Monday, December 1, 2008

4 Gay-For-Pay Action Heroes

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

4 Gay-For-Pay Action Heroes

Attending the press conference for Gus Van Sant’s biopic “Milk,” I had a Eureka moment that revealed my own naivety. A woman had asked Van Sant about his creative casting decisions, not just in choosing straights to play all the major gay characters (including a stunning Sean Penn as the gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk), but also in selecting the talented and out Denis O’Hare to embody homophobe extraordinaire John Briggs (the face behind the Proposition 6/Briggs Initiative to kick gay and lesbian teachers out of California’s public schools). I waited anxiously for the director to expound upon what the press notes referred to as “sexual-preference-blind casting,” a subversive twist that relates to Milk’s own modus operandi of rejecting divisiveness regarding sexuality in favor of bringing people together (or as Milk protégé Danny Nicoletta puts it in the notes, “It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you fall on. In fact, just tear the fence down; we all live in the same world.”)

Instead I was taken aback by Van Sant’s candidness. The point wasn’t to use O’Hare in some sort of queer jujitsu to sidestep criticism from the likes of Harvey Fierstein (who’s compared the casting of straights in gay roles to blackface), but simply to get as many homos involved as possible. Thus he wasn’t casting O’Hare so much in a straight role as in a small role. Or as the director so delicately put it, no gay actors have the “box office stature” that was required to get the film made. O’Hare either played straight or he didn’t play at all.

In other words, one of the few industries left in which gay white men (actors) don’t make pay (i.e., wield power) equal to that of their hetero counterparts has churned out a movie about a gay white man who demanded equal rights. Which is ironic enough. And yet even while homo thespians don’t make the serious money in Hollywood some of the biggest box office draws have been allowed to play gay!

To wit:

Russell Crowe

Yes, Maximus was once a friend of Dorothy. Fresh on the heels of his notoriously sexy turn as a neo-Nazi skinhead in “Romper Stomper,” Russell Crowe starred in Geoff Burton and Kevin Dowling’s 1994 “The Sum of Us,” playing Jeff Mitchell, a young Australian looking for Mr. Right as his dad searches for the woman of his own straight dreams. Crowe plays gay okay if lukewarm. (A homo “Gladiator” would have been way hotter.)

Will Smith

Yup, Hancock liked cock. In Fred Schepisi’s 1993 “Six Degrees of Separation” Smith played Paul, a gay hustler posing as the son of Sidney Poitier. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard. To be honest, I can’t bring myself to watch “Six Degrees of Separation” because the idea of Smith playing gay just feels, well, as wrong as Harvey Fierstein doing Tevye on Broadway (whereas Jeffrey Wright as Belize in “Angels in America” felt oh-so-right).

Matt Damon

Though Jason Bourne does make for a fine gay hustler, in Anthony Minghella’s 1999 “The Talented Mr. Ripley” Damon plays Tom Ripley, a natural born killer and con artist with the hots for Jude Law’s Dickie. Damon is convincing playing gay, but then the homosexual nature of the role is beside the main point that snotty richies shouldn’t screw with psychos of any persuasion. Would have gotten bonus points if Tom and Dick had actually got it on.

Daniel Craig

What? You thought I was going to pass up the opportunity to talk about James Bond? In John Maybury’s 1998 “Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon,” Daniel Craig plays Bacon’s lover George Dyer, a sizzling piece of rough trade that Bacon picks up in his own apartment (Dyer was burglarizing the pad – how hot is that?!) The filmmaking, artsy and overwrought, can be forgiven since Craig as dominant Dyer takes off his clothes. And the stylish, soft-core poster of a nearly naked Craig lighting up on a bed is number two on my holiday wish list. (Right after a nearly naked Craig lighting up on my bed.)

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