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October 25, 2014

Coming Out in Hollywood: Is it Still a Risk? Matthew Weiner Thinks So

by Gary Susman, posted Dec 18th 2009 5:00PM
Despite the mainstream audience acceptance of such openly gay performers as Neil Patrick Harris, Ian McKellen, and Ellen DeGeneres, some Hollywood power brokers still feel that TV and movie audiences won't accept gay performers in straight roles.

That was made clear on Wednesday when 'Mad Men' creator Matthew Weiner, speaking on a Hollywood panel, said, "Let's not pretend" that gay actors who come out of the closet aren't risking a future of gay typecasting, according to Greg in Hollywood blogger Greg Hernandez.Despite the mainstream audience acceptance of such openly gay performers as Neil Patrick Harris, Ian McKellen, and Ellen DeGeneres some Hollywood power brokers still feel that TV and movie audiences won't accept gay performers in straight roles.

That was made clear on Wednesday when 'Mad Men' creator Matthew Weiner, speaking on a Hollywood panel, said, "Let's not pretend" that gay actors who come out of the closet aren't risking a future of gay typecasting, according to Greg in Hollywood blogger Greg Hernandez.

Weiner was responding to 'How I Met Your Mother' co-creator Carter Bays' remarks during the Hollywood Radio and Television Society luncheon at the Century Plaza Hotel about how risky it seemed when Harris came out during the second season of the hit sitcom, in which Harris plays aggressively heterosexual womanizer Barney Stinson. Harris continues to charm audiences in the role to this day, Bays said, because he "is such a phenomenal actor, you don't care." But Weiner said audiences still have a hard time accepting gay actors in straight romantic roles. "The viability of you as a character – no matter how good an actor you are – can be jeopardized by this. We struggle with it – obviously, it's wrong. It shouldn't be that way."

Weiner went on to praise Harris and DeGeneres for their bravery in coming out, even though he believed it would hurt their careers. "I'm sure that there are limitations to the kinds of roles that he can get in the future," Weiner said of Harris. Of coming out, Weiner said, "I think it can be a commercially devastating thing."

It's worth noting that Weiner employed openly gay actor Bryan Batt for two and a half seasons on 'Mad Men,' as closeted gay adman Sal Romano. (It's also worth noting that Weiner wrote Sal's character off the show partway through season 3, and that it's unclear whether he'll have Batt's character return in season 4.)

Aside from Harris, few gay and lesbian potential leading men and women have tested Weiner's theory. McKellen has starred in two of the decade's biggest franchises, but 'X-Men' and 'The Lord of the Rings' never addressed Magneto's or Gandalf's sexuality, and at 70, he's not likely to be offered too many romantic leading roles of any orientation. DeGeneres has largely eschewed acting since the success of her daytime talk show. There are a number of popular stars who are rumored to be closeted gays and lesbians, but as long as they retain some mystery about their private lives, they're not challenging Weiner's theory either.

Still, the question remains: are openly gay and lesbian actors passed over for straight romantic roles because audiences aren't ready, or just because producers like Weiner think audiences aren't ready? After all, straight actors play gay roles without their heterosexuality ruining the illusion for the audience, and without doing damage to their future careers. (Think of William Hurt, Tom Hanks, Charlize Theron and Sean Penn, all of whom were so convincing in gay roles that they won Oscars yet continued to have thriving careers.) Maybe if producers would take that chance in casting, they'd be pleasantly surprised to discover, as Bays was, that an actor who possesses sufficient talent and audience good will can persuade viewers of anything. But until producers take those casting risks, the notion that there are no straight roles for gay performers will remain a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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