Zachary Quinto coming out: Why it matters to Hollywood
Reading Zachary Quinto’s interview with New York magazine in which he says the words “as a gay man,” twice, I was reminded about the cover story Out magazine published back in 2007 called “The Glass Closet.” It was about A-list celebrities who were openly gay in their personal lives but had yet to make any public declaration about their sexuality, and the cover featured models holding up signs on sticks with Jodie Foster and Anderson Cooper’s faces. When EW asked Foster a couple months later if she had any response to the story, she demurred. “Was that the one with the Popsicle sticks?” she said. “No, I have no response.”
Just a few months after that interview, however, Foster acknowledged her then-longtime girlfriend in a non-televised acceptance speech, thanking “my beautiful Cydney, who sticks with me through all the rotten and the bliss.” And that’s all Foster had to do. There was no Time cover story or official statement to the press, no Today show sit-down with Matt Lauer, no follow-up photo spread in People with her partner and family. Foster remains to this day an intensely private person; in that speech, she simply did what any heterosexual person would have done — thank the person who had been sharing her life for over a decade. (Her Out cover-mate Anderson Cooper, meanwhile, told EW this past August, “I’m not really interested in who reporters are seeing [romantically] … I’m not interested in their personal lives. But I understand people are, and, you know, we’ll see.”)
The whole reason this even matters — since the need for public role models has been assuaged of late thanks to Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, Ian McKellen, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Chris Colfer, Chaz Bono, Rufus Wainwright, Melissa Etheridge, Jake Shears, Wanda Sykes, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sean Hayes, Jane Lynch, Dan Savage, Rosie O’Donnell, Tim Gunn, Alan Cumming, Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon, Amber Heard, T.R. Knight, Cheyenne Jackson, Sean Maher, etc., etc., etc. — is the cynically axiomatic argument that an openly gay A-list movie star is a contradiction in terms. It’s an argument that has kept agents, publicists, managers, and studio execs telling their gay clients and stars to keep their private lives private, in case one day they become an A-list movie star; the closet may have glass walls, but that door should remain shut. And so, among A-list movie stars still working today, Foster remains the only one who’s come out mid-career — but, ironically, it’s difficult to tell at the moment how being “officially out” has affected her career. Since that acceptance speech, she’s only appeared in a supporting role in the family film Nim’s Island, and directed and starred with Mel Gibson in The Beaver, a film that was never going to be a referendum on Foster’s box office drawing power. Carnage, her next big role, will hit theaters in December, and could be a better barometer of whether audiences for adaptations of Tony-winning plays about upper-middle-class domestic contretemps care that Foster is playing the wife of John C. Reilly. My guess is they won’t.
And so we pivot back to Quinto. His performance as Spock is widely regarded as the best thing about J.J. Abrams’ fabulous 2009 Star Trek reboot, in part because he brought a slow-burn romantic fire to the iconic half-Vulcan’s relationship with Zoe Saldana’s Uhura. Abrams is expected to start shooting the sequel to Star Trek next year, after which Quinto’s face will be plastered on any number of billboards, bus stops, magazine covers and fast food kids’ meal cups, perhaps some of them sporting Quinto in some kind of tender embrace with Ms. Saldana. And I could be wildly off-base about this, but my guess is that, come Sunday morning of Star Trek 2‘s opening weekend, Quinto’s sexuality off-screen will affect the film’s box office an infinitesimal amount in comparison to whether the movie simply kicks ass.
Quinto, as it happens, was until yesterday also a citizen of that proverbial glass closet; it was barely even an open secret in Hollywood that he was gay. Like Foster, Quinto came out casually, in an interview that had nothing to do with Zachary Quinto Coming Out. Unlike Foster, however, Quinto chose to explain what drove him to finally open that door, writing on his official blog that it was the suicide of gay 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, who took his own life mere months after shooting an It Gets Better video. Quinto notes that he also made an It Gets Better video, in which he declined to say that the reason he knows it does get better is because it got better for him. “But in light of Jamey’s death,” Quinto writes, “it became clear to me in an instant that living a gay life without publicly acknowledging it is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality.”
We’ll know for certain in the next few years whether a modern audience is keen on cracking their wallets for movies featuring Foster, Quinto, and the inevitable steady drip of future un-closeted movie stars. But I can scarcely think of a more self-evident argument for living one’s life honestly than the one Quinto lays out for himself and, by implication, for his peers. As he’s made clear, all it takes is four simple words: “As a gay person…”
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