13 LGBT Roles That Didn't Kill These A-List Actors' Careers

Will playing gay ruin your acting career? Don't tell that old trope to these big Hollywood names.



Daniel Day-Lewis  My Beautiful Launderette (1985)
Combining racism, class issues, and gay love in one sudsy mix sounds like a recipe for heavy-handed treacle, but Stephen Frears's My Beautiful Laundrette is as entertaining as it is culturally resonant. The story of a Pakistani man and a street punk falling in love, challenging the conventions of Thatcher-era London, and classing up a laundromat in the way only gay men can, My Beautiful Laundrette was immediately met with praise as was Daniel Day-Lewiswhose brilliant performance only led to more great roles. 


Tom Hanks  Philadelphia (1993)
Philadelphia was a landmark film for introducing mainstream moviegoers to the discrimination gay men faced as well as the discrimination encountered by people living with HIV and AIDS, especially in the 1980s and early '90s. Hanks played this role with such compassion that this actor known for funny roles up until that point in films like Turner & Hooch and Big, and the TV show Bosom Buddies, earned his first Academy Award.

Will Smith  Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
We know that Will Smith has had a stronghold on summer blockbusters starting with 1996's Independence Day, but a few years earlier, as his sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was taking off, Smith appeared in this comedic drama as Paul, a con artist who preyed on the parents of wealthy college students. Though Smith refused to kiss Anthony Michael Hall for the role because he was advised it would ruin his career, his performance proved that the guy had acting chops beyond his sitcom role.


Leonardo DiCaprio — Total Eclipse (1995)
A then 20-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio played the original bady boy of poetry, Arthur Rimbaud, who seduced and had a bonfire of an affair with older poet Paul Verlaine. This was a small film, early in DiCaprio's career, and took risks with langorous and sensual seduction and sex scenes.

Gina Gershon — Bound (1996)
This neo-noir thriller marked the directorial debut of the Wachowski siblings, and though it was long before Lana Wachowski was an out trans woman, we can’t help but think it helped influence this superb bisexual/lesbian classic in which Violet (femme and alluring Jennifer Tilly), a moll owned by her Mafia boyfriend (Joe Pantoliano) but looking for escape, has an affair with butch neighbor Corky (Gina Gershon in the hottest lesbian film role ever). The two women hatch a scheme to steal millions from the mob, and the usual noir tropes work to great success, albeit with a hefty dose of violence.


Robin Williams — The Birdcage (1996)
At first glance, both Nathan Lane and Robin Williams seem to play flamboyant, wacky characters in The Birdcage, but the actors show empathy and authenticity as Albert and Armand. While the roles are mid-career for both of these actors, this film ended up being one of the most iconic in each of their careers.