22/01/2021 10:25 GMT

Neil Patrick Harris Says There's 'Something Sexy' About Straight Actors Playing Gay Roles

“I’m not one to jump on to labelling,” the former How I Met Your Mother star said.

Breaking with many fellow members of the LGBTQ community who have stressed the importance of gay actors playing gay roles, Neil Patrick Harris has a different perspective to share. 

The former How I Met Your Mother star is currently starring in Russell T Davies’ miniseries It’s A Sin, which chronicles the lives of a group of young people living through the AIDS crisis in 1980s London.

In an interview with The Times published on Thursday, Neil was asked whether he agrees with Russell T Davies’ recent comments about only wanting to cast gay actors in gay roles.

“I’m not one to jump on to labelling,” he told the newspaper. “As an actor you certainly hope you can be a visible option for all kinds of different roles.”

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“I think there’s something sexy about casting a straight actor to play a gay role, if they’re willing to invest a lot into it,” Harris said. 

“I played a character [in How I Met Your Mother] for nine years who was nothing like me,” he continued, noting that he believes it’s important “to hire the best actor” for the part.

Neil, who has played characters across the sexuality spectrum in his decades-long career, went onto to add that he thinks “there’s something sexy about casting a straight actor to play a gay role, if they’re willing to invest a lot into it”.

“There’s a nervousness that comes from the newness of it all,” he said. “To declare that you’d never do that, you might miss opportunities.”

Neil then talked about how Davies’ previous series, including Queer As Folk, have featured straight actors playing gay roles, noting that it was “one of the real true turning points for me” to see “sexy guys behaving as leads in something of import, not as comic sidekicks”. 

Speaking of his own desire to play both gay and straight roles in the future, he added, “In our world that we live in, you can’t really as a director demand that [an actor be gay or straight]. Who’s to determine how gay someone is?”

Neil’s comments contrast sharply with Davies’ numerous remarks on the topic; the famed screenwriter has insisted that “authenticity is leading us to joyous places”.

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Russell T Davies

“I’m not being woke about this … but I feel strongly that if I cast someone in a story, I am casting them to act as a lover, or an enemy, or someone on drugs or a criminal or a saint,” he told the Radio Times. “They are not there to ‘act gay’ because ‘acting gay’ is a bunch of codes for a performance.”

“You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair,” he continued. “You wouldn’t black someone up.”

Davies also added in a separate interview that he’s “trying to avenge hundreds of years of inequality” by filling gay roles with gay actors. 

“I’m delighted with the straight actors I’ve used. They’ve done a phenomenal job and a brave job,” he told The Independent. “It’s hard for a straight actor to step up to a gay part still. But right now, I feel that’s where we are.”

The debate around heterosexual actors portraying LGBTQ characters has gotten increased attention in recent years, with everyone from Billy Eichner to Dan Levy advocating for queer artists to be at the helm of their own stories.

In 2018, Scarlett Johansson stepped down from starring as a transgender man in the upcoming biopic Rub And Tug after receiving widespread backlash from the LGBTQ community.

More recently, James Corden was heavily criticised for his portrayal of an effeminate gay man in Netflix’s The Prom, with many deeming his performance as stereotypical and offensive.