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Out director Don Roos still working out his feelings about openly gay actors in straight lead roles – and vice-versa

P1030474 by you.

When it comes to a male actor deciding to come out of the closet, the conventional wisdom is that it will ruin his chances of ever being a big movie star – especially if he wants those coveted romantic leading men roles.

If the audience knows the guy is gay, apparently it will kill the fantasy and no one will want to buy tickets.

We hear it time and time again from the Hollywood power players and creative folks – both gay and straight – and we heard it again over the weekend at the Outfest Film Festival during a panel called Coming Out in Hollywood.

You wonder though, how do they know? Has it ever been tested? Have we ever had a major studio film flop because an openly gay actor had the romantic lead role?’d love to see , for example, what would have happened if the red-hot Neil Patrick Harris had the Tom Cruise role in Knight & Day. Might it have made more than the paltry $70 million it has taken in so far domestically?

Maybe. Maybe not.

We don’t know because it has never really been tried as far as I know.

But it’s hard to change things when an openly gay writer-director such as Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex, Bounce, Happy Endings) has issues with gays playing straight and vice-versa.

“I think the relationship between an audience and an actor is a very complicated thing, especially in a romantic lead,” Roos said during the panel discussion. “When you’re in a movie theater, what’s on the screen isn’t necessarily appealing to your best instincts. Most of the audience is going to be homophobic, they’re mostly violent in their hearts and that’s what they’re responding to on the screen and you can’t wait to have a career until the audience is not homophobic. That’s never going to happen. … In a romantic role, it can be very distracting for the audience to not be able to give themselves to a particular character. Like when I was watching Philadelphia — I knew [Tom Hanks] was straight.”

Don Roos by you.

Roos has directed such actors as Ben Affleck, Gwyneth Paltrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tom Arnold, Lisa Kudrow, Christina Ricci, Lyle Lovett, Jason Ritter, Laura Dern and several other people who are quite well-known, not exactly blank slates in the minds of the public.

It makes me wonder if knowing that Affleck and Paltrow are straight was a distraction in Bounce.

“I think everybody should be out to their circle but it’s more difficult if you’re a romantic lead,” Roos said at the Outfest event. “It would be hard for me to cast Natalie Portman as a woman rancher because she’s this crazy vegan. I want to not have conversations about is he gay or is he not gay; I want to know as little as possible.”

I wanted to publicly ask Roos to expand on this topic but could not manage to get called on by the moderator. I talked to Don face-to-face after the panel and we started by talking about his problems with Hanks and his Oscar-winning performance as a gay man with AIDS fighting being fired from his job in 1993′s Philadelphia.

“I kept feeling distracted knowing that he wasn’t really gay,” Roos told me. “I was admiring him and thinking, ‘Oh my God, how well he’s playing that.’ The more I know about any actor about anything, the more distracting it is.”

“I’m just saying in general, the more I know about an actor and his personal life and his personal beliefs, the less useful it is to me as a director. Sometimes I’m distracted because I’m mad that it isn’t a gay actor playing that role. Whatever your political thing is, it interferes with the storytelling.”

More specifically, if an actor were gay in a straight role, he admits he might be similarly distracted. But then he said: “I saw Sean [Hayes] on Broadway [in Promises, Promises] and the only distraction was that I sometimes saw the character that he played on Will & Grace but I totally bought him as a straight guy.”

Now I was really confused and asked: “Would you cast an openly gay actor as a romantic lead in a straight role? Would you be the one to do it?”

Roos: “That’s hypothetical. It would really depend.”

Cheyenne Jackson?” I suggested.

Roos: “I would have to know what the part is.”

So he’s open to it?

“Oh, I’m open to it, absolutely. What I’m talking about in a more general sense is only romantic leads. That’s a relationship they can have with the audience that it’s distracting whatever they know about you.”

He’s still got the romantic leading man block but, thankfully, he is not willing to make some kind of blanket rule about not casting gays as straight and straight as gay.

“As a director, as a casting person … if someone comes in and you fall in love with them, you don’t care anything about them … if they embody what your vision is, you go for them. … I think sometimes it’s a little hurdle for the audience but if I love the guy, I’m willing to take my chances. My films are all very counter-culture films anyway, it doesn’t really matter in my world.”

Jonathan Slavin

Much more clear during the panel were the feelings of openly gay actor Jonathan Slavin (pictured, left) who most recently was a regular on the ABC sitcom Better off Ted. He thinks it is time for someone in a position of power to make the leap of casting a gay actor in a major movie lead.

“Don’t you think that there were people who said to Sidney Poitier that an audience is never going to accept a black man as the lead of a film?” he said during the panel. “At a certain point, you have to just cast (gay actors) and grab the reins and move forward and see what happens. It is about taking risks and taking risks and not waiting until it’s safe. We’re accommodating a narrow-minded mentality.”



(All comments are reviewed before being published, and I review submissions several times per day.)

11 Remarks

  1. With all due respect, I think Don is wrong. Dead wrong. Let him tell it, the audience will always be homophobic and therefore actors who want romantic roles should stay in the closet FOREVER.

    And you’re right, Greg. Testing a Neil Patrick Harris or whatever has never been done in Hollywood. Just remember, Dan Roos’ rhetoric was the same people used when they said black actors couldn’t open movies. We have Will Smith, Halle Berry, Sam Jackson, Denzel and so on.

