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Newsweek travels back to 1952 to argue against gay actors in straight roles; Kristin Chenoweth is not happy

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Image Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/FX; Carin Baer/FoxKristin Chenoweth, 473; Newsweek, 0. Yeah, that’s a blowout score, but there’s no other way to tally the points after reading the magazine’s recent piece by Ramin Setoodeh, which argues that openly gay actors like Sean Hayes and Glee‘s Jonathan Groff, pictured right, can’t successfully portray heterosexual characters, and the scathing and spot-on response posted Friday by Chenoweth, who costars with Hayes in Broadway’s Promises, Promises.

There’s so much wrong with Setoodeh’s story — Chenoweth rightfully calls it “horrendously homophobic” despite the fact that its author is reportedly gay — that you could pretty much line up every sentence and shoot holes in them like wooden ducks at a carnival gallery. “This article offends me because I am a human being, a woman and a Christian,” writes Chenoweth. “For example, there was a time when Jewish actors had to change their names because anti-Semites thought no Jew could convincingly play Gentile. Audiences aren’t giving a darn about who a person is sleeping with or his personal life. Give me a break! We’re actors first, whether we’re playing prostitutes, baseball players, or the Lion King.”

Points well made! Still, there are a few specific areas Chenoweth doesn’t tackle in her succinct, salty response, first of which is Setoodeh’s infuriating implication that his problem isn’t necessarily with casting homosexual actors in straight roles; rather, he argues that his beef begins when said thespians have the audacity to ruin everything by coming out of the closet. “For all the beefy bravado that Rock Hudson projects on-screen, Pillow Talk dissolves into a farce when you know the likes of his true bedmates,” Setoodeh writes. “Cynthia Nixon was married to a man when she originated Miranda on Sex and the City. Kelly McGillis was straight when she steamed up Top Gun‘s sheets, and Anne Heche went back to dating men (including her Men in Trees costar). If an actor of the stature of George Clooney came out of the closet tomorrow, would we still accept him as a heterosexual leading man? It’s hard to say. Or maybe not. Doesn’t it mean something that no openly gay actor like that exists?”

Setoodeh’s line of thinking is almost comically dim, as if he already knows somewhere out there, a gay actor is “duping” him into believing a heterosexual romance in a fictionalized piece of work. It’s as if he’s saying, “I’ll show you, Closeted Gay Actor! The minute you open about your sexual orientation is the minute I’ll put your DVD on eBay or toss it in a bonfire at the end of the cul de sac!” What Setoodeh doesn’t address, however, is whether he’ll believe, say, Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher as romantic partners this summer in Killers, even though he (and the entire viewing audience) knows that in real life, said thespians are (gasp!) respectively married to Josh Kelley and Demi Moore. Heck, maybe Setoodeh thinks Angelina Jolie missed out winning the Oscar for Changeling because Clint Eastwood failed to cast little Maddox in the role of her son. If actors’ real-life domestic situations can truly interfere with the characters they portray, I wonder if Setoodeh was comfortable last year watching anything beyond the CGI- and performance-capture-heavy worlds of Avatar and A Christmas Carol.

The other laughable part of the Newsweek screed is that Setoodeh’s gay-panic casting theories don’t extend to heterosexual actors tackling same-sex-loving roles. “While it’s OK for straight actors to play gay (as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger did in Brokeback Mountain), it’s rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse,” he writes. “[Portia] de Rossi and [Neil Patrick] Harris do that on TV, but they also inhabit broad caricatures, not realistic characters likes the ones in Up in the Air or even The Proposal.” Cue needle scratching across record, yo! Did this dude just suggest that Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds weren’t playing broad characters in The Proposal? Look, I enjoyed last year’s rom-com smash perfectly well, but Revolutionary Road it was not. But what am I doing, looking for logical thinking in this story? Maybe we should just limit gays like Harris and de Rossi to animated voice-over work, provided those roles don’t call for nuanced explorations of human sexuality.

Heck, if Newsweek’s antiquated story was put into practice, we’d have to recast Anna Paquin (who recently revealed she’s bisexual) in True Blood, reshoot Lilly Tomlin’s scenes as a vindictive (and straight) family matriarch in Damages, and halt all future cable reruns of Rupert Everett daring to be a dashing hetero dude in An Ideal Husband and Meredith Baxter bringing to life classic sitcom mom Elyse Keaton on Family Ties.

Oh, but wait. I forgot. It’s 2010. We live in a time when women throw their bras with abandon at Adam Lambert concerts, where Cheyenne Jackson can be the object of heterosexual lust on 30 Rock, where nobody watched 24 and freaked out because Cherry Jones’s Mrs. President had a Mister shacking up with her in the White House.

Sure, there’s a faction of society that’s stuck in a perpetual time-warp, people whose imaginations would reside most comfortably in a home with a black-and-white television, a Formica kitchen table, and a mom who prepares a pot-roast every Wednesday night while dressed like Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven. But those folks deserve our pity, and nothing more.

Which is why my heart breaks a little for Setoodeh when I read this sentence of his Newsweek item: “As viewers, we are molded by a society obsessed with dissecting sexuality, starting with the locker-room torture in junior high school.” Here’s a guy so caught up in his own internalized terror, he doesn’t realize that he’s the one who’s shut himself in the locker. The football jocks? They’ve already gone home for the evening, presumably to watch the gay guy playing a straight heartthrob on Glee.

Who do you side with in the Chenoweth-vs.-Newsweek debate? (If you missed the respective stories at the center of the drama, check ’em out here and here.) Sound off in the comments below — try to keep it civilized, please! — and to get all my pop-culture commentary, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.

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