The decision to cast straight actor Jack Whitehall as Disney’s first openly gay character stirred the never-ending controversy on whether gay characters should be portrayed by non-LGBTI actors. But what about the other way round?
Playing gay is OK for 70% of people
Fresh Meat’s Whitehall will play a ‘hugely effete, very camp and very funny’ character in the upcoming movie Jungle Cruise, alongside Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Emily Blunt.
Following the casting, YouGov surveyed 3,276 adults residing in Great Britain and found 70% of respondents believed playing gay is fine.
Younger people (18-24) are more likely to be upset at the casting of a cis, straight person as an LGBTI character. Nonetheless, older respondents said they are OK with straight actors playing gay.
The whole purpose of acting is, in fact, to pretend to be someone else and convey the emotions of that given character to a greater audience. That is why a literal casting might feel restrictive for those who choose acting as a profession.
However, as long as opportunities for LGBTI actors remain unequal – and that is true especially for trans artists who face a struggle to be cast as anything but trans – a casting decision will always be more than just that. Many are urging casting directors and movie production companies to do better than going for the safest option.
LGBTI actors in straight roles
On the other hand, several LGBTI actors have played straight roles throughout the years.
While it is true that, in certain cases, many did so in an attempt to conceal their sexual identity from the public, in more recent times openly gay and bi actors played straight and did so amazingly.
How I Met Your Mother’s Neil Patrick Harris portrayed womanizer Barney Stinson on the CBS show for nine seasons. Although being one of the most famous gay actors to have stepped in the shoes of a straight character, he wasn’t surely the only one.
Here is a list of some of the best performances by LGBTI actors in heterosexual roles.
1. David Burtka
Neil Patrick Harris playing straight Barney is common knowledge, but did you know his husband, an actor and professional chef, played a straight role on the same show?
David Burtka, in fact, was Scooter, Lily’s (Alyson Hannigan) puppy-eyed ex-boyfriend constantly trying to win her back.
Harris and Burtka tied the knot in Italy in 2014, with Elton John playing at the ceremony officiated by HIMYM’s director Pamela Fryman.
2. Cynthia Nixon
Current gubernatorial candidate for New York Cynthia Nixon has played straight in the unforgettable role of outspoken, sassy Miranda Hobbes in Sex And The City. Her character gets married to Steve Brady.
The openly bisexual actress began dating Christine Marinoni after the end of her marriage to Danny Mozes. The two women married in 2009 and welcomed a son in 2011. Nixon also has two children from her previous marriage, one of whom is transgender.
3. Matt Bomer
Very much like Harris, Matt Bomer rose to popularity for his portrayal of con artist Neal Caffrey in White Collar. Charming, cunning and straight as hell, Caffrey has several female partners throughout the six seasons.
He also played Ken, a straight stripper married to Mircea Monroe in 2015 cult movie Magic Mike.
4. Ellen Page
Before coming out to the world in her beautiful speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive in 2014, the Canadian actress portrayed the titular role in Juno, alongside Michael Cera and Jennifer Garner.
The 2007 movie, where Page plays a brazen teenager dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, was a huge hit. The actress was nominated in the Best Actress category at the Academy Awards but lost it to Marion Cotillard. Screenwriter Diablo Cody won the Oscar for Best Screenplay.
Subsequently, Page played straight in several other movies and notably a gay character in Freeheld, starring opposite Julianne Moore.
5. Wentworth Miller
American actor Wentworth Miller played the role of inmate Michael Scofield in Prison Break. Scofield marries Dr. Sara Tancredi in the show.
Despite several denials, Miller finally came out as gay in 2013. He then reprised his role in Prison Break for a fifth season in 2017.
6. Portia de Rossi
Australian actress Portia de Rossi played straight on several occasions.
Ellen DeGeneres’ wife rose to fame for the role of lawyer Nelle Porter and John Cage’s love interest in legal dramedy Ally McBeal.
She also portrays the straight, promiscuous Lindsay Bluth Fünke in Arrested Development, originally aired between 2003 and 2006 and later picked up by Netflix for a revival.
7. Jim Parsons
Openly gay actor Jim Parsons portrays Sheldon Cooper on the sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
Although the theoretical physicist develops a romantic interest for fellow scientist Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik), many consider Sheldon to be asexual. The show’s creators have always denied such claims.
Parsons married art director Todd Spiewak in 2017, after a ten-year-long relationship.
8. Sara Gilbert
Parsons isn’t the only gay actor on The Big Bang Theory. Lesbian actress Sara Gilbert plays scientist Leslie Winkle, a straight character sexually involved with two main characters, Howard (Simon Helberg) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki).