    Does he really think the public cares as much as he seems to? I have yet to hear the public complain about Jonathan Groff playing straight on Glee, or NPH’s performance on HIMYM. They don’t seem, “distracted” to me.

    Joan Rivers said something to Don Roos’ effect about singers. Yet, I keep hearing about Adam Lambert selling out his concerts. Who’s his audience? Teenage girls. Why are they buying tickets if they know they could never have him? His music isn’t that good.

    As far as his comparison that Natalie Portman couldn’t play a rancher just because she’s a vegan in real life–I assume he doesn’t think she’s a good actress.

    Is he serious?

  2. That is just stupid. I`m straight and I have no problem to fantasize about NPH in a romantic lead role ( we know that we can not get any of them if they are gay or straight – it`s just a fantasize)Nph is sexy and hot as hell. I think he is very beliviable in the role he has playd so far! He has a big female fanbase so i don`t buy all what they are saying

    I think it comes more to the person, who they are, there personality, charisma,if we see them as manly, sexy etc I also think that some gay people will have a hard time to play that kind of roles ( sorry Sean, Chris)

    They are wrong when they say they don`t want to know anything about the actors ( who they are and what they stand for)because we do want to know things about them ( like we feel like we know who they are) If people are gonna take they advise – then Neil would never talk about David or they could never walk the red carpet together ( they should only be together in there own house??), taking piturer together etc ( but if no one is willing to do that -how are thing gonna change.?????

    I think Neil paves the way for other actors who are gay , every day because of his private life and his professional. He is one of the few gay with a partner who is willing to talk about them as a couple and he and David appers together in photos, interview, and show people that they share a life together as any other straight couple etc

    Nph have been in more and more type of media and the has been offered more and more roles as straight – even as a married father etc – it may not be the Big Big romanitc movies – but it`s a start. I would rather have seen him in the role of romantic lead, than many of the other as they typical cast – I don`t care as long as I think they are hot and they are behave nicely. and not jump up and down on a couch at a talk show or that there is no one scandal after another scandal. Then we don`t care – and we are the one who buy the tickets an buy the movie.

    If you ask me I think Roos and other are homofobic and hypothetical – even if they are gay them self – maybe its time the look at them self, and what is going on behind the scene – about casting etc

  3. Excellent job! Glad you cornered Don and got him to elaborate on his comments. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  4. Don, whether he realizes it or not, has drunk the kool-aid and,sadly, doesn’t see his myopia.

  5. As I said to the panel, the American public was well aware of the fact that Rock Hudson was gay LONG before the deathbed ”
    news” was announced. In fact, I knew Rock Hudson was gay before I knew that I was — and I’m 63.

    Cecilie is absolutely right about NPH. If someone came up with a first-rate sophsiticated comedy script and the director to put it across he’d be as big i the movies as he is on TV.

    Unfortunately Billy Wilder is dead.

  6. Don, you should see a therapist (or a better one). You’re trying to rationalize your own oddball issue with being “distracted” by actors “acting” in a way that doesn’t mirror their personal lives in fictional motion pictures, by arguing that everyone feels as you do.

    The “distraction” you feel is of your own making. The only people agreeing with you are unfortunate souls who harbor the same internalized issues. (Your echo chamber could double as a support group–be sure to invite fired Newsweek columnist Ramin Setoodeh!)

    In the interim, maybe you should stop reading Perez Hilton and watching Access Hollywood? Then your delicate sensibilities wouldn’t be so caught up with all the minutiae of actors’ personal lives such that you could concentrate on their ability to perform their jobs.

    Whether you accept it or not, your words and actions are hurting your gay brothers and sisters.

  7. Please, more out gay actors besides NPH! He annoys the heck out of me.

  8. Don Roos is so “distracted” by heterosexuals playing gay characters that all gay characters in his movies were played by heterosexuals. The fact is he doesn’t want gay actors to “taint” his image of haterosexual males. He doesn’t want gay men to be interchangeable with haterosexual males who he sees as superior and the gatekeepers of masculinity. Don Roos is in the same league as Larry Craig and Donnie McClurkin in that he lives by what haterosexuals say and do. Haterosexuals want free agency to play any role gay or straight while gay actors are limited to low budget or secondary gay characters.

  9. Great job interviewing him! I can’t believe that an out gay director would say such things. I wish he would keep his opinions to himself. As a gay man, he should know that his remarks feed homophobic Hollywood.

  10. If every good director knew exactly what the audience wanted and would respond to, then studios would never release a movie that bombs as the box office. So, with all due respect to Don Roos, I don’t think he’s any more an expert on this issue than the rest of us.

    He’s also wrong about why Tom Hanks was less than convincing in Philadelphia. For whatever reason, no genuine intimacy was displayed between Hanks and Banderas in the lead roles. Their “romance” consisted of putting their hands on each other’s shoulders and gazing lovingly at each other. It was a ludicrous portrayal of the lives of two men who’ve spent years together. Was anyone equally distracted by the presumably straight leads in Brokeback Mountain? I sure wasn’t!

  11. [...] Greg Hernandez wrote in a column at Greg In Hollywood, When it comes to a male actor deciding to come out of the closet, the conventional wisdom is that [...]

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