Darren Criss says he’s been ‘s**t on’ for wading into straight actors playing gay roles debate

Glee star Darren Criss has addressed his experiences playing gay characters, and the ongoing debate on straight actors in queer roles.

Criss got his breakthrough playing the gay student Blaine Anderson on Glee. He joined the musical series in its second season as a love interest for character Kurt Hummel, played by Chris Colfer.

In an interview with The Independent, Criss opened up about the impact the character had on LGBT+ fans.

“I have a lot of queer folks that come up to me, particularly older folks, that will say how much that relationship meant to them,” he said.

“They’ll say, ‘When I was growing up, I didn’t really ever get to see that on TV’… and then I always remind them, neither did I… As a cis straight man, I also didn’t see that.

“And while I have not grown up as a queer person, I’m a lifetime subscriber, man. I’m a season ticket holder to the queer experience. I grew up in San Francisco in the 90s; these are people that raised my cultural awareness… [so] also it means a lot to me.”

As a straight actor who has played numerous other LGBT+ roles, including in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Criss has received his fare share of criticism.

When asked for his thoughts on the debate surrounding straight actors in queer roles, he told The Independent“This is a really tough one because, let’s just say, I’ve been s**t on. No matter what I say, I’m going to get into the same mess that I’ve always gotten in, which is me being what I believe is very fair and diplomatic, but nobody’s interested in that, because compassion is not currently in vogue. So I don’t know what to say.” 

“I’m making it sound like I have some controversial thing to say, which I don’t,” he added. “What I say is very normal.” 

Eventually, Criss said that he didn’t want to “shy away” from the topic, adding: “I think for any role that you’re up for, you want to know if you add value to it, right?

“…There are so many performances that are either straight roles given by queer actors or queer roles that are done by straight actors that are so beloved, that we just don’t talk about those. But if they’re done poorly, we get up in arms and we blame it on the fact that this person isn’t queer, this person isn’t straight, as opposed to maybe they just weren’t the right person for the job?”

The casting of straight, cisgender actors in queer roles continues to inspire debate.

Over the weekend, filmmaker Aaron Sorkin said that only casting queer actors in queer roles is an “empty gesture” and a “bad idea”.

He spoke amid criticism of his casting of Spanish actor Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, a Cuban actor, in Being the Ricardos.

TV’s Russell T Davies is among those who have extensively argued for casting authentically when it comes to LGBT+ characters.

Speaking to PinkNews for the release of his landmark drama It’s a Sin, he said: “I think if you’re casting someone, you want an actor who can portray falling in love, or being duplicitous or being evil, or being a drug runner or being a saint, or being ill, or being a bad son or a good son. That’s what they’re there to portray.

“They’re not there to act gay. Gay is not a performance. I don’t think gay is performative. I am not a bunch of performance codes. I really, really think now – I genuinely think – that casting gay as gay now is the right thing to do.”

One area where there is more agreement is in the casting of trans characters. It has become widely accepted that trans roles should be given to trans actors, with Eddie Redmayne, who played a woman in The Danish Girl, admitting it was a “mistake” for him to take the role.