It’s difficult to believe that Darryl Stephens is over 30. I’ve noticed that many actors appear younger than they are. Whether it’s a genetic trait of people prone to professional exhibitionism or as a result of not working in a toxic office could be debated, but this is the first thing that occurs to me when I meet him over coffee in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Oh, and, of course, that he’s a particularly attractive man.

Stephens is in South Africa as a guest of the Out In Africa gay and lesbian film festival – representing both the gay-soap series Noah’s Arc – in which he plays the Noah in question – and the feature film Boy Culture.

Born in Pasadena, California, Stephens began acting while at university – working on a number of musical stage productions. He moved to Los Angeles and soon scored his first gay film role in Circuit (2001). While he’s played a few straight characters since those early days – perhaps most notably as the girl-seducing teen in MTV’s Undressed – he’s best known for his gay roles.

An audition for a minor character in a new show called Hot Chocolate in 2004 saw him taking the lead role – and the series being re-named Noah’s Arc and broadcast on MTV’s gay cable channel Logo. While the show went on to become the channel’s most popular property, it was recently cancelled after two seasons – with talk of a feature film version in the works. Last year saw Stephens appearing in the spoof comedy feature Another Gay Movie, and this year in the acclaimed drama Boy Culture.

Many would assume that, because Stephens has appeared in a number of gay films and that he’s a guest of the film festival, he is himself gay, but this is not something that he’s prepared to publicly confirm or discuss. He is clearly aware of the possibility that he may become typecast in gay roles. He seems to be earnestly grappling with the professional, public and personal dilemmas associated with being a young actor in Hollywood with the ‘gay label’ hanging over his head.

You have a theatre background. What made you decide to focus on film?

When I moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco I did theatre, but it’s hard to do it in LA. There’s not much of a theatre scene. I attempted to do both but theatre just faded – there’s just not much respect for theatre there. You can tell people in Los Angeles that you’ve been theatre for ten years but they still want to see your reel with your movie credits. So I decided to focus on that and I’ve grown to enjoy working in that medium better.

Do you prefer to work in comedy or drama?

Personally I’m more comfortable doing drama. But most of the work I’ve done is comedy so I don’t know what that means; if I’m laughable when I’m trying to be taken seriously or what. (Laughs) I feel that comedy is more subjective; if you think you’re funny other people don’t necessarily think you’re funny while in drama as long as you’re being true to the character and the moment I feel like it’s more safe.

You’re interested in music: Is there an album in the works?

When I was young I fancied that I might want to be a musician. In college I probably wrote enough songs to fill an album. But your focus changes. You grow up a little bit. I look back at those songs and I like to laugh at myself. (Laughs) I’m a huge music fan. Music is on all the time.

You mentioned writing music. Have you thought of writing for film?

That’s something I’m focusing on right now. I’m working on a script. Basically it’s a matter of keeping myself busy when I’m not acting. As an actor sometimes it’s easy to feel that you’re not being productive enough because so much is based on someone hiring you or you being right for a role. It’s also an artistic, emotional outlet for myself.

You’re not comfortable discussing your sexuality in the media. Why is that?

I feel that in Los Angeles – in the industry – people can sometimes get caught up in the personal lives of actors. You can see it on a large scale with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. It becomes an ordeal to me. People want to make such a big deal about what people are doing in their personal lives. I’m still a young actor and there’s still a lot of work that I want to do. I don’t feel that people have seen me play enough characters. I think that if people feel too invested in my personal life they’ll lose sight of my capacity to grow and surprise them with new roles.

You’ve played quite a few gay roles in your career. Does it worry you that you’ll be typecast?

I have done a few non-gay roles but the larger profile things have been gay related. Noah’s role led to Boy Culture which led to Another Gay Movie. It was all a domino effect. There are also not a lot of black actors comfortable playing these roles. There is a concern that if people see you playing one thing they assume you can’t do anything else.

Have you actually experienced that?

Yeah, I went in for a sitcom a couple of months ago and it wasn’t a gay role and the casting woman said that she had no idea that I could do that. She though that I was effeminate like Noah. She told me that, “I assumed you were that guy and that’s why I haven’t called you for anything else.”

So are gay roles out for you then?

I have actually put a moratorium on gay roles for the time being, yes…

“For the most part gay actors don’t play gay roles – that’s just how it goes…”

How do you feel about the recent spate of actors and celebs coming out?

It’s great. Although they already have careers in place – I’m talking about TR Knight from Grey’s Anatomy and Neil Patrick Harris. In a lot of way it’s opening people’s eyes to the fact that gay actors can play straight characters. When Neil came out – and I know Neil – I was impressed because he was playing this womanising character on this big show. It was a bold step on his part. It will hopefully lead to other actors feeling like that they come out if they want to. But it’s not necessarily right for every actor…

Hopefully their coming out will make a difference…

You know, we [the actors] won’t discuss our sexuality on Noah’s Arc. A good half of the cast are strapping actors playing characters that are nothing like themselves… Actors can play roles. That’s what they do. At the same time you want actors to feel comfortable being themselves in the press – why should they lie – but the industry has not shown that it is ready to embrace those actors. And that’s largely based on the public. It remains to be seen how the public responds to these actors coming out.

So do agents actually sit down and pressure actors not to come out?

Actors and agents are extremely vocal that gay actors should not discuss their sexuality. It’s very well known that managers and agents don’t want them to do that. And when an actor plays a gay part their publicists are the first to put them on a magazine cover to talk about how brave they are in being a straight actor playing a gay role. Those kinds of things are very much part of the machine. For the most part gay actors don’t play gay roles – that’s just how it goes. It’s safer for straight actors – like Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. But ultimately it’s good in a way because it still helps the public at large get comfortable with gay characters.

With an all black cast, Noah’s Arc has been called revolutionary. Do you agree?

It’s hard for me to be objective on how the show is impacting the culture outside of it

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