If They Were Gay, Who Would Care?

4.10.2007

By Shana Naomi Krochmal

Here's the bad news about Hollywood big shots' fears: They're not completely unfounded. The entertainment-industrial complex is a tangled web of financiers, distributors and studios, producers and directors, entertainment media, and, of course, actors and the advisers guiding their every move. As Bob Sugar, Jay Mohr's shark of an agent, yells in Jerry Maguire, 'It's not show friends; it's show business.'

'Emotionally, I think 90% of the industry supports actors being able to live true to who they are,' says Chuck James, a partner at the Gersh Agency, who represents talent like Mena Suvari and Lost's Rodrigo Santoro. 'But there are fewer movies being made, and the last thing executives want to hear is about how many risks they have to take.' At the end of the day, every actor serves at the pleasure of the producers, whose main goal is to make money'not foment social change.

So in the name of changing society, here's a blueprint for residents of the closet'glass or not'who are looking for a way out. It's based on the best advice Hollywood's elite would offer on and off the record.

1. Be a woman. Everyone agrees it'd be easier for a big-name lady to make the transition, and there are more and better examples proving them right. (Portia de Rossi hasn't been considered scandalous because of her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, and the bisexual confessions of Cynthia Nixon or Angelina Jolie certainly haven't hurt their careers.)
2. Failing that, be the right kind of man, which first and foremost requires that you're already a big star. 'Box office and ratings and awards are power,' said one agent who asked not to be named. 'Once those things happen, if you can't live anymore in the closet, come out.'
3. Be a great actor. 'If Jake Gyllenhaal plays a murderer, people know he's not,' says Simon Halls. 'If a gay leading man wants to kiss a woman in a romantic comedy, if he's a good enough actor, people will suspend disbelief.'
4. Don't overcompensate. Halls says the key to his client Neil Patrick Harris's successful coming-out was that 'he'd never been one of those people who brought women to premieres and said he was straight.'
5. Don't get caught. Better to make a decisive move than tentatively (or drunkenly) test the waters in hopes the decision will be made for you. (And in case it doesn't, it should go without saying: Don't get arrested!)
6. Make sure your publicist is savvy to community politics. Ten years ago publications like Out and our sister magazine The Advocate were destinations of choice for self-outing; today you could launch a bidding war between People and Oprah. 'When Johnny Mathis came out [in a 1982 Us Magazine article], black people screamed, 'Why didn't you tell us first?' ' says Kevin Taylor, a longtime BET producer. So don't forget where you came from, or the people poised to be your biggest defenders.

The idea of making a similar list a year ago would have been laughable, so it's impossible'but strangely encouraging'to imagine what kind of career move will be considered common sense at this time in 2008. 'It's just not somewhere we've ever gone before,' Halls says.

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