Jonathan Slavin: Better Off Out
BY Brandon Voss
April 21 2009 12:00 AM ET
What was the moment you consciously chose to be out in your professional life?
There were two, actually, because I sort of did it twice. My partner, Michael, and I have been together since I was 24 years old, which was right after I moved to L.A. and started working. I did a lot of multi-camera half-hour stuff, and he'd always come sit in the audience, and there was never any kind of secret about who he was. But I had one show where a gay casting director asked me, "Is that your boyfriend out there?" I said, "Yeah." And that's someone who's literally never called me in for another audition. Gay casting directors can be way worse than straight casting directors when it comes to that. By the time I started doing Andy Richter Controls the Universe, there'd been a little lag in my career, and after auditions I had heard a lot of "They loved you, but you're just too gay, so they're not going to hire you." So I got a little skittish and thought, I'm just not going to address it. But that lasted for about a month, and then I couldn't stand it anymore. So my partner became a fixture around work again, and everyone knew who he was. There were some issues, and some stuff made its way back to me, like, "This person is concerned about what's going to happen..." But I didn't really care. I'm weird-looking, so it's not like anyone's trying to sell me as the hunk. Then in 2005 I got a series, Inconceivable, where I was finally playing a gay guy. The publicity people asked if I'd be willing to do any gay press, and I said, "Totally." I'd been willing to do press about my sexuality for years, but nobody ever really wanted to talk about it. With all respect for gay publications and the work that they do, I think that had I been 6-foot-2, blond, and gorgeous, I would've been approached sooner. I always was who I was; it just took a while for people to care.
But now that it's public, do you worry being gay might pull too much focus in mainstream media?
I was doing press one day on the Better Off Ted set, and I was talking to someone about all the reality shows that I watch. The interviewer said, "Oh, I guess your wife must be really understanding about that." And I said, "Well, my husband actually really likes them too." And he immediately went, "Oh. So what did you think of Sean Penn's speech at the Oscars?" [Laughs] I was like, "Wow, that was fast!" But I'll talk to anyone about it, and if you want to put it on E! or whatever, knock yourself out.
Let's backtrack to that gay casting director you mentioned. Why are gay casting directors worse than straight ones?
There's a significant amount of internalized homophobia that happens there. What happens sometimes with gay writers, gay directors, and gay casting directors is that they sort of look like me: They're sort of schlubby, middle-aged gay guys who have always been schlubby gay guys, and who have always wanted to be around really hot guys. When you give those people power, they tend to surround themselves with the people that they find dreamy, and they have a tendency to fetishize the conversion of hot straight guys. Like, you hear stories about them not yelling "cut" on the set of Brothers & Sisters when Jason Lewis and Matt Rhys were kissing. It starts with the gay people in power, but the responsibility falls on us in the gay community because we tend not to care if a straight guy plays a gay character as long as they're cute. We'll choose abs over politics, and that's our problem. It's up to us to say, "But I'd like to see a gay person playing a gay person."