The Newest Generation Of Hollywood Is More Queer Than Ever
As Hollywood grapples with greater calls for meaningful diversity, it's the next generation of LGBTQ+ actors who are the keys to true inclusion. And though they've traditionally been secondary or part of an ensemble, the queer characters they play are far from the stereotype. Check out eight actors taking the leap to center stage below.
Brianna Hildebrand experienced something of a miracle early in her career. Her first big gig was opposite Ryan Reynolds and Josh Brolin in 2016's anti-superhero blockbuster Deadpool and Deadpool 2. "I was so confused," she admits. "I expected to spend years trying to do anything and it happened so quickly for me. It was almost like, 'It's not even right. Do I even deserve that?'" Before Deadpool, she had only ever filmed a "super low-budget" short and a web series. "So, getting on the set and seeing operations happening, big apparatuses moving in the sky was a really big learning curve," she says. She reprised her role as Negasonic Teenage Warhead in the 2018 sequel, and shortly after booked Netflix's upcoming Trinkets, where she plays one of three high school girls who meet in a Shoplifter's Anonymous group. Her character Elodie is "super uncomfortable in her skin," she says, "and interested in women." But the series is far from a coming out story. "[Her identity] is a side note, which is one thing that I really loved about the project. It's about the girls being friends and just fucking around and being fun...and then she just happens to be gay."
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The last two years of Keiynan Lonsdale's life have been about freedom. The Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash actor came out as being attracted to men and women via Instagram in May 2017. The following March, he starred in Greg Berlanti's Love, Simon, the first studio-backed gay teen romantic comedy, as the love interest. All the while, he began subverting gendered fashion norms by wearing dresses on red carpets. "I felt like I was just being myself as much as possible," the 27-year-old says. "And people were really supporting me through that." He became an instant role model, releasing the pop track "Kiss The Boy" shortly after Love, Simon's premiere. The same-gender loving anthem is a peek into Lonsdale's goals for 2019 as he focuses on releasing an album in the new year. "I'll always be balancing [acting and music], but I want to jump on tour and perform, and then I hope that I'm lucky enough to be able to act through that as well," he says.
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As an actor, Jake Borelli considered Grey's Anatomy "this Mecca of television." So when he submitted an audition tape for the Shonda Rhimes-created series, he thought, "maybe that's reaching for the stars." Weeks later, his agent called him late one New York night and told him the producers wanted him on set the next morning. He took a red-eye flight to Los Angeles and it's been a "whirlwind" ever since. Last summer, the Grey's showrunner called Borelli with an update on his character, Levi. She wanted a "journey of him coming into his own sexuality and into his own understanding of himself to be this catalyst for what causes him to grow over the period of the season," he says.
Borelli was so excited to tell the story that he used the airing of the coming out episode to share his truth in real life, too. "I knew there was going to be a dialogue surrounding this story, and I knew that if I wanted to join the dialogue, I would also want to come out so that I could speak on this topic in an honest and authentic way," the 27-year-old says. "I think having a platform that reaches such a large amount of people, we have the responsibility to be honest. Sometimes it's the only thing you can do."
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Hank Chen, 29, knows how to book a gig -- or at least how to make a casting agent perk up during a long day of auditions. He calls his secret sauce "Hank-ism," which is "a look, a perspective that nobody else can replicate." From the set of procedurals like Criminal Minds to Reese Witherspoon's Home Again, it often manifests itself in the form of "finding the comedy in the drama and the drama in comedy," he says. In Tyra Banks' recently rebooted Life-Size sequel, he plays Brendan, the assistant who's also the lead's best friend. But this character is different than some might expect: "When 'gay best friends' are written," he says, "I get one or two snappy lines here, throw the look, and that's enough to color the scene. But this guy was three-dimensional. And because I understand what the Hollywood 'gay best friend' is supposed to look like, I wanted to bring him below the surface. I wanted to make sure that the relationship was deepened, that he really had a lot of care and concern for the lead character." Such nuance was important to him "because with the next generation, I want to be the guy that I wish I always had to look up to, but didn't."
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When Diona Reasonover, 27, found out she had booked the role of Kasie on NCIS, she admits she was "scurred." "Do you know how many people watch that show?" she says. "I was worried they were going to write in, 'I hate her!'" But the millions of fans that continue tuning in to the CBS series that's been airing for more than 16 seasons have, thankfully, embraced the young actress. "They're letting me do things in the show that I don't get to do," she says. "Sometimes when you're a person of color in Hollywood you get stuck just yes-and-ing somebody else's story, and they're giving me a chance to really dig deep in an emotional way...where I have an emotional arc and I'm not just supporting someone else's. I never got to do that before." As for other roles, she's stopped auditioning for "one-dimensional stereotypes." "I try to choose people that I at least want to have lunch with. I like Kasie a lot. She's a little much -- but I like her."
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Acting was not Hunter Schafer's desired career goal. She was a theater girl, but lived backstage and actually wanted to work as a fashion designer. Making it to New York City from her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina wasn't going to be easy (or cheap), but she knew she fit some of the standards of a "conventional" model, so she reached out to agents she found on Instagram. During a visit to the big city in her senior year of high school, the now 19-year-old signed with Elite Model Management. "A little over a year of modeling made the camera a lot less intimidating," she says. So when the audition for HBO's Euphoria came her way, she was prepared. The drama, which is Schafer's first role, follows a group of high school students as they navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma, and social media. "I thought I was gonna be in college right now," she says. But when she discovered that some of her life experiences lined up with her character Jules, she felt she could handle it. As she looks to getting more involved in acting, "a huge motivator is just to create and world-build," she says, "because I think trans and gender non-conforming people are the best at that."
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Liv Hewson cannot remember the first time they saw themself reflected onscreen. "I think a lot of young queer and gender-diverse people have a similar experience to the one I did, where I'd never see myself exactly -- and I still haven't seen myself exactly -- but I would see little snapshots here and there," they say. (Like, maybe for example, when Mulan sings "Reflection" in the Disney movie.) Thankfully, the Australian-born 23-year-old is hoping to bring some visibility to the industry in Netflix's Santa Clarita Diet, and the upcoming film about the former Fox News executive Roger Ailes (in which they play Megyn Kelly's assistant). And if Hewson has anything to do with it, they'll be around for some time to come. "I'm so excited about continuing to work as an out person in this industry because, for a long time, I didn't think that that was a possibility for me," they say. "I thought that in order to do this job, I would have to pretend to be cis for ages. Now that I've realized I don't have to do that, oh my God, bring on the rest of my life!"
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It's hard to believe that at 17 years old, Josie Totah has been acting for almost eight years. Most will remember her for standout roles on Glee and Champions, gigs that she now looks at differently. "As much as I loved playing those roles, I found myself cornering that market," she says of the high-femme gay boy characters she often portrayed. "I felt like I was just being shoved into a box and that diminished my identity, but also my acting and my creativity." She's being more conscious now about the projects she attaches herself to, prioritizing those from "creators and storytellers that have been marginalized -- like people of color and people in the LGBTQ+ community," she says. "Even when we've seen those stories, they've been told through that cis, white lens. So, I just feel like it only makes sense that we be the face of our own stories, and I'm really happy that Hollywood is finally at the very start of getting to do that."
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