Gentleman Jack star Suranne Jones wades into debate on straight actors playing gay roles

Suranne Jones appears in 19th century garb as she plays lesbian historical figure Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack

Gentleman Jack star Suranne Jones has shared her thoughts on the simmering debate in Hollywood around whether straight actors should be cast in LGBTQ+ roles. 

There’s no shortage of celebrities playing queer characters in TV and film. This includes Jones playing Anne Lister, a 19th-century English landowner and industrialist who penned diaries about her lifetime of lesbian relationships, in the BBC historical drama Gentleman Jack

Fans and stars alike have increasing questioned who should be tapped to play LGBTQ+ roles, and some big names – like Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies – feel only queer actors have the authenticity and experience to bring these characters to life. 

But Jones said she doesn’t agree with such sentiment in an expansive interview about her life and career with the Times

“I don’t agree with that, having done Vigil and Gentleman Jack,” Jones said. 

She explained that she responds intuitively to job actors and was able to know right away whether she could bring something to a role. 

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“I don’t look at it in any other way,” Suranne Jones added. “Maybe I’ve not had the right training. I don’t know. I’m totally instinctive like that.”

In 2021, Davies said he cast queer actors because he wants “authentic” LGBTQ+ representation in his shows. 

Paddington and James Bond star Ben Whishaw said that sometimes he simply “does not believe” straight actors who play LGBTQ+ roles.

Gentleman Jack star Suranne Jones wears a black dress as she stands outside for an event
Suranne Jones says she’s been welcomed as an LGBTQ+ ‘ally’ for her roles as queer characters. (Getty)

Suranne Jones described receiving lovely support for playing queer women, particularly for her role in Gentleman Jack, and said she’s been welcomed as an LGBTQ+ “ally”. 

“From the early fan art to people writing to me with their stories of coming out or awful stories of hate crime, and then joyful stories of having Gentleman Jack to be able to show their families as part of their coming out story,” Jones said. 

“Or to just know that women have been gay for so much longer than we thought they had. Because history has wiped a lot of those stories out.”

Jones previously told PinkNews that Gentleman Jack is “important culturally” as she saw troubling similarities between the world in the show and the pushback on LGBTQ+ rights in modern-day Britain. 

The episode aired in 2019, just days after an incident on a London bus in which a lesbian couple was assaulted for refusing to kiss in front of a group of men.

Jones remembered seeing the pictures of the couple after the attack and feeling like society has “come so far with many things” but the attack showed that “if we don’t keep up the conversation, we will step back”. 

“I think that’s why this show, it’s entertainment, it’s brilliant, it’s wonderful, it’s beautiful, it’s romantic, but it’s important culturally as well,” she said.