Three-time Tony Award-winning gay actor Nathan Lane once came close to being outed on national television, until Robin Williams stepped in and changed the subject.
Lane has had a sparkling career in the theater and film industries. While he is best known as the voice of Timon in The Lion King, his live-action work has been extensive. Last year, his role in the television series Only Murders in the Building earned him a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.
In a recent interview on Sunday Sitdown With Willie Geist, Lane discussed his friendship with the late Robin Williams, who he starred with in the iconic film The Birdcage. Lane and Williams both played gay men in the film, but Lane didn’t want the press tour to center on his sexuality.
"I just wanted to talk about [how] I finally got a big part in a movie, and I didn't want to make it about my sexuality," he shared. "Although it was sort of unavoidable because of the nature of the film and the character."
But during an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 1996, the conversation came uncomfortably close to broaching the subject before Lane was ready.
Recalling the moment, Lane said, “[Oprah] was like, ‘How come you’re so good at that girly stuff? Are you worried about being typecast?’ And then Robin sort of swoops in and diverts Oprah, goes off on a tangent, and protects me, because he was a saint.”
A video of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1996 shows the full interaction.
Robin Williams & Nathan Lane on Oprah 1996youtu.be
"I don't think Oprah was trying to out me,” Lane explained, “but I said to Robin beforehand, 'I'm not prepared. I'm so scared of going out there and talking to Oprah. I'm not prepared to discuss that I'm gay on national television, I'm not ready.'"
Lane would publicly come out three years later, in 1999, in an interview with The Advocate.
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