Paul Mescal doesn’t hold back on question of whether straight actors should play gay roles

Irish actor and internet boyfriend Paul Mescal has hit out against depictions of queer characters that are “careless” while weighing in on the issue of whether straight actors should play gay roles.

The 27-year-old Normal People star made his feelings on the debate abundantly clear by saying that he believes whether straight actors could play queer characters or not is dependent on the storytelling.

In an interview with The Sunday Times on Sunday (14 January), Mescal, who is straight, said he felt his casting in the 2023 fantasty-romance drama All of Us Strangers, where he plays gay character Harry, was fine because the film and its cast were passionate about authenticity.

Based on Taichi Yamada’s 1987 novel, Strangers, the film explores the depth of experiences of loneliness, grief and love, as Adam (played by Andrew Scott) and neighbour Harry find solace in one another after a chance meeting in their hauntingly empty apartment block.

“The issue is that there have been so many queer performances in cinema that have been offensive, but that’s because the filmmakers and the actors have been careless,” Mescal said.

“I don’t think this film exists in that conversation whatsoever, and that’s it.”

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Paul Mescal (L) and Andrew Scott (R) in All of Us Strangers.
Paul Mescal (L) and Andrew Scott in All of Us Strangers. (Searchlight Pictures)

Mescal’s All of Us Strangers co-star Scott has taken a similar line on the issue, while warning against a “totalitarian regime”.

Scott, who is gay, explained in an interview last month: “As much as I feel like representation is important, so is transformation.

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“I don’t love the idea of being cast for something purely for my own sexuality – you’re not just playing ‘gay’, you’re playing the attributes of the character. I don’t want a totalitarian regime – we have to look at each individual story we’re telling and what’s right for that.”

Should straight actors play gay roles?

The debate around whether straight or cis actors should play LGBTQ+ roles has garnered varied responses from actors and industry professionals over the past few years.

Controversies including Eddie Redmayne’s performance in The Danish Girl, in which he plays trans painter Lili Elbe, have called into question whether actors who don’t identify with the marginalised groups they are portraying can perform them authentically.

There is also the question of whether, by accepting LGBTQ+ roles, cis, straight actors are taking opportunities away from queer and trans artists who already face marginalisation within the industry.

Some, such as Doctor Who showrunner, Russell T Davies, believe that gay actors should be cast in gay roles – a belief he has said he’s “absolutely sticking” to.

During a film festival discussion in October 2023, Davies said that, despite his belief that straight actors can play gay roles “brilliantly”, he believes there is a level of “authenticity” to getting the casting right.

The It’s a Sin writer and producer went on to explain said that he feels the need to keep advocating for the casting of LGBTQ+ actors it because “no one else is saying it”.

Ian McKellen speaks into a microphone at a red carpet event.
Ian McKellen has previously said he believes straight actors can play gay roles. (Getty)

Others, including Sir Ian McKellen, have said they believe there is “nothing wrong” with straight actors playing gay roles.

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McKellen defended straight actors playing LGBTQ+ roles in response to the backlash surrounding the Holocaust film Bent, which he said “educated the world”.

“The story is so important to me and to so many people in my generation and people who saw it,” the iconic theatre actor and Lord of the Rings star said.

Paul Mescal: Toxic masculinity has ‘ruined the world’

In his interview with the Sunday Times, Paul Mescal certainly didn’t hide the passion he feels for his role in All of Us Strangers, and described it as a story of men navigating how to be vulnerable.

“Time and time again, men are told vulnerability is a weakness and not what society requires of them, so it’s difficult to reach out for help,” the Aftersun star said.

When asked what he thinks about influencers like Andrew Tate, Mescal didn’t hold back, dubbing their popularity “so dangerous”.

“There’s a version of masculinity that is toxic and ruined the world for the longest time and will continue to do so unless it’s put in check,” he said. “Changing what it means to be a man isn’t an easy thing – there’s a lot of painful conversations to be had.”

All of Us Strangers arrives in UK cinemas on 26 January 2024.

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