Zachary Quinto: Star Man
By Aaron Hicklin
Photography by Michael Muller
Styling by Grant Woolhead
With a celebrity who has come out as gay, there’s always a little verbal dance you do as you approach the subject you’re most interested in. You talk about childhood, perhaps you talk about religion, and then gently, anxious not to appear crass, wary of being reductive, you start dropping small hints that grow gradually broader. On good days, if you’re lucky and maybe just a little charming, they’ll invite you to push further.
Zachary Quinto, however, is so immediately candid, so disarmingly relaxed, it’s clear from the outset that we can dispense with the formalities. We are sitting in the yard of the small mid-century bungalow in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, that serves as the office of his production company, as his two dogs, Skunk and Noah, snuffle around our feet. Quinto has been talking about doing more theater, and is in the midst of extolling the genius of John Cameron Mitchell’s East German transgender singer, Hedwig -- a role he has a burning ambition to play on stage -- when I feel compelled to interrupt.
“That’s surprising to me,” I say.
“Why are you surprised by that?”
“Because Hedwig is so unequivocally queer in its sensibilities, not just gay.”
“I love that about it -- it spoke to that part of me, that queer part of me that doesn’t always have the chance to express or reveal itself,” he replies. “That’s what excites me as an artist.”
It’s at this point, with the evening sun filtering through the overhanging branches of a lime tree, that I realize we have crossed a threshold. It is one thing to have celebrities acknowledging their sexuality, quite another to hear them talking about their inner queer.
Last October, Quinto negotiated the first of those steps in an interview for New York magazine, casually prefacing his response to a question about the revival of Angels in America with the words, “As a gay man…” In fact, he said it twice, just to make sure the point got through. It did, of course -- New York is not too urbane to appreciate a scoop, though what’s fascinating about the way celebrities now come out in the media is how unscoop-y the whole thing must be treated. We have, blessedly, moved on from “Yes, I’m Gay!”, or, even, “Yep, I’m Gay.” The headline in New York was simply, “What’s Up, Spock?” For Quinto, it wasn’t even about coming out -- he’d done that with his family at the age of 24. “I thought about it as coming out from behind the wall,” he says. “Walls now are only as high or as thick or as strong as we allow them to be.”
Of course, it looked easier to scale that wall in print than it must have seemed in person, and Quinto admits to staying up until 5 a.m. the night before trying to figure it out. He gave no warning to his publicist or friends or family -- his performance was not screen-tested in advance. He just knew it was the right time to confirm what many people already believed, but on his terms, in his words.
Does he regret not taking the opportunity to set the record straight in a 2010 New York Times interview, when he deflected a reporter by saying he wasn’t interested in discussing his sleeping arrangements? “No, not at all, absolutely not, because I wouldn’t have initiated it,” he says. “I knew very fundamentally, inside, that it had to be initiated and executed by me, and me alone.” This turns out to be something of a recurring theme: generating initiative, being prepared, taking control -- in short, owning it. When he came out to his mother, it was from a similar sense of imperative.
“I needed it to happen,” he says. “Otherwise, I couldn’t move forward authentically. Ultimately, I think the only thing that really drives me in life, continually, is a pursuit of authenticity of experience -- of myself.”
Quinto is supremely self-aware, perhaps as a result of losing his father to cancer at the age of seven and having to renegotiate his relationship to the world. Although he describes his childhood fondly, in idyllic terms -- “running around in the woods, and playing on my bike, setting out on adventures” -- it’s clear that his father’s death threw his world off balance. “As well-intentioned as my family was, and our immediate friends, I don’t think anyone knew how to talk to a seven-year-old at that time,” he says. “My mother was, understandably, eviscerated, and my brother, who was 14, was impacted in a very different way, because he was at the pinnacle of fishing trips and camping trips with my dad.”