BY Brandon Voss
February 09 2010 2:45 PM ET
Can you pinpoint the moment in your career that you consciously decided to be out in your professional life?
I never had the energy or the time to stay in the closet. I’m not Gerard Butler — well, maybe that’s not the best choice — but I’m a funny character guy like Tom Hanks. My mother used to say to me, “You know you’ll never be a matinee idol,” but I knew I could get away with being the third gay banana from the left. Then they started writing parts for that, thank God — the gay assistant, the gay waiter — so I started doing a lot of that. If there was a moment, I guess it would be when I did Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2001. That was my first big show that everyone in Hollywood watched, and I played a guy who was married to a woman but in the closet. Larry calls him a “cunt” during a poker game and then he comes out of the closet, so in a way that was my national coming out too. After that I kept getting a lot of parts where I was the gay guy married to a lady, trying to make it work.
Has being openly gay ever cost you a role?
Definitely back in the early ’90s, when I first got to L.A., I would audition for lots of things but wouldn’t get them. The feedback I’d get from agents and managers would be like, “You’re just too high-energy,” “You’re just too youthful,” or, “You’re too light in the loafers for that role!” I’m not like — well, I’m not going to say any names because I respect these guys, but I’m not super-effeminate or bouncing off the walls, so I always thought I could pull it off. Julie Halston, this great actress in New York, once told me, “You should have a career like Nathan Lane’s. Nathan doesn’t play straight and he does all kinds of things!” I was like, “I can play straight, Julie. I’ve played straight on TV.” And she said, “Yeah, only for 30 seconds in a commercial!”
You do come off as pretty butch in the Prevacid commercial that’s in heavy rotation right now.
An actor-writer friend of mine saw that and said, “You seemed straight until you hit the other guy on the shoulder with your open palm in the very last second.” I was like, “Damn!” While we were shooting it, I was the only one who was like, “Are we on a gay date in this comedy club?”
In some ways your being unapologetically gay has helped sustain your career: You’ve embraced a niche, become a go-to gay character actor, and made a steady living off that for 20 years.
Not that I’m overflowing buckets of joy and happiness, but I am fairly happy, and I think I’d be miserable if I were pretending to be straight and trying out for more straight roles just to prove something. So, yeah, I am lucky to be one of those guys. But I’ll tell you, these gay kids today who are 10, 15 years younger than me, just starting out, and getting roles ... I try not to be an old crank about it, but these kids have no idea how tough it was in the early ’90s — the pre-Will & Grace days before Ellen came out. Thank God people finally came around.
What’s your take on the popular complaint that gay actors can play the flamboyant comedic gay parts but straight actors get all the dramatic gay roles?
I don’t really go in for dramatic straight roles, but I don’t bitch about all that because every actor has complaints about who they’re up against, what roles they don’t get, and how they’re pigeonholed. Even my friends who are on shows complain that they don’t like the show-runner or the writers, so I just choose not to complain. I read the other day how Colin Firth said he felt he was a part of that problem, but I think the world is growing and changing.
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