Ryan Phillippe: Cool Intentions

Now flexing his comedy muscles in MacGruber, Phillippe gives us his gayest look — Leno be damned — at his own life and livelihood.

BY Brandon Voss

May 12 2010 5:00 AM ET

RYAN PHILLIPPE Xlrg (CREDIT ON IMAGES) | ADVOCATE.COMThose films in the ’90s certainly earned you a big gay following.
And thank God for that. I’m very aware and appreciative. Because I started my career playing a gay teenager on One Life to Live when I was very young, I’ve always had a heightened sensitivity to that response, and I’m definitely considerate of that audience.

One Life to Live recently aired daytime television’s first gay sex scene. How much same-sex affection could you show when you played gay teen Billy Douglas?
Me and the guy who played my boyfriend might’ve held hands once or twice, but that was it. The age of those characters had something to do it, but things also weren’t as liberal in 1992. Still, I felt lucky to play the first gay teenager on television—not just daytime but television, period. What was so amazing about that for me was the response I got through fan letters that my mother and I would read together. Kids who’d never seen themselves represented on TV or in movies would write to say what a huge support they found it to be. One kid said he’d considered suicide before seeing a character like him being accepted. I also heard from a father, a mechanic, who hadn’t spoken to his son since he came out. When our show came on in his shop, it gave him some insight and understanding as to who his son was, so it opened up communication between them. As much as you can write off how silly the entertainment industry can be, it can affect change and make people see things differently. That’s beautiful.

You attended a Baptist high school in your hometown of New Castle, Delaware. Did you have an understanding of homosexuality before One Life to Live?
It was really my first exposure. Until I moved to New York to do that show, I didn’t have any gay friends. Coming from a religious school and being 17, I did feel weirdness from the church, and I felt ostracized by people I knew back home who were uncomfortable with that subject matter. But not only did I have this whole awakening about humanity, the fact that I started my career doing something so provocative also gave me strength as an actor to make choices of value and substance as my career went on. I know that’s funny because I’m promoting MacGruber right now, but most of the movies I’ve done—Stop-Loss, Crash, Breach—are films that matter and mean something.

While promoting Stop-Loss in 2008, you discussed your One Life to Live role on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Those were two very different interviews, huh?
[Laughs] Yes, they were. One was very sensitive and one was not. That was such a strange, incredibly awkward moment with Jay. I didn’t understand what a “gayest look” was or why he would ask a guest to do that, so I was more shocked than anything. I just thought about the gay friends I have and how potentially offensive that whole direction would be to them. I don’t feel there was any malice behind it, though, and I know Jay regrets it.

Leno also teased you about your sexy Armani jeans commercial shot by David LaChapelle. That was David’s directorial debut, so I’m surprised you were so trusting when he said you’d have to run naked through a rainstorm while being chased by Amanda Lepore.
Which could be someone’s nightmare. [Laughs] He literally saw me at a diner, came over to talk to me, and I ended up being in the commercial. He didn’t even know I was an actor. I’d done one or two movies, but I wasn’t famous by any stretch. I trusted him because he showed me his portfolio—back then he was doing a lot of work for Detour—and he had such a heightened, surrealistic, Dali-esque eye that was so interesting to me. David’s a genius, and I’ve worked with him a few times since then.

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