Legendary actor Stephen Fry has come out as not a fan of James Corden’s recent performance as a stereotypically gay man in Ryan Murphy’s hit Netflix musical The Prom.
“I don’t want to add to the hate James Corden is receiving,” he told Travel Gay. “I have to say in his defense that whatever performance ends up on film is the responsibility of the director. So Ryan Murphy is at fault there, not James. He should have said to dial it down and not to go for a camp, podgy 1970s figure.”
Despite being lambasted and panned nearly unanimously by LGBTQ+ critics and viewers as offensive and filled with stereotypes, Corden was nominated for a Golden Globe for the performance.
Murphy is known for the large number of LGBTQ+ characters in his projects, and often casts gay actors in those roles. His recent film version of The Boys in The Band featured a cast of all out actors. A recent GLAAD report found that nearly one in five LGBTQ+ characters on TV appears in a series from Murphy, Shonda Rhimes, Greg Berlanti, or Lena Waithe.
Still, the performance Corden gave reminded many of a time we thought was over when only straight actors could play gay roles, often ending up creating more stereotypes of how gay people act than authentic performances.
Fry is currently starring in It's a Sin, a drama about the early days of the AIDS crisis, created by Russell T Davies. Davies last year said that authenticity in casting is “the taste of 2020.” He thinks the time for straight actors to play gay is over “"You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair,” he said. “You wouldn’t Black someone up. Authenticity is leading us to joyous places."
Still, some other gay actors disagree. Neil Patrick Harris, who also appears in It's a Sin said he thinks there’s something “sexy” about a straight actor doing a good job playing a gay character, “if they’re willing to invest in it.”
While some gay actors say that they’re fine with straight actors playing gay characters, they all emphasize that it’s ok as long as the actor does a good job. That’s where Corden missed the mark. If he had brought a sense of realness to the character instead of broad strokes and broader stereotypes, this conversation might be going a different way.