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How can straight actors be more authentic when playing gay characters?

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Yeah... Danny.

 

I think we all forget that movies are put together like puzzles, often with scenes not even shot sequentially in time. Although initially just animated cartoons had storyboards, they have long become a part of live-action films as well. To the actor, it is all about *The Scene*, especially since few movies are shot in one day. Only the viewer can determine if the actor is convincing in the role throughout the picture, which is really just a composite of different scenes with individual rehearsals and shot on different days with planning ahead of time.

 

Any discussion about straight actors playing gay romance must also remember how many straight actors have to play straight romances with co-stars they aren't always gaga over. Perfect example: Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh who couldn't stand each other on GWTW, but great editing did wonders with THAT film in order to make it the blockbuster of all blockbusters. Also, as reported in a blog over in Streamline, Frederic March and Verona Lake hated each other enough in I MARRIED A WITCH that Fred wanted to use the "B" word in the title instead.

 

I do sense a "connection" between Rex and Richard in THE STAIRCASE.... or at least a shared sense of humor

 

"The Staircase" is a horrendous movie

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It's been a while since I've seen this film, but Harrison definitely seemed out of place. The whole production is a bit too stagey. Though I think if TCM ever did a hairdressing theme one evening, they could easily show it with SHAMPOO and STEEL MAGNOLIAS.

"Steel Magnolia" has some good male eye candy

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"The Staircase" is a horrendous movie

 

I thought there was a reason it and Myra Breckinridge both lost money for 20th Century Fox. Ha ha!

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It is interesting how Bruno Langley, whom you, Topbilled, said is "married with children off screen, and he was earning all kinds of praise for not being afraid to really get into the sex scenes". What exactly was he afraid of, unless this was 1981-82 when Harry Hamlin took the risk in Making Love? It is not like he has to slit his wrists.

 

I mentioned him because when he started on Coronation Street his character was straight and involved with women in the beginning. Then the writers had his character come out and the actor quit a short time later (to pursue other projects). But after some years away, he returned to the role. And by then the writers had made his character, Todd, very out and rebellious-- seducing married men, etc. So not only did he have to adjust to the role being re-written with the orientation storyline, but when he came back, he had to adjust to his character becoming a home wrecker too! And yet he seems to really get into the part, probably because he knows the stories give him a lot to do, and the orientation of the character doesn't phase him at this point. For other actors, the orientation (if it's different than their own) might cause a bit of concern if they're worried people will think they're exactly like the character they play.

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For other actors, the orientation (if it's different than their own) might cause a bit of concern if they're worried people will think they're exactly like the character they play.

 

Which proves my point. A lot has been discussed already about this. Heath and Jake took a successful risk with Brokeback Mountain (following in the footsteps of Tom Hanks a decade earlier in Philadelphia although he didn't have to demonstrate a lot of physical affection) and, because of that, more are less "worried" and starting to diversify their roles with less concern about possible career suicide.

 

Yet there is still concern and worry...

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Which proves my point. A lot has been discussed already about this. Heath and Jake took a successful risk with Brokeback Mountain and, because of that, more are less "worried" and starting to diversify their roles with less concern about possible career suicide.

 

I'm not sure about this point. I think there are still plenty of people in Hollywood and in Britain who find it risky to play characters with orientations different than their own. They have to ask if the audience will find it believable. Plus there may still be a comfort factor involved, within themselves and with their families/fans.

 

We're talking about authenticity. In some cases it is obvious the actor or actress is faking the role and not drawing on anything real, which is about as unauthentic as it gets. And when that happens, people start saying they've been miscast. 

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Which proves my point. A lot has been discussed already about this. Heath and Jake took a successful risk with Brokeback Mountain (following in the footsteps of Tom Hanks a decade earlier in Philadelphia although he didn't have to demonstrate a lot of physical affection) and, because of that, more are less "worried" and starting to diversify their roles with less concern about possible career suicide.

 

Yet there is still concern and worry...

Ledger and Gyllenhaal  really had nothing to loose by playing gay.  Lee got very lucky in casting two actors who were not afraid to get physical but had that kind of magical chemistry which made their tragic love story so believable.   In recent big studio films the gay character are sexless- look at "The Imitation Game" in which Alan Turning never has one same sex romantic moment but ends having to be chemically castrated for homosexual behavior ( I would have had him at least make out with Allen Leech)

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I'm not sure about this point. I think there are still plenty of people in Hollywood and in Britain who find it risky to play characters with orientations different than their own. They have to ask if the audience will find it believable. Plus there may still be a comfort factor involved, within themselves and with their families/fans.

