Out took the entertainment industrys temperature in an attempt to determine whether the long-held assumptionthat an out gay male actor could never enjoy a career as a leading manwas still true, or whether times have finally changed.
Heres the one thing nearly everyone interviewed agreed on: We could never have had this conversation two years ago. Sure, Will & Grace had proved that gays could have mainstream feasibility. But it wasnt until last year that queers finally broke the sound barrier: Brokeback Mountain won three Academy Awards and has now grossed $175 million worldwide. In fewer than five months Lance Bass, T.R. Knight, and Neil Patrick Harris all stepped up and out. More recently, Ellen hosted the Oscars to near-universal acclaim. So have we reached a Hollywood tipping pointor at least the final plateau right before the summit?
Im not trying to sound like a Pollyanna, says Simon Halls, a gay partner at publicity powerhouse PMK/HBH, but I think what were finding is that people are far more accepting than anyone would have given them credit for.
So maybe whats standing between the A-list and the closet is not just a fear of the so-called American publicat least not of the female half, long considered to be more willing to accept gay stories and actors. To get the inside scoop, we contacted a number of Hollywoods biggest behind-the-scenes players, but many declined to discuss the topic with Out, even in the most general terms.
No one wants to offend anyone, explained one publicist, citing fears that a reader might assume a client is gay. And anyone who does have a [closeted] gay client wouldnt want their name out there either. A spokesman from GQ wouldnt even entertain the question of whether a newly out gay actor could book their cover, saying only, Thats just too hypothetical.
Heres the bad news about Hollywood big shots fears: Theyre 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 Mohrs shark of an agent, yells in Jerry Maguire, Its not show friends; its 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 Losts 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 moneynot foment social change.
So in the name of changing society, heres a blueprint for residents of the closetglass or notwho are looking for a way out. Its based on the best advice Hollywoods elite would offer on and off the record.
1. Be a woman. Everyone agrees itd be easier for a big-name lady to make the transition, and there are more and better examples proving them right. (Portia de Rossi hasnt been considered scandalous because of her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, and the bisexual confessions of Cynthia Nixon or Angelina Jolie certainly havent hurt their careers.)
2. Failing that, be the right kind of man, which first and foremost requires that youre 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 cant live anymore in the closet, come out.
3. Be a great actor. If Jake Gyllenhaal plays a murderer, people know hes not, says Simon Halls. If a gay leading man wants to kiss a woman in a romantic comedy, if hes a good enough actor, people will suspend disbelief.
4. Dont overcompensate. Halls says the key to his client Neil Patrick Harriss successful coming-out was that hed never been one of those people who brought women to premieres and said he was straight.
5. Dont 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 doesnt, it should go without saying: Dont 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 didnt you tell us first? says Kevin Taylor, a longtime BET producer. So dont 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 its impossiblebut strangely encouragingto imagine what kind of career move will be considered common sense at this time in 2008. Its just not somewhere weve ever gone before, Halls says.