Growing up in northern Florida in a Southern Baptist church, I didn't know any openly gay people. Not until high school did I even meet my first openly gay man, a very talented performer with a heart of gold. As I deepened my involvement in the Jacksonville community theatre scene, I got to know him and a few other openly gay people, and it was during the time of getting to know these lovely souls that my church-instilled sense of homophobia began to dissolve and my compassion for the gay community took root.
Working on Nate & Margaret gave me insight into a community where homosexuality is greatly accepted. Playing Nate, and just living in Chicago actually, I was surrounded by people who believe that being gay really isn't a big deal. Nate & Margaret paints a refreshingly progressive picture of such a community. Having grown up in an environment where homosexuality was condemned, I did not see the gay community as a supported, thriving group of people. My experiences working on the film showed me just how truly supportive and embracing the gay community can be, especially when it is supported and embraced in return.
I almost didn't audition for Nate & Margaret. Nathan Adloff, the writer and director, saw a rough cut of The Wise Kids and wanted me to audition for his new film as Nate. I read the script. I was apprehensive at first, for two reasons. One, just because I'm O.K. with playing a gay man doesn't mean I'm naturally comfortable being physical with another guy, and in that regard Nate in Nate & Margaret is a bit of a step up from Tim in the The Wise Kids. The second reason holds more weight: I admit it, I was afraid to be caught in a "type-cast" trap. Taking two lead roles in a row, both gay, would mean setting a pattern. And unfortunately, "type-casting" is a very real issue. I don't mind playing gay, but I don't want to only play gay roles.
Ultimately, I decided that the pressure of the "type-cast" trap was not something that should keep me from working on the project. After all, type-casting should be fought, not feared! The chance to work with Natalie West was enticing also, and on top of that the script was solid and the characters were real. Whatever anxiety I felt about getting physical with another male actor was easily pushed aside once I had made my decision. Putting myself outside of my comfort zone is a challenge that I hope to never back away from, even if I don't always feel confident about it right away. If it's about taking a risk, taking it bravely, and for the right reasons, I look forward to it.
After seeing these films, people often assume that I am a gay or closeted actor. Honestly, I don't care so much what people think my sexual orientation is--as long as it doesn't interfere with my personal relationships. If someone is watching The Wise Kids or Nate & Margaret, I don't want them to be so focused on the fact that a straight man is playing a gay role that they lose sight of the story being told. It was my aim to be convincing and I find it very flattering that the gay community appears to appreciate my work the way that they do.
When I first took on a homosexual role in a film, my biggest motivation was simply to help tell a good story. And again, when I took another, that remained the same. As a young straight actor, I am often asked how I feel about the opportunity to play two gay roles in the beginning stages of my professional career when young actors are often encouraged not to. And to that, I say: I'm fine with it.
I believe that playing gay, even near the start of an actor's career, should not in any way limit future opportunities for roles. Just because I've played gay doesn't mean I am or that I can only play gay. I don't know for sure whether I will prosper from my decisions or whether they will limit my opportunities as an actor. I wish that wasn't something that even needed to be thought about.
And yet the "type-cast" trap still exists. As a young artist, I am certainly conflicted at times about perception within the profession. At the time that I took Nate & Margaret, I knew I was setting a pