The Many Shades of Thomas Dekker

4.17.2011

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'I went through the fucking roof!' Dekker says. 'If you're going to have a gay character on your show come out and be a pioneer for kids, I would've liked to play that from the get-go from my perspective. I went to set and said to the writers, 'I really wish that it wouldn't have been five hours before I come into work that I get this news that [the character] I'd been playing for the last 12 episodes knows and is comfortable with the fact that he is gay. Because I would've played this very differently.' But I said I'd do it, and then a couple hours later the creator, Tim Kring, showed up and said, 'No, no, no. We're going to change it [back to him being straight].' '

But word had leaked already to several blogs that Dekker's character would be coming out on the episode, so when it aired, 'the story became, 'Thomas Dekker is a homophobe' or 'Thomas Dekker is gay and uncomfortable playing it,' ' he remembers. 'I was like 'How do people know this was supposed to be my coming-out episode when I didn't even know it was?' Then I found an interview the producers had given to a London paper while they were shooting the first episode, in which they said that my character was going to be gay. So they knew all along.' The network and the show's production didn't refute false claims about Dekker's refusal to play gay, and he stayed on for his remaining four episodes before taking on the role of John Connor on the Terminator-based series.

This month he stars opposite Diane Lane in the Emmy bait that is HBO's Cinema Verite, a behind-the-scenes look at PBS's groundbreaking 1973 reality series, An American Family, the first to bring cameras inside an otherwise private home to film what life was like. Both the HBO film and the original series follow the marital woes and parental struggles of the Louds, an upper-middle class family living in Santa Barbara. Dekker plays eldest son Lance, the family's emotional and social center and the breakout star of the original series.Loud, who was gay, would go on to found the punk band the Mumps and become a writer for The Advocate, Details, and Interview until his death in 2001.

'When I got the script, I'd never heard of the show,' Dekker says. 'I'd never heard of Lance. And when I just read the words on the page, I wasn't that interested. I heard he was the first gay icon on TV, but I was thinking, There's not much I can do with this, particularly. But then I watched clips of him on YouTube, and I became obsessed. I mean he was bonkers'the directors described him as a cross between a crackhead and Judy Garland, and I feel like he grew up watching actresses like Joan Crawford and Garland and Bette Davis, which influenced what he thought was 'star quality,' and that's partly why he comes off so flamboyant in a very noncontemporary way.'

When the series originally aired, what surprised and hurt the Loud family most was the American public's reaction to Lance. 'One of the most fascinating things is that everybody thinks he came out on the show,' says Dekker. 'He never came out officially. That blows me away. He never said the words 'I am gay' or 'I am homosexual.' The most he said about it publicly was to Dick Cavett, who says to him, 'You may attempt to hide the fact that you are homosexual,' and Lance says, 'I didn't know that was that much of a big deal. I thought homosexuality was nothing more than giving kisses to boys on the sly.' The whole big controversy of the show was that he did not give a shit that he was gay, and yet it wasn't like he yelled it to the world. He was just being him.'

Sexuality doesn't seem to bother Dekker much either. Unlike most young actors who have rumors about their sexuality dogging them, when he speaks of himself in a way that isn't particularly conclusive it comes off as neither pandering nor evasive. 'I've only really had relationships with women, but I'm certainly not closed to it. If there are possibilities of being able to do anything in life, why would you say you would never take any up? In the later chunk of my teen years I was so all over the place with sex. It was terrible. I never really had a real relationship at all. During puberty, it's all about sex, and it's all about figuring yourself out. I think I overdid it when I was younger.'

Tags: Movies
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