Charlie Condou has never had a problem being frank about his sexuality, and suggests other actors do the same.
For Rupert Everett it was clear cut. Coming out ruined his career. And if an Equity survey published this week is anything to go by, many actors feel the same.
According to the survey, only 57% of gay actors feel they can be open about their sexuality to their agents. “A previous agent of mine once told me to keep quiet about my sexuality and, though I am out, I do not broadcast it,” said one.
I can’t relate at all. For my entire career I’ve never had a problem being frank about my sexuality, never felt I’ve been turned down for a role on the basis of being gay, and have only played three gay characters in a career that spans 20 years.
The idea that keeping your sexuality a secret will win you better and more varied roles is a lame excuse—often the result of internalised homophobia rather than reality. The industry has moved on and it’s time actors did as well.
Some of Hollywood’s most bankable actors are openly gay. Ian McKellen, for example, starring in some of the highest grossing franchises in cinematic history such as Lord of the Rings and X-Men, had his most commercially successful period as an actor after he came out in 1988.
Look at how the career of Russell Tovey, openly gay from the start and one of this country’s brightest young prospects, has blossomed. And my co-star on Coronation Street, Jeremy Sheffield, is still very much the housewives’ choice and leading-man material—he’s been out since he started. So why all the fuss?
I’ve witnessed it first hand. Years ago I had a brief relationship with an actor who told me he’d never actually lied about his sexuality, more that he just avoided talking about it. Later on I heard him on the radio discussing a fictional girlfriend and how one day he’d like to have children with her. It was painful, and he was mortified after. But now he’s in Hollywood working on a huge film. Personally, I doubt whether being frank about who he really was would have changed that.
Playing a part
But for me, this is the point. For those who say that holding it in will do wonders for their career, I ask: what’s more important, your career or your life? Isn’t it more important to be comfortable with who you really are and to be in a place where you’re accepted for that? I’m strongly against the practice of outing people in the public eye—anyone’s sexuality is still completely private and personal—but the more actors who are able to express themselves with confidence, surely the less of a big deal it becomes?
And to those who say that it’s obvious when a gay man is playing straight, as certain critics have done in the past, I’d say there are many times I watch actors on screen and am not convinced, and this has nothing to do with their sexual predilections. The strength of a performance lies not in your sexuality, but in your talent. That is something that will never change.—