Neil Patrick Harris says 'there’s something sexy about' straight actors playing gay characters
Having played a serial womanizer for almost a decade, Neil Patrick Harris has some thoughts on whether actors should play roles that differ from their own identity.
The openly gay actor, who is starring in It's a Sin, a new British miniseries about the AIDS epidemic, addressed the controversial issue in a recent interview with Britain's The Times, saying he "would definitely want to hire the best actor" for a given role.
"I'm not one to jump onto labeling. As an actor, you certainly hope you can be a visible option for all kinds of different roles," Harris added, noting, "I played a character for nine years that was nothing like me," in reference to How I Met Your Mother's Barney Stinson.
"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," the actor continued. "There's a nervousness that comes from the newness of it all. To declare that you'd never do that, you might miss opportunities."
The issue of whether straight actors should play LGBTQ characters has been a recurring point of contention in recent years. In 2018, for instance, Darren Criss said he would no longer play gay characters, explaining, "I want to make sure I won't be another straight boy taking a gay man's role."
Harris' comments were a response to recent remarks by It's a Sin creator Russell T Davies, who is also openly gay and created the original British version of the groundbreaking series Queer as Folk (which starred straight actors including Charlie Hunnam and Aidan Gillen as gay characters). Davies told the Radio Times that he now believes gay characters should be played by gay actors in the interest of "authenticity."
"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… they are not there to 'act gay' because 'acting gay' is a bunch of codes for a performance," Davies said. "You wouldn't cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn't Black someone up. Authenticity is leading us to joyous places."
Harris told The Times that he interpreted Davies' comments as being "more about the joyfulness of being able to be authentic," and added that it's unreasonable to expect every actor to match their characters' identity exactly.
"In our world that we live in you can't really as a director demand that," he said. "Who's to determine how gay someone is?"
It's a Sin will premiere Stateside on HBO Max later this year.