So Neil Patrick Harris, a.k.a. Doogie Howser, came out last Friday after Canada.com reported that Harris had tried to secure a role for supposed boyfriend David Burtka on Harris’s current CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. (And also after Contactmusic.com then claimed his publicist issued a statement claiming Harris “was not of that persuasion.”)
It’s no deep dark secret that gay actors fear the negative repercussions coming out publicly could have on their careers. During an acceptance speech at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, openly gay thespian Sir Ian McKellen spoke frankly about discrimination in a conservative Hollywood: “It is very, very, very difficult for an American actor who wants a film career to be open about his sexuality. And even more difficult for a woman if she’s a lesbian.” Then there is Rupert Everett, who revealed he was once called a pervert by a studio exec, who turned him down for a role opposite Sharon Stone. Everett—who, let’s be honest, was made to play Bond—believes by coming out he lost the opportunity to play action roles in American films. “Half the film theatre owners in America are right-wing Christians,” said Everett.
Eye talked about this with Michael Jensen of AfterElton.com, a LOGO-owned website that looks at gay and bisexual men’s visibility in the entertainment world.
How will this affect Harris’s career?
My personal suspicion is it won’t affect his role on that show. In fact I think that more people will tune in to see him. He is a character actor, so this isn’t the thing everyone’s been waiting for, the leading box office man to come out. What’s really notable about Neil Patrick is that unlike Richard Chamberlain or Tab Hunter, this is a 33-year-old man in the middle of his career who’s managed to do something like reinvent himself as a child star and do that successfully, and now reinvent himself as an openly gay man, ready to play any role. What’s interesting for him and T.R. Knight of Grey’s Anatomy is that they’re established in these roles on hit shows, and really, what can anybody do at this point? It’s not like they’re going to suddenly write the characters out. We’re at a stage in society where the blatant homophobia would engender such a backlash that even if the networks were predisposed to do it it would hurt them more than help them.
We’re still not to the point where these openly gay actors are cast as these roles, but they’re coming out as these roles. [Jensen believes this will make studios rethink the possibility of casting gay men in heterosexual roles, that Harris’s and Knight’s success will set a precedent that it can be done.] Coming on the heels of Knight playing a heterosexual role, bam now we have another heterosexual role. For so long, gay men had to play a gay role or heterosexual in name only, like they were rarely involved with a woman.
Rupert Everett mentioned however that this cut him off from playing action-hero roles.
There’s truth to that, there’s definitely a bias in Hollywood.
Who’s at fault? The theater owners? Studio execs?
It’s just a knotty complicated problem. All of those have a part to play. Ian Mckellen himself said in his opinion, it’s as much the actors as anyone else. They’re afraid what might happen.
Is it true that it’s even harder for lesbians?
It’s much harder for women. That just follows the basic dictum: who has the power. Gay men have more inroads in Hollywood; I think you find more gay men of positions in power in Hollywood than lesbians. A lesbian friend of Ian McKellen’s said, ‘Don’t ask me to come out as a lesbian. I’m already a woman in Hollywood.’