Sean Hayes in Promises, Promises
US celebrities have expressed their anger about an article in Newsweek magazine which suggests that gay actors cannot convincingly play straight roles.
In the article, titled ‘Straight Jacket’, Ramin Setoodeh, who is himself gay, writes: “For gay actors, why should sexual orientation limit a gay actor’s choice of roles? The fact is, an actor’s background does affect how we see his or her performance…”
He assesses a number of openly gay actors and their recent performances as straight characters, and says that former Will & Grace actor Sean Hayes is “insincere” and “unintentionally camp” while playing a heterosexual stage character in the Broadway play Promises, Promises.
Setoodeh also focuses on openly gay actor Jonathan Groff, who plays a straight character in the American musical television series Glee.
“As the shifty Glee captain from another school who steals Rachel’s heart, there’s something about his performance that feels off. In half his scenes, he scowls- is that a substitute for being straight? When he smiles or giggles, he seems more like your average theatre queen, a better romantic match for Kurt than Rachel,” he writes.
In a later interview, Setoodeh stuck to his claims, commenting about Neil Patrick Harris’ role in the hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother: “He’s not really a romantic lead where women are actually supposed to believe him as a heterosexual character.”
Actors have lambasted the journalist, pointing out that all performers play characters often vastly different from themselves, which can include their sexuality.
Gay actor Michael Urie, from the show Ugly Betty, speaking to AfterElton.com, described the article as “unconscionable”.
“No straight critics accuse Sean Penn of not being able to play Harvey Milk or [criticise] Tom Hanks in Philadelphia,” said Urie.
Openly gay Broadway and TV star Cheyenne Jackson called Setoodeh “an asshole” saying that the article was “infuriating on so many levels”.
Broadway and TV actress Kristin Chenoweth – who is Sean Hayes’ co-star in Promises, Promises – stepped into the fray. “No one needs to see a bigoted, factually inaccurate article that tells people who deviate from heterosexual norms that they can’t be open about who they are and still achieve their dreams,” she said.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) also slated the piece. “Whether he intended it to or not, Ramin Setoodeh’s article in Newsweek sends a false and damaging message about gay actors by endorsing the idea that there are limits to the roles they are able to play,” said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios in a statement.
“Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender actors can play a wide variety of diverse roles and Setoodeh’s perspective on this issue reflects his own discomfort that he attempts to project onto the audience by indicting Sean Hayes instead of examining his own inability to embrace gay actors in straight roles.”
Setoodeh said that he intended the article to start a debate on the issue “that would be thoughtful- not to become a target for people who twisted my words”.