Openly gay actors playing it straight on the big screen is still a relatively rare occurrence, but that can’t be said of their straight counterparts playing gay.
Many screen legends, as well as a huge array of modern day actors, have taken on gay roles to huge critical acclaim.
From the late, great Heath Ledger in the groundbreaking ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-winning turn as the American novelist Truman Capote, as part of our Loud & Proud series we celebrate - and salute - some of these memorable performances and find out what the actors had to say about playing gay.
“For me there’s explicit love in the film, and the fact of his sexuality being homosexual doesn’t make any difference. If it would have added to the film, we’d have done it. I’d have no qualms about filming those scenes, expressing that side of a character’s relationship to his body. It’s partly to do with the logical loop of the film, the poetical loop. It’s about what’s not seen, it’s about secrets, what’s repressed – and his sexuality was. This is a man who’s never going to be allowed to love, and that’s really his tragedy and the tragedy of the film.”
“I don’t think there’s any difference between how one falls in love. People express love differently, person to person, but it’s not gender or sexuality related. The only difference it made was obviously the actual sex scene, of course. I was talked through it by the director. He would be telling me what I would be feeling in each take. Basically, gay sex, especially for the first time, is really fucking painful. And [the director] said that he had never seen that portrayed accurately on film before. He wanted it to look like an authentic loss of virginity.”
"It was certainly a surreal moment the first time I had to kiss Jake, but once that was done, I quickly realised that it didn't make me want to run out and do it again. And you think, OK, what's the next shot? Those scenes were just a small part of the package."
“[Kissing co-star Sean Penn] was uncomfortable. Especially like the first time we did it. We didn't do it many times but the first kiss of the film he had on - he grew a beard but he needed a slightly thicker beard so he had some hairs intertwined in his real hairs and so we kissed and those kept getting in my mouth, and it was just kind of uncomfortable, and not that fun.”
“Everyone told me not to do it. ‘It will wreck your career. You're going too far. You will be typecast as a homosexual after this.’ At the time it was considered so outrageous. The mailbag I got after making that? Gratitude. It changed people's lives. It was fascinating for me to find out how all these men had been living with this secrecy.”
Fade To Black
"If you're an actor who is afraid to play a character because they're gay, you should probably go and get yourself sorted out, actually. Grow up. I certainly didn't walk around gay, thinking gay, brushing my teeth gay."
Number 9 Films
“I think my fear was that this was somehow going to be as a film that would only interest women. And the response from men, [which] I’ve found really heartwarming, is [that] it has that universal quality not only because of an audience’s sexual persuasion but also because of the gender.”
“It wasn’t the most natural thing in the world to do. Like, for one scene, I had to come out of a pool, go over to Michael, straddle him on a chaise lounge and start kissing him. And throughout the script, it’s not like I kiss him just once. We drew it up like a football plan. I remember asking Heath Ledger after 'Brokeback Mountain', ‘How’d you do that scene with Jake?’ - meaning the scene where they start ferociously kissing. He said, ‘Well, mate, I drank a half case of beer in my trailer.’ I started laughing, and he goes, ‘No, I’m serious. I needed to just go for it. If you can’t do that, you’re not making the movie.’”
20th Century Fox
“I never really thought of risks, I never thought, ‘Well, I don't really want to play this character because he's gay.' You just hope to play interesting parts, and that was an interesting part.”
Channel 4 Films
“The [Christian Bale] sex scene was fun though! We were in Kings Cross; he plays a journalist and I played a rock star and we had a shag on the roof in Kings Cross and they wanted to shoot a wide shot. We heard the kind of 'action!' (from the film crew on another rooftop) and we, you know, we start slowly, and then it went on and on, and we're really going now. And then I thought 'I would have come by now,' so I lean over and say 'I think I would have come by now', and I look over at the other roof, and the crew are already packing up. They must have thought it was a sensitive thing and wanted to leave us to it."
"What I’m doing for the gay community is loving and tolerating. Accepting everyone on equal terms." And on getting to snog McGregor? "A dream come true. I mean look at the guy."
Double Feature Films
“You form a bond with somebody and that's your bond for the duration of the movie. One of the great things about coming to work every day was knowing that [co-star] Ellen Page was going to be there.”
United Artist Pictures
"I grew up around gay people, I remember walking down the streets one day and the Sisters of Indulgence, specifically Sister Mary Boom Boom, looked at me and said, 'There goes the neighborhood.' I thought that was wonderful."
“If I wasn't in 'Boogie Nights' or I wasn't in 'Flawless', people wouldn't think [I was gay]. I would read sometimes about people thinking I was gay and I would think, ‘Oh, that's so great!’ I take it as a compliment."
"Once you get that first kiss in, you are comfortable. Matt [Damon] and I didn't rehearse the love scenes. We said, 'Well, we've read the script, haven't we?' The hardest thing about sex scenes is that everybody is a judge. I don't know the last time you murdered somebody or blew anyone's brains out, but everyone has had sex and probably this morning, which means everyone has an opinion on how it should be done."
“I don't think [playing gay] is such a big risk anymore, unless you sort of get it wrong. And with this, I just felt that the story was told with such sincerity and it wasn't a send-up or a spoof of something. It really dealt with what was going on with these people. I didn't have any second thoughts about playing it.”
“I think it’s very hard with those [love] scenes to be completely at ease. You’re standing there with your tits out and of course it’s embarrassing on one level and it’s one of the most unsexy things you can film.”
“It wasn’t something I’d have ever considered really. I thought it was a joke, but a woman friend of mine just happened to be present when I was getting calls from my agent about the script and she pointed out to me in a very incisive way that my fear was out of all proportion to the possible consequences. That’s the thing about fear: you’re only really subject to it as long as you don’t spot it. It’s not easy to realise when you’re turning down things from fear or genuine discernment.”
World Of Wonder
“A character’s sexuality is far less challenging than developing their personality. At the end of a day, your character loves someone—man or woman, it’s the same kind of love.”
“The lesbian and masturbation scenes were non-negotiable. I had kissed lots of girls before, but not like this. I was amazed how honest and real all this looks on screen. These girls look really in love and it was curiously erotic. Laura is very free in her sexuality. I am, too, but usually only with someone I am intimate with."
“I don’t spend much time distinguishing people into categories, so to be honest, I can’t say it’s really something I think about.”
“Early on, we had put together a dinner for a lot of the people that had been involved in Harvey Milk’s campaign. He said one of the myths is that we’re all just the same, it’s just the sex that’s different. He said, ‘In reality, we’re very different, it’s just the sex that’s pretty much the same.' The difference, of course, is living with bigotry and oppression and all of that shit. And that was where the focus went. The rest of it is, for some people, a guy gives them a boner, for somebody else, it’s a woman. So it was an approach, the sex is the sex is the sex is the sex, but the other part was really the heart of the picture.”
''[Director, Mike Nichols] said, 'I have to tell you something. This is a wonderful part. She's a lesbian, but she's a wonderful lesbian.' I said 'O.K., fine, it doesn't bother me.' ''
HuffPost UK is turning Loud & Proud. Over the next fortnight, we’ll be celebrating how gay culture has influenced and, in turn, been embraced by all fields of entertainment, inspiring cinema-goers, TV audiences, music-lovers and wider society with its wit, creativity and power of expression. Through features, video and blogs, we’ll be championing those brave pioneers who paved the way, exploring the broad range of gay culture in British film, TV and music and asking - what is left to be done? If you’d like to blog on our platform around these topics, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a summary of who you are and what you’d like to blog about.