Will Hollywood ever cast an openly gay actor as a franchise headliner?

As casting rumours continue to roll in for Superman, Ti wonders, would Hollywood ever cast an openly gay actor in such a roll?

As Warner Brothers and Zack Snyder begin their hunt for a new Superman, it seems that everywhere I look, I see potential candidates. While watching The Social Network, I thought Armie Hammer would make a good Man of Steel, and likewise, while watching the new Hawaii Five-0 series, I kept imagining Alex O’Loughlin in the cape and tights.

However, while watching 30 Rock, I saw an actor who, in my eyes, looked exactly how I’d imagine Superman on the big screen: 6’3″, well built and with a diverse acting range. The actor was Cheyenne Jackson, who plays Danny Baker in the show (and previously played Mark Bingham in United 93). Curious about what else he had done, I went on his IMDb page to browse his filmography and discovered that he is one of Hollywood’s few openly gay actors.

As soon as I read that my heart sunk, because whether you agree with the casting or not, Hollywood studios are seemingly never going to cast an openly gay actor in such a role.

Think back to when Daniel Craig was cast as James Bond. Do you remember the fervour and rash of media headlines about MGM and United Artists making the ‘crazy’ decision of hiring a ‘Blonde Bond’? To the casual observer, it seemed like Daniel Craig had ruined the role, before he had even said a line of dialogue. However, he gave a performance to prove his critics (well, most of them) wrong and is considered to be one of the best Bonds of recent time.

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Unfortunately, that controversy seems to have ruled out my personal choice of Damien Lewis (Band Of Brothers) ever being cast as Bond. Can you imagine the controversy at the casting of a ‘Ginger Bond?’

Now imagine what would happen if the studio cast a gay actor as James Bond?

Now, there is no reason why a gay actor could not play James Bond. The actor’s sexuality should and would have no basis on how he played the character, and it’s not like James Bond would suddenly be bedding men instead of women. It is a completely ridiculous assumption to make that, simply because an actor playing a role is gay, that somehow the character he is playing is also gay.

In fact, fans of TV series How I Met Your Mother will know that the character of Barney Stinson is the greatest lothario the small screen has seen since Sam Malone stood behind the bar in Cheers, and is played by the openly gay Neil Patrick Harris. However, there is still the impression from the general public that a gay man playing such an iconic role is not acceptable.

This can be best seen during the 1980s, when Rupert Everett was one of the UK’s hottest young actors. In fact, he was widely rumoured to play James Bond at some point in the future. However, in 1989, he openly declared that he was gay, a decision, he has said, that improved his personal life, but seriously damaged his film career.

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In interviews over the years, Everett has suggested to gay actors that, for the benefit of their careers, they should ‘stay in the closet’ or risk losing plum roles. Speaking to The Guardian last year, Everett said, “It’s not that advisable, to be honest. It’s not very easy and, honestly, I would not advise any actor necessarily, if he was really thinking of his career, to come out.”

He said that a general homophobia in Hollywood had kept him from becoming a leading man and that the studio system even preferred to cast heterosexuals as gays (such as Brokeback Mountain and Transamerica).

“The fact is that you could not be, and still cannot be, a 25-year-old homosexual trying to make it in the British film business or the American film business or even the Italian film business,” he said. “It just doesn’t work and you’re going to hit a brick wall at some point. You’re going to manage to make it roll for a certain amount of time, but at the first sign of failure they’ll cut you right off.”

Now, while I don’t entirely agree with Everett about an underlying homophobia in Hollywood, I do believe that, when it comes to casting an openly gay actor in a role such as Superman or James Bond, there is a large financial concern at stake for the studios.

Whether we like to admit it or not, there are still certain demographics and elements of society that don’t accept homosexuality, and from a business point of view, it is a large chunk of potential box office that studios might lose if they were to cast a gay man in such an role for a tent pole movie. I don’t agree with it and I think it is a complete shame, but if a gay man was to be cast as the Man of Steel, you can imagine the kind of comments you would see on Internet boards and concerned conservative family groups.

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For a taste, simply look back to 2006. Bryan Singer is one of Hollywood’s few openly gay directors, and while it seems no one had a problem with him directing the X-Men films, with their clear message of fighting intolerance and prejudice, there seemed to be a fear that with him at the helm of the new Superman film, he would suddenly ‘gay’ up The Big Blue Boy Scout, a character that stands for Truth, Justice and The American Way, despite being an illegal alien.

This led to Bryan Singer having to give numerous interviews where he described Superman as “the most heterosexual character in any movie I’ve ever made” and denying he was making a ‘gay Superman’ film. However, the newspaper, magazine and Internet speculation continued, with reports even querying Superman actor Brandon Routh’s sexuality. It was only when he announced his engagement to his long term girlfriend that the rumours seemed to die down.

It is no surprise that many actors have kept their sexuality such a secret. In this age of tabloid gossip and paparazzi, many actors go to extreme lengths to keep their lives private, and it is completely reasonable to see why.

It is not a recent occurrence either. During the 50s and 60s, actors such as Richard Chamberlain and Rock Hudson hid their homosexuality for the impact that it would have on their careers, only opting to reveal all later in life. For many, their revelations came as a shock, especially considering the manly roles the actors had played throughout their careers. As a matter of note, Richard Chamberlain was the first Jason Bourne.

There are exceptions, however. Sir Ian McKellen has long been an advocate of gay rights. His roles in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and X-Men films have shown that studios do not mind hiring gay actors, just as long as they are in a supporting or mentor role. It also seems to help that Sir Ian is a widely respected and well established actor. In fact, I don’t seem to recall any outcry when he was cast as either Gandalf or Magneto.

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So. where does this leave gay actors in the near future? Should they come out, and essentially give up on their dreams of playing such iconic roles, opting instead to be pigeonholed as a ‘gay actor’, or take Everett’s advice and ‘stay in the closet’ and have a successful movie career? More importantly, why in the 21st century is this still the case?

As my choice for Superman, Cheyenne Jackson, said, “To be frank, I think I’ve missed out on big parts because I’m open. I’ve screen tested on some really big projects, and you can’t tell me that behind closed doors big execs aren’t like, ‘We have Dean Cain or this gay guy who played Elvis on Broadway.’ I’m not that naive to think that that doesn’t play into it.”

What are your thoughts and opinions on the subject? Add them the comment section below.

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