Douglas Spain believes in leading by example. The actor, whose career
has spanned nearly two decades, over two dozen films (including the
critically acclaimed Star Maps, for which he received an
Independent Spirit Award nomination), and countless television
projects, says that despite being out to many friends and family
members, he found himself in too many scenarios in which he couldn’t be
real. So Thursday he took to Facebook and announced to the rest of his
inner circle — and the world — that he is gay.
The Advocate: What led you to come out?
Honestly, I was a bit depressed at the beginning of the year, and I
couldn’t pinpoint why. Then I realized I had gotten to a point where I
only wanted to play pretend in front of the camera and not behind it.
Most of your friends and family knew?
Yes. Technically I came out when I was 17. And when I became an actor I went right back in in order to protect my career.
Did anyone in your professional circle advise you to stay in the closet?
And I’ve been in the business a long time, so I’ve seen careers fail
[because of it]. Neil Patrick Harris is the exception. I’ve been in
situations in people’s homes — people who didn’t know I was gay — and
Anne Heche would come on the television and they would make comments
like, “I don’t believe her as a straight love interest.” As an actor I
always felt that the less people know about you, the more believable
your characters can be. There are many actors that are chameleons, and
I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we don’t know much
about their personal lives. Gary Oldman is a great example. Michael
Fassbender, who is a friend and someone I’ve worked with, is another.
He’s able to become all these characters because people don’t know much
Have you experienced any homophobia in Hollywood?
personally. But another actor I sort of grew up with, Wilson Cruz, he
came out a long time ago and most of the characters he’s played have
been gay. I’ve played gay characters myself in addition to many others.
But I didn’t want to do only gay roles. I didn’t want to become the
“gay-to” character that people pursued.
So you wouldn’t shy away from a large gay part?
Not at all. I was in But I’m a Cheerleader,
and he was one of my favorite characters. He was a guy who was trying
to change who he was inside because of society, and in the end he came
to realize that you can’t. And he triumphed. He was one of the only
characters in the film who was true to himself.
My mother had a difficult time when I came out to her a long time ago. She blamed me for all her bad luck. [Laughs]
You’re laughing when you say that.
Yeah, because that same day she bought a lottery ticket and went to the horse races. And I believe she won about $800. Either that’s a coincidence or it was the universe saying this is the right thing.
What kind of response did you get from the Facebook announcement?
Lots of love. “I love you” was the first comment, and it just went on from there.
You also appeared on Brothers & Sisters, playing the homophobic brother of the girl adopted by the gay couple. Was that difficult for you?
I loved that role because it gave me a chance to step into another person’s shoes and understand their perspective. I’ve known some people who felt this way. I think there is a sort of religious system behind a lot of these beliefs, and most individuals don’t have their own perception. It becomes a group collective. I had a roommate who was very religious and there were many nights we debated God’s word. When you grow up believing this for a long time, you tend to just follow a certain path. My mother’s on that path, and I think there’s a struggle between what you’re being shown and what’s in your heart. It’s a huge struggle for a lot of people. The character from Brothers & Sisters came from that situation. He loved his sister and wanted her to be happy, but what he was raised to believe conflicted with that [situation]. In the end you just have to be truthful and respectful. That’s what the character ended up saying: “I don’t have to agree with you, but I do have to respect you because this is our world, not mine.”
If only more people were able to come to that realization.
I believe that you have to love and respect yourself and the rest will follow. If we are seeking other people to approve of who we are and what we want to do in life, it can be a very challenging road. Gandhi’s “be the change you want to see in the world” has been an inspiration for me because the only way I can inspire change is through example. So it was important to me to put myself forward and make changes and show others that you need to love yourself and respect yourself. I’ve never been the kind of person who stands in line waiting to get into someone else’s party. I’ve been the individual who throws his own party and invites those that belong there.