 

We're talking about authenticity. In some cases it is obvious the actor or actress is faking the role and not drawing on anything real, which is about as unauthentic as it gets. And when that happens, people start saying they've been miscast. 

 

I think we are on the same page, but I must be confusing you with my wording... or something.

 

Remember Peter Finch and Murray Head (both heterosexual, I think) in Sunday Bloody Sunday, which gay director John Schlesinger filmed in 1970 as a follow-up to Midnight Cowboy? There was a time when many actors were more confident in their acting roles, making a distinction between screen/stage and real life. Society was a lot more conservative back then (especially when being homosexual was still considered a medical disorder prior to 1973), but many actors really wanted to push the envelope because they felt a cause to do so, to make society better. Sadly, after the 1980s, there was a retread backward. This was partly due the AIDS epidemic forcing many back into the closet, also partly due to conservative politics and, most importantly, a film industry burnt by all of the "New Hollywood" experiments a.k.a. Heaven's Gate and focusing more on what appealed to the widest audience possible. As Harry Hamlin commented in that video a couple posts down, it was the success of Tom Hanks in Philadelphia that mainstreamed gay characters more, even though I agree with...

 

Ledger and Gyllenhaal  really had nothing to loose by playing gay.  Lee got very lucky in casting two actors who were not afraid to get physical but had that kind of magical chemistry which made their tragic love story so believable.   In recent big studio films the gay character are sexless- look at "The Imitation Game" in which Alan Turning never has one same sex romantic moment but ends having to be chemically castrated for homosexual behavior ( I would have had him at least make out with Allen Leech)

 

... and Ledger and Gyllenhaal were comfortable playing their roles. My big issue was that they were too "physical" and rough in expressing affection. That may have added to the discomfort with the lady sitting behind me in the theater, who voiced all of her opinions about gays while watching since she probably thought all gay men did was do rough stuff in tents and attack each other when kissing. I do think those two could have dialed it down a notch. Of course, she might not have had any problem with 50 Shades of Grey.

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I really don't get all these references to the "rough sex" in "Brokeback Mountain".   Jack and Ennis were young **** cowboys- are they suppose to hold hands for two hours?  Lee made the right choice in showing the physical aspect of their relationship even if made some audience members uncomfortable. Jack and Ennis are lovers not just camping buddies.  In the short story one gets a greater sense of their isolation  and they did not look like handsome movie stars.

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You will just have to forgive me, jaragon. I have weird reactions to movies when I see them.

 

I did not view them as "rough" in the strict sense. Don't take me too literally. Granted, that obnoxious lady in the theater was taking "rough" literally. She was a woman of strong opinions and, thankfully, I never had to meet her in person. I hate people like that. I think you can see my point about her likely being comfortable with heterosexual couples behaving like that.

 

Regarding the stars taking it down a notch, I meant more tender, softer scenes as an addition. I think they might have been trying just a little too hard. (Now I will have to re-watch it, because it has been quite a few years.)

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In "Deathtrap", Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, who are/were both "straight", I believe, had no trouble in embracing the homosexuality of their characters.

 

Homosexual men, who, suddenly, were not comfortable with their sexuality.

 

That factor probably made it easier for them to play.

 

I wish that the material had allowed them more intimate moments.

 

But the material isn't about intimacy - it's about the negative effects of intimacy.

 

How "intimacy" can distort your reasoning - and lead you into some pretty wild territory.

 

 

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In "Deathtrap", Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, who are/were both "straight", I believe, had no trouble in embracing the homosexuality of their characters.

 

Homosexual men, who, suddenly, were not comfortable with their sexuality.

 

That factor probably made it easier for them to play.

 

 

Yes, and as a result, they are giving 'authentic' performances. Any discomfort or dis-ease with gay intimacy by the actors can be transferred on to the characters who are supposed to be troubled by it all.

 

But when we have the opposite-- actors who are uncomfortable, playing characters who are supposed to be comfortable-- then it doesn't work. It takes us out of the story.

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A perfect example of a straight actor who ruins a gay film -

 

Kevin Bishop's hugely unconvincing performance as the object of Paul Rhys' affections in Ventura Pons' first English-language film, "Food Of Love", which was based on David Leavitt's novel, "The Page Turner".