Funnily enough, Galecki and Gilbert co-starred on the original Roseanne and briefly dated before the actress realized she was into women.
Gilbert married to 4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry in 2014.
9. Kristen Stewart
Bisexual actress Kristen Stewart has played mostly straight characters her whole life.
From her portrayal of Bella Swan in the Twilight saga, where she starred opposite her then-boyfriend Robert Pattinson, to her most recent roles, Stewart has never been in a same-sex storyline. Until now.
She will be Bridget Sullivan in the upcoming Victorian thriller Lizzie. Chloë Sevigny will play the titular role and the two will have a relationship leading to terrible consequences. The movie will hit theaters on 14 September 2018.
10. Luke Evans
Welsh actor Luke Evans has been out as a gay man ever since 2002. However, he has mostly played straight characters.
He portrayed Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston in 2017 movie Professor Marston And The Wonder Women. In the film, he and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) become involved in a polyamorous relationship with student Olive (Bella Heathcote).
Evans was also the obnoxious Gaston in the 2017 Disney classic’s live-action Beauty And The Beast. Furthermore, he played the role of Scott Hipwell in The Girl On The Train.
11. Jodie Foster
The lesbian actress has played heterosexual roles for all of her life.
From her top performances in The Accused and The Silence Of The Lambs – the latter perceived as blatantly concealing her character’s sexuality – Foster played Mel Gibson’s wife in 2011 movie The Beaver, which she also directed.
Furthermore, she portrayed Penelope Longstreet, John C. Reilly’s wife, in Carnage, directed by Roman Polanski.
12. T. R. Knight
T. R. Knight is known primarily for the role of George O’Malley on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.
Despite the show created by Shonda Rhimes has been a frontrunner in portraying relatable LGBTI storylines, O’Malley was one of the heterosexual doctors working at Seattle Grace Hospital.
As fans of the shows may recall, O’Malley falls for the main character Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), gets married to bisexual doctor Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) and later becomes involved with his best friend Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl).
13. Jane Lynch
Back in 2011, lesbian actress Jane Lynch addressed the controversy saying gay actors would never land lead straight roles.
During her long career, Lynch has played several heterosexual characters. The most iconic straight role is surely that of Paula on The 40-Year-Old Virgin. She also played straight on Arrested Development and Glee.
However, she played a lesbian in 2000 ensemble movie Best In Show.
14. Zachary Quinto
Quinto came out as gay in 2011 and he has played several gay characters ever since.
However, he played Spock in Star Trek. The character becomes romantically involved with communication officer Uhura, played by Zoe Saldana, in the 2009 installment of the franchise.
Quinto also played Dr. Oliver Thredson on American Horror Story: Asylum. The psychiatrist develops an obsession for Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson).
15. Sarah Paulson
Now in a relationship with fellow actress Holland Taylor, Paulson had previously dated Cherry Jones. She also dated men and defined her sexuality as ‘fluid’.
Paulson has played LGBTI characters, notably on AHS and 2015 movie Carol. Nonetheless, she has portrayed heterosexual characters as well, such as Amanda in Blue Jay, alongside Mark Duplass. The black and white movie centers around two high-school sweethearts who bumped into each other after twenty years.
The actress also recently played a straight, bored wife and mother in Ocean’s 8.
16. Victor Garber
Canadian actor Victor Garber played straight on both TV shows Alias and Charmed.
He also played Professor Martin Stein on Legends Of Tomorrow, one of the shows of CW’s Arrowverse. Stein is married to Clarissa, played by Isabella Hofmann.
Garber has been in a relationship with model Rainer Andreesen since 2000, but only publicly addressed his homosexuality in 2012. The pair got married in 2015.
While Raven might have been a bit too boy-obsessed on Disney Channel’s show That’s So Raven and the subsequent revival Raven’s Home, the actress portraying the funny character is into women.
She only came out as a lesbian in 2016, after having refused to officially identify as such in previous interviews. She was in a relationship with model AzMarie Livingston for three years before the pair split up in 2015.
18. Jonathan D. Bennett
It’s only thanks to Jonathan D. Bennett if ‘October 3rd’ holds a special meaning for all the mean girls out there.
The actor, who came out as gay in 2017, played Aaron Samuels, Regina George’s (Rachel McAdams) boyfriend and then Cady Heron’s (Lindsay Lohan) love interest in 2004 little gem Mean Girls.
19. Heather Matarazzo
Actress Heather Matarazzo played Anne Hathaway’s best friend Lilly Moscovitz in The Princess Diaries and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.
While Lilly was definitely straight, Matarazzo is openly lesbian and currently engaged to comedian Heather Truman.
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