Gays Playing Straights

Barry Quinn
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The brilliant and handsome Russell Tovey, known for his roles in Being Human, Him & Her and The History Boys, recently said “would it affect the show and the audience if I’m a gay man playing a straight character? These conversations are being had still.”

This got me thinking as there are plenty of gay actors seamlessly playing straight characters on television and film. In this day-and-age sexuality really shouldn’t be an issue, but it still is. If I went for a job interview and the question of my sexuality arose I would be appalled; just because someone is LGBT, or straight for that matter, does not mean that they cannot do a particular job. It’s the same for actors. If someone is a good actor then their sexuality just isn’t an issue.

In both Being Human and Him & Her, Tovey portrays straight men and he portrays them brilliantly. I was shocked when I initially learnt that he was gay because it just doesn’t show on-screen. By ‘show’ I don’t mean any campness or feminine characteristics he may exhibit in his everyday life are on display, I mean that he has no qualms kissing or being intimate with his female co-stars. He is able to perfectly play a straight character so convincingly, and he isn’t alone.

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Neil Patrick Harris, known for his womanizing character Barney on ‘How I Met Your Mother’ is gay in real life. He is rather camp, in my opinion, but he plays Barney so realistically that you can actually believe he has slept with the scores of women his character claims to have done.

Ben Whishaw came out as gay after his on-screen appearance as Q in Skyfall but now that we know he is gay it doesn’t take anything away from his performance. It is still as brilliant now as it was the first time I watched it, when I thought, but secretly hoped not, that he was straight. Even more recent is Wentworth Miller, who brilliantly came out whilst expressing his opposition to the way Russia are treating homosexuals. It’s long been rumoured, but either way his depiction of Michael Scofield in Prison Break is still compelling. You can totally believe in his character’s deep love for Sara, regardless of who Wentworth loves in real life.

On the other hand there are also numerous straight actors who believably portray gay characters. Nelson Ellis is straight in real life but he plays the effeminate and camp Lafayette Reynolds in True Blood so brilliantly that it is hard to believe that Nelson could ever be straight. It’s because of his skill as an actor that he is able to take on that role, and his real life sexuality isn’t an issue at all.

Naya Rivera and Heather Morris are equally exceptional in their portrayal of lesbian couple Santana and Brittany in Glee. You can really believe that their characters love one another, despite the fact that they are both straight in real life. It’s the same with Lily Loveless and Kathryn Prescott in Skins; they are both straight in real life but their performance was lauded with critic praise ( ranked the pairing first in their list of fictional lesbian and bisexual characters). And let’s not forget Eric McCormack in his totally believable role as gay lawyer Will Truman in Will & Grace, a role he managed to pull off for eight successful years despite being straight in real life.

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This clearly shows that sexuality just is not an issue in terms of portraying a character whose sexual orientation is different to their own. If someone is a good actor then that is all that matters; it’s their acting ability that allows them to portray their character’s sexuality. In the majority of the examples I have given the actors are able to play the characters so that their characters (and their own) sexuality isn’t the defining characteristic. Ben Whishaw is fantastic as Q, so fantastic that we never once think of the character’s sexuality (be it gay, straight or bisexual). Naya Rivera may play a lesbian character who has been involved in a coming-to-terms and coming out storyline, but she also has a lot of storylines in which Santana’s sexuality isn’t a factor, and yet she plays both types of storylines with equal brilliance.

The conversations regarding an actors sexuality may still be arising in castings but they really shouldn’t. There are clearly an ample amount of examples that show that sexuality just isn’t an issue. Gays can play it straight, and straights can equally play gay characters. That’s if they’re a decent actor anyway (don’t get me started on Trevor Donovan’s performance in ‘90210’ though…)

About Barry Quinn

Barry Quinn is an English Language and Literature graduate and a Creative Writer MA studier. He is an aspiring creative and professional writer and is currently in the process of writing his first novel. His writing blog can be viewed here: You can follow him on Twitter at: @mrbarryquinn