Saturday, May 8, 2010

Getting It Straight

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a link to a piece published on Newsweek.com by an openly gay entertainment reporter that really pissed me off. It was a piece basically claiming that casting openly gay actors in heterosexual roles simply never works.

As a gay guy trying to make a living in Hollywood, this is, needless to say, is a subject that hits close to home. I’m generally not big on writing letters to the editor, but this particular piece inspired me. I shot off both a letter to the editor of Newsweek and an Op-Ed version to the L.A. Times. However, since I suspect that neither of them will see the light of day, I thought I’d use my modest internet platform to share my personal opinion with those who might be interested. Here is the link to the original article: http://www.newsweek.com/id/236999 And here is what I wrote in response:

Dear Newsweek Editor:

I recently read with great interest an article published in Newsweek’s online edition entitled “Straight Jacket: Heterosexual actors play gay all the time. Why doesn't it ever work in reverse?” by Ramin Setoodeh (an openly gay writer). In the article, Mr. Setoodeh expresses his opinion that openly Gay actors are simply not believable in “straight” roles, then goes on to grade the “believability” papers of actors Sean Hayes, Portia de Rossi, Neil Patrick Harris and “Glee’s” Jonathan Groff. Their scores were not good, but he did allow that some of them could pull off straight people as “broad caricatures” but not as “realistic characters like the ones in Up in the Air or even The Proposal.” Funny, I saw the “The Proposal” and I don’t remember there being any realistic characters in that film.

I kept asking myself, "Is this guy joking? Speaking as an openly out professional actor, I can assure you that there are a great many gay and lesbian actors who have spent pretty much their entire careers playing "straight." Trust me. If they weren't convincing, they wouldn't still be working. I also couldn’t help noticing that Mr. Setoodeh didn’t bother to express his opinion on the "believability" of say, Emmy winner, Cherry Jones ("24") or Academy Award nominee, Ian McKellen ("Lord of the Rings," "The X-Men"); two openly out actors who have rarely played "gay" characters, but have enjoyed long and extraordinarily distinguished careers. Does he find them convincing? How about Dan Butler as “Bulldog” the macho sports caster on “Frasier?” Did he buy Jane Lynch as Meryl Streep’s lonely straight sister in “Julie and Julia?” How about Lily Tomlin as the presumably heterosexual matriarch of the Tobin clan on this season's “Damages?”

Of course not every actor is right for every role. That's a given. But to add fuel to the ever-smoldering fires of Hollywood’s casting homophobia is sort of a small-minded pot shot, if you asked me. I have tremendous admiration for actors who come out. Everyone knows the risk. Everyone knows there will be people like Mr. Setoodeh who will not be able to resist calling you too "queeny" or too "butch" to be believable playing a straight person. That's all that's required to subtly shift the focus of nervous producers and casting people away from your actual abilities and onto your private life. I've seen it happen. "Let's keep looking" is code for "I really don't want any grief for this decision."

Believe it or not, most actors (straight or gay) come to our profession not because we want to be rich or famous, but because of a very real desire to experience, even for a short time, the lives of other people; people braver, smarter, sexier, richer, poorer, meaner, kinder or funnier than we will ever be. It a tough gig. Many are called, but few are chosen. And those who are chosen struggle to do their work well and stay employed in a highly competitive and very skittish industry. It would be nice, if those who write about the entertainment business had a little respect for those realities -- especially in these days and times when gay and lesbian actors often find themselves caught between staying employed or joining the urgent and historic fight that’s going on right now for the basic civil rights long denied to our community.

Sadly, there are still a few very well-established (and in some cases, quite famous) actors, musicians and even news anchors, who have not yet come out as being gay. And that’s their business. As much as I personally would appreciate their going public, opinion pieces like this one make it clear why they don't. I'm not sure why Newsweek would publish something like this since it seems to further no one's agenda except maybe Mr. Setoodeh’s, who I'm guessing wants to be considered a "cool gay”; someone who has the guts to point out the “elephant in the room” as he puts it. Personally, I think the “elephant” here is actually Mr. Setoodeh, whose tone seems to suggest he rather enjoys playing the role of long-awaited “truth-teller,” when in fact, his article comes off as little more than a thinly-veiled, juvenile attempt to embarrass some very accomplished and quite courageous people.

Sincerely,
David Dean Bottrell

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at
www.partsandlabor.tv

Twitter:
http://twitter.com/QuitcherBitchyn

4 comments:

SopranoAscending said...

I have issues with Newsweek's leanings, and this piece...it seems to be a cheap attempt at sensational attention. Print media is hurting, after all. It's just crap.

Your response is articulate, as always, and necessary. I hope
others respond as well.

I've often wondered about the contradiction of my own business in opera. I've "made-out" onstage with far more gay men than straight. It's just not an issue with performers or audience.
Then again,opera requires a huge suspension of belief in all ways.

As for films, television & theatre - I focus on the character. Is it naive to think most intelligent people do likewise? Oh, yeah. Newsweek & critical thinking is an oxymoron.

KarenH said...

I guess Olivier never should have played "Othello" because he wasn't really a "Moor" therefore the audience could never truly accept him in the role. Puhleeze!
I find that the times when I need to work hardest to suspend my own beliefs is when I am reading a critical "review." Maybe it's not the audience who has problems with openly gay actors playing straight roles.

Anonymous said...

http://tinyurl.com/22wfwja

Seems as though someone else has taken exception to the article, also.

reeter

Jim Berg said...

Nicely done.