Death Becomes Denis O’Hare
BY Brandon Voss
June 18 2010 9:55 AM ET
Just when you thought True Blood couldn’t get any gayer, in drops Denis O’Hare as Russell Edgington, vampire king of Mississippi, who shows up in the third season’s June 20 episode with his handsome afterlife partner of 700 years. A gay denizen of Broadway, where he starred in revivals of Cabaret, Sweet Charity, and Assassins, O’Hare won a 2003 Tony for his performance as the gay manager of a gay baseball player in Take Me Out. But when it comes to his impressive film and television résumé — which includes featured roles in The Proposal, Changeling, and ABC’s Brothers & Sisters — the repeat Out 100 honoree is better known for playing straight antagonists like California state senator John Briggs, Harvey Milk’s homophobic nemesis, in Milk. Now happily sinking his teeth into half of True Blood’s first gay vampire couple, O’Hare spills the secret to keeping a same-sex relationship spicy after seven centuries.
The Advocate: It’s great to see you playing a gay character in True Blood. You’ve played gay before in Take Me Out and An Englishman in New York, but you rarely take on gay roles, especially for an out actor. Has that been a conscious decision on your part?
Denis O’Hare: No. Years ago I went in for As Good as It Gets, that movie with Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and Greg Kinnear. I auditioned for the gay part, and after I finished the audition the casting director rolled her eyes and said, “This is a gay character. I’m so tired of people playing gay people like they’re straight. This is a gay man.” I was like, “OK. Should I do it again?” She goes, “Yeah, make it gay!” So I went a little more in that direction, and it was fine, whatever. When we finished, she said, “So how’s your family? You’ve got a wife, right?” I said, “No. I have a boyfriend.” She said, “You’re gay? I thought you had a wife!” It was really revelatory to me that she had some weird assumption about how gay people were supposed to act. Somehow, because I wasn’t acting that way, I couldn’t possibly be gay. It was such a bizarre experience. So I guess to some straight casting directors, I’m not gay enough to play gay.
You’ve definitely played your share of straight jerks. So what did you think about Ramin Setoodeh’s Newsweek article?
I must admit I didn’t read it, so I shouldn’t even speak to it, but of course I have an opinion anyway. It annoyed me, but I thought it was more complicated than the ensuing discussion. I don’t think his point was that gay actors can’t convincingly be straight in roles; I think his point was that once the knowledge is out that those actors are gay, the audience is unwilling to suspend their disbelief. So I felt there was a finer point there that got lost in the stampede. His point has less to do with the ability of actors and more to do with society’s ongoing prejudices and our inability to cut a gay man the same kind of slack we’d cut Julia Roberts if she were playing a nuclear scientist. We could suspend our disbelief for that, but we can’t suspend our disbelief to accept that Sean Hayes is interested in sleeping with Kristin Chenoweth? That’s a problem.
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