 

Of course, you could say that Mr. Bishop was A TERRIFIED VIRGIN -

 

but you can't really believe it -

 

and what gay youth wouldn't want to have a love affair with such a highly desirable man like Paul Rhys' highly accomplished pianist? -

 

Paul Rhys himself gave a really persuasive performance in the film and certainly seemed to be working from his own life experience -

 

  foodofl1.jpg

 

(Of course, Mr. Pons might have wanted "the discomfort" of a straight actor who was experiencing his first gay love affair, but, Mr. Bishop was just much too "straight" to register any of these multiple colorings in his basic make-up.)

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I really need to get out more. A lot of these movies I have never seen or heard of. Is the TLA Releasing filmography worth investigating?

 

Once the folks on this forum overcome the shock of Robert Osborne not having a wife, I think a June Pride Month (or week) is in order for Turner Classic Movies. Maybe an airing of silent era classics like Different From The Others (1919) and Michael (1924) up through The Celluloid Closet and beyond. Is Midnight Cowboy too "adult" for a pre-10 PM audience? It won Best Picture when rated "X" simply meant over-17. They have shown more potent material in the past like I Am Curious Yellow. Sunday Bloody Sunday is downright tame compared to what the major networks air these days, with just one key kiss and a tastefully discrete bed scene. If anybody gets angry over that film, they are simply paranoid of everything gay. I do think both Brokeback Mountain and Weekend could be shown without much fuss as long as it is late enough at night after the kiddies go to bed. As if they see anything worse on prime time these days.

 

I understand that many here are just not comfortable with anything not "heteronormal", but I think an education is in order. Few of these films are as explicit as the hetero material everybody is already used to. Also we have many politicians (in one party in particular) who hardly showed any sympathy for victims of the Pulse tragedy in Orlando last year and it is highly unlikely that the president and VP will even acknowledge the first anniversary this June. Yet TV programmers have some responsibility in improving society.

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Once the folks on this forum overcome the shock of Robert Osborne not having a wife, I think a June Pride Month (or week) is in order for Turner Classic Movies. 

 

I didn't start watching TCM until July 2008, but from what I've read, TCM did have a "gay images" spotlight in June 2007 called Screened Out. I agree it's time for another one, because there is still a need for on-going education in this area.

 

You can see which films TCM's programmers spotlighted in 2007 by going to a wiki page someone made about it:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screened_Out

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You will just have to forgive me, jaragon. I have weird reactions to movies when I see them.

 

I did not view them as "rough" in the strict sense. Don't take me too literally. Granted, that obnoxious lady in the theater was taking "rough" literally. She was a woman of strong opinions and, thankfully, I never had to meet her in person. I hate people like that. I think you can see my point about her likely being comfortable with heterosexual couples behaving like that.

 

Regarding the stars taking it down a notch, I meant more tender, softer scenes as an addition. I think they might have been trying just a little too hard. (Now I will have to re-watch it, because it has been quite a few years.)

Straight audiences are more comfortable watching straight sex on screen because they are use to it- most audiences have not seen gay sex-  I really miss the tv series "Looking" which was very sexual and had interesting characters.

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I really need to get out more. A lot of these movies I have never seen or heard of. Is the TLA Releasing filmography worth investigating?

 

Once the folks on this forum overcome the shock of Robert Osborne not having a wife, I think a June Pride Month (or week) is in order for Turner Classic Movies. Maybe an airing of silent era classics like Different From The Others (1919) and Michael (1924) up through The Celluloid Closet and beyond. Is Midnight Cowboy too "adult" for a pre-10 PM audience? It won Best Picture when rated "X" simply meant over-17. They have shown more potent material in the past like I Am Curious Yellow. Sunday Bloody Sunday is downright tame compared to what the major networks air these days, with just one key kiss and a tastefully discrete bed scene. If anybody gets angry over that film, they are simply paranoid of everything gay. I do think both Brokeback Mountain and Weekend could be shown without much fuss as long as it is late enough at night after the kiddies go to bed. As if they see anything worse on prime time these days.

 

I understand that many here are just not comfortable with anything not "heteronormal", but I think an education is in order. Few of these films are as explicit as the hetero material everybody is already used to. Also we have many politicians (in one party in particular) who hardly showed any sympathy for victims of the Pulse tragedy in Orlando last year and it is highly unlikely that the president and VP will even acknowledge the first anniversary this June. Yet TV programmers have some responsibility in improving society.

