Friday, 22 June 2018
The Challenges of Being a Gay Actor in 2018
When speaking to many of my straight colleagues there seems to be a misconception that things are great in the LGBTQ Community. After all we won marriage equality and there are numerous anti-discrimination laws that protect the rights of LGBTQ folk in Canada. However things are not all smiles and rainbows. In Hollywood there is still a double standard when it comes to casting.
For example, the new film Call Me By Your Name (2017) chronicles the romantic relationship between Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old living in Italy, and his father's American assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer). The film is a beautiful queer love story: It has received two Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Chalamet has been nominated for best actor for his brilliant portrayal of a young man’s sexual awakening. A film like this would never have been nominated 30 years ago and it shows how far society has grown. However, both Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer identify as straight. While I applaud both Chalamet and Hammer for their Performances and wish them the best in their careers this perfectly illustrates Hollywood’s double standard. When straight actors play gay roles they are usually applauded for their talent, skill and bravery. They win awards and opportunities start rolling in. Generally speaking the opposite is true for LGBTQ+ actors.
Often times LGBTQ+ actors wish to remain closeted or are strongly advised by their agents and managers to remain in the closet. A recent example of this is with Colton Hayes. He has stared in many projects including Teen Wolf, American Horror Story, and Arrow. In 2016 he was hospitalized for panic attacks. Shortly after receiving treatment for his anxiety disorder he came out as gay. He said in an interview that from the first day he arrived in Hollywood he was told “he could not be gay because he would never work”. So he was forced to bury his true self in order to pursue his acting career. Luckily for him at the time he came out he had a massive supportive fan base and many industry insiders rooting for him to succeed. Lower profile actors and those new to the industry do not always have that luxury.
Another example is Canadian actress Ellen Page her Hollywood career was gaining steam up until 2014 when she came out as a lesbian during the production of her film “Free Held”. Shortly after the number of projects offered to hear Dropped and of those projects offered to her all where Lesbian Characters in lower profile films. She was quoted as saying “There’s still that double standard… now I’m gay, I can’t play a straight person?”
I too faced similar discrimination when I first started my acting career in Toronto. I signed with my first agent in 2005 and at the time I was constantly being submitted for a variety of productions: commercials, movies of the week, and various Family Channel series. Then one day I mentioned absentmindedly to my agent that I was going to a Pride event with some friends. My agent said, “oh you're gay…how do you feel about auditioning for Queer as Folk”? That show was controversial at the time but I told my agent that I was okay with it, a few days later I auditioned for the series. Then something odd happened, I went from several auditions a month to practically nothing. The few auditions I did get called in for consisted of several very poorly written Gaysploytation films. When I confronted my agent about this she said, “ oh I thought you would be more comfortable with gay roles”. I was taken aback by her narrow-mindedness. I soon left that agency and switched to a “don’t ask don’t tell policy” which led to an increase in the number of auditions for more mainstream projects.
This was 13 years ago and I have overcome my reservations of being out professionally but there are many others who have not. Things are getting better but there is still a long way to go. Homophobia still exists in our industry, it may not always be as overt or blatant as it used to be but it's still there and we must find a way to both address and overcome it together.
Co-Chair LGBTQ Sub-Committee