana Tisdel (played by Chloë Sevigny) before being savagely murdered by two prison convicts who he meets after being detained on old charges.

13. Jake Gyllenhaal in “Brokeback Mountain”

A still from the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain showing actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger dressed in their cowboy outfits with Ledger standing close to Gyllenhaal with his arm around him
Brokeback Mountain was groundbreaking for its depiction of a gay relationship in a mainstream Hollywood film. (Screengrab/River Road Entertainment/Focus Features)

Gyllenhaal plays Jack Twist, a rodeo cowboy who makes a pass at Ennis after a night of heavy drinking and the two develop a sexual and emotional relationship quickly.

14. Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain”

Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain
Jake Gyllenhaal starred in Brokeback Mountain with the late Heath Ledger. (Focus Features)

Ledger plays Ennis, a ranch hand. After the pair part ways, they both marry women. After four years, the couple reunites but can never fully be happy together in the gripping romantic drama.

15. Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote”

Philip Seymour Hoffman, winner of award for Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for ?Capote? at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California
Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar for his portryal of gay writer Truman Capote in 2005’s Capote. (Michael Caulfield/WireImage/Getty)

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays gay author Truman Capote in the biographical film about his time writing the book ‘Cold Blood’. Capote becomes attached to two convicts who have been charged with killing the Clutter Family. While Capote develops a bond with convict Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) he grows further away from his own life at home.

16. James Franco in “Milk”

Actor James Franco poses with the Best Supporting Male award for "MILK" at the 24th Annual Film Independent's Spirit Awards held at Santa Monica Beach on February 21, 2009 in Santa Monica, California.
James Franco delivered an award-winning turn as a gay activist in 2008’s Milk. (Jason Merritt/Getty)

Franco plays Scott Smith, Harvey Milk’s lover. Smith inspires Milk to move to San Francisco in hope of finding a community that accept their relationship.

17. Sean Penn in “Milk”

Sean Penn as Harvey Milk
Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. (Focus Features)

Sean Penn plays the lead character Harvey Milk in this film. The biographical film is about the life of the gay rights activist and politician.

18. Charlize Theron in “Monster”

Charlize Theron, winner for Best Actress for "Monster"
Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster. (Getty)

Charlize Theron plays the role of Aileen Wuornos, a real-life prostitute who was executed in 2002 for killing six men. Theron received critical acclaim and won seventeen awards for her portrayal, including the Academy Award for Best Actress, Golden Globe Award for Best Actress and the Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress.

19. Christina Ricci in “Monster”

Christina Ricci attends the 75th Directors Guild of America Awards at The Beverly Hilton on February 18, 2023 in Beverly Hills, California.
Christina Ricci starred opposite Charlize Theron in 2003’s Monster. (Getty)

Christina Ricci plays Selby Wall, the girlfriend of Aileen Wuornos. The book which the film is adapted from is written by Tyria Moore (the real life girlfriend of Wuornos who the character Selby Wall is based upon).

20. Jim Carrey in “I love You Phillip Morris”

Ewan McGregor played gay convict Phillip Morris in 2009’s I Love You Phillip Morris. (Keith Tsuji/Getty)

Jim Carrey plays Steven Jay Russell in the comedy-drama film about the prison escapee and con artist. In prison, Russell falls in love with fellow inmate Phillip Morris.

21. Ewan McGregor in “I love You Phillip Morris”

Ewan McGregor, who is featured on a list of the 10 biggest penises in hollywood
Ewan McGregor played gay convict Phillip Morris in 2009’s I Love You Phillip Morris. (Keith Tsuji/Getty)

Ewan McGregor plays Phillip Morris in the film. The pair shares a rollercoaster love story about prison breaks, forgiveness and ill health.

22. Whoopi Goldberg in “Boys On The Side”

Whoopi Goldberg in round glasses and a black top
Whoopi Goldberg has been suspended from The View (Getty/Paul Bruinooge)

Whoopi Goldberg plays a lesbian lounge singer, Jane, on a road trip with Holly (Drew Barrymore) and Robin (Mary-Louise Parker). Jane is in search of a new life after breaking up with her girlfriend and getting fired.

23. Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”

Benedict Cumberbatch on the red carpet
Benedict Cumberbatch. (Rich Fury/Getty Images)

Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing in the loose biographical film about the gay mathematician who deciphered the enigma code during the war.

24. Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl”

Eddie Redmayne looks to the side on the red carpet
Eddie Redmayne. (Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Redmayne plays trans landscape artist Einar Wegener in this mid-1920s Copenhagen-based film. The actor’s character is based on Lili Elbe, a Danish painter who is one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery.

25. Julianne Moore in “The Kids Are Alright”

Julianne Moore attends the "The Kids Are All Right" premiere during The 5th International Rome Film Festival at Auditorium Parco Della Musica on November 1, 2010 in Rome, Italy.
Julianne Moore played a lesbian parent in 2009’s The Kids Are Alright. (Elisabetta A. Villa/WireImage/Getty)

Julianne Moore plays Jules, a lesbian woman married to Nic (Annette Bening). Jules has an affair with the sperm donor of the couple’s kids, Paul.

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