Maybe someone should start a gay version of Netflix- TLA has some interesting titles but also a lot of stuff that is basically European soft core gay porn

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Straight audiences are more comfortable watching straight sex on screen because they are use to it- most audiences have not seen gay sex-  I really miss the tv series "Looking" which was very sexual and had interesting characters.

 

I guess I should be fair and say that this was 2005. Hopefully that lady has  "grown up" since then, especially since there are more gay relationships appearing on TV and movies than a decade ago.

 

I have mentioned Andrew Heigh's Weekend multiple times here because I think that is a good alternative choice to Brokeback Mountain (not saying better, but just different) and I do think TCM could potentially show both late at night. The sex scenes are tastefully done (a.k.a. "simulated" like the other since one guy was straight). In the Criterion DVD documentary, the director said that he was bombarded with questions from those who had never seen a gay sex scene before in a mainstream movie. They all thought that two guys can't physically look at each other or kiss while doing The Act. They didn't know any better since they had only seen a man and a woman together in countless other films.

 

Maybe someone should start a gay version of Netflix- TLA has some interesting titles but also a lot of stuff that is basically European soft core gay porn

 

Showtime, HBO and other cable networks have been providing the European heterosexual soft core since the early 1980s at least. Yeah, I have sat through the dreadfully boring Emmanuelle (1974) more than once. Nice Thailand location photography, but otherwise... zzzzzzzzzzzzz. Except I felt sorry for how Sylvia Kristel was used and abused by men for their enjoyment, when she seemed so much happier being around women.

 

Off topic, but semi related to Emmanuelle, I never fully understood the appeal for this series except that the audience tends to be heterosexual-identifying female: http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/71797/fifty-shades-darker/

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Actors are expected to play people other than themselves. That's the point of acting.

 

What about gay actors playing straight characters? Wasn't Barbara Stanwyck a lesbian? Yet she was completely convincing as a straight woman in a lot of her films.

 

What about straight actors playing straight characters who are in love with someone other than their real-world partners? For example, how many women did James Stewart kiss in films? Yet he was married for years to one woman. The actors might even hate each other in reality, but on screen, they might be playing a couple.

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Actors are expected to play people other than themselves. That's the point of acting.

 

What about gay actors playing straight characters? Wasn't Barbara Stanwyck a lesbian? Yet she was completely convincing as a straight woman in a lot of her films.

 

What about straight actors playing straight characters who are in love with someone other than their real-world partners? For example, how many women did James Stewart kiss in films? Yet he was married for years to one woman. The actors might even hate each other in reality, but on screen, they might be playing a couple.

 

We're not talking about "acting" as much as we're talking about an actor's persona. A straight actor's persona (and truth) is different than a gay actor's. It may not seem authentic no matter how great an acting job they do. For example, Franklin Pangborn could have been the most trained Shakespearean actor who ever lived, but nobody would believe him playing a man who had the hots for Marilyn Monroe. His persona does not lend itself to an authentic reading of that. And we can apply this to straight actors who just do not give off the vibe they're into the same sex.

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Actors are expected to play people other than themselves. That's the point of acting.

 

What about gay actors playing straight characters? Wasn't Barbara Stanwyck a lesbian? Yet she was completely convincing as a straight woman in a lot of her films.

 

What about straight actors playing straight characters who are in love with someone other than their real-world partners? For example, how many women did James Stewart kiss in films? Yet he was married for years to one woman. The actors might even hate each other in reality, but on screen, they might be playing a couple.

 

If you go back a page or two, I too mentioned in two posts about how many gay actors have played straight romances in the past century... and discussed Jimmy Stewart too! Jimmy also did a slightly gay-ish role as the older "friend" of the male couple in Rope. Also mentioned how much March and Lake hated each other in I Married A Witch, as did countless other male/female couples once the cameras stopped rolling. As Gene Kelly joked in Singin' In The Rain, "I'd rather kiss a tarantula!"

 

However an important issue... and you know this too, but I am just repeating it... being gay is still not considered "normal" in much of our culture, so many heterosexual-identified actors are not comfortable in gay roles even if they think it is JUST acting. (Whether they are actually 100% heterosexual per the ol' Kinsey scale may be another issue altogether, but that debate would take us way off topic.) As TopBilled explained, some have trouble convincing others there is a difference between screen work and real life and may worry about family members and fans who expect them to be heterosexual. If the worry is that great, they won't bother with any gay roles, but if doing one to expand their acting experience, they may not get "into" their role as much as they should in order to be convincing. It is easier for a gay actor to do the opposite since he/she is conforming to what is more widely accepted.

 

In another discussion, we mentioned how romance in most movies before the 1960s didn't involve bed-hopping. Instead it was just talk, simple kisses and singing Gershwin tunes. Anybody can do that regardless of your orientation.

 

I do believe in the sixties and seventies, when gay characters were no longer just villains a.k.a. Dracula's Daughter but accepted as slightly "sane" on screen post-Victim, many actors and actresses were more comfortable with alternate orientation roles. In reference to Sunday Bloody Sunday, the heterosexual (I am guessing they were) male leads felt their performances were advancing a cause for wider acceptability, advancing the motto that gay romance was as interchangeable as straight romance and it should no longer be viewed as a mental disorder. Of course, Peter Finch and Murray Head may not have been attracted to each other in real life, but they were comfortable kissing each other and expressing affection since they believed strongly in their roles being positive role models for the public in general.

 

Things changed in the 1980s, partly due to more conservative politics and the AIDS homophobia panic, and a lot of actors and actresses became more cautious. Although a gay star like Rupert Everett did very well in straight romances early on, his career suffered after he came "out" in the '90s because... and this relates to my above paragraph... most movie goers would no longer accept him as a straight character. Real life interfered with "reel" life regardless of how convincing he may be on screen.

 

After the success of Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, there was finally... FINALLY... a gradual reverse move in the pendulum in the same direction it was going at the time of Sunday Bloody Sunday. We are still not quite there yet, not so much due to AIDS generated homophobia but because conservative politics are still impacting society.

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We're not talking about "acting" as much as we're talking about an actor's persona. A straight actor's persona (and truth) is different than a gay actor's. It may not seem authentic no matter how great an acting job they do. For example, Franklin Pangborn could have been the most trained Shakespearean actor who ever lived, but nobody would believe him playing a man who had the hots for Marilyn Monroe. His persona does not lend itself to an authentic reading of that. And we can apply this to straight actors who just do not give off the vibe they're into the same sex.

 

I dunno... Tony Curtis really enjoyed playing Josephine in Some Like It Hot in addition to wooing Monroe. In one biography interview, he kept attracting men on a daily basis in his early years of the 1950s and thought he himself might be gay for a while despite not having any sexual experience with men. While he may have been comfortable in Spartacus in a subtle gay scene with Laurence Olivier, later in life he did have some issues and reportedly was not a fan of Brokeback Mountain and other films of its type.

 

I should add that Pangborn did a great comic role as a "hassled husband" many times, often with a woman who was more aggressive than him or, in some cases, just nutty and he has to "control" her. Many heterosexual husbands back then and today resemble his performances. Even in a short subject like the early Technicolor Menu (MGM Pete Smith "Oddity", 1933), he is simply an easily agitated husband fussing over his tummy.

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I dunno... Tony Curtis really enjoyed playing Josephine in Some Like It Hot in addition to wooing Monroe. In one biography interview, he kept attracting men on a daily basis in his early years of the 1950s and thought he himself might be gay for a while despite not having any sexual experience with men. While he may have been comfortable in Spartacus in a subtle gay scene with Laurence Olivier, later in life he did have some issues and reportedly was not a fan of Brokeback Mountain and other films of its type.

 

I should add that Pangborn did a great comic role as a "hassled husband" many times, often with a woman who was more aggressive than him or, in some cases, just nutty and he has to "control" her. Many heterosexual husbands back then and today resemble his performances. Even in a short subject like the early Technicolor Menu (MGM Pete Smith "Oddity", 1933), he is simply an easily agitated husband fussing over his tummy.

 

Not sure I agree. In a comedy, we can go a bit broader and stretch our suspension of disbelief. And it could be argued that henpecked husband roles are fairly asexual anyway-- with very little affection, intimacy or real romance occurring. 

 

Some actors like Tony Curtis were a lot more fluid and actively bisexual, which informs their persona. But unless they are playing bisexual characters then on some level they are not being authentic either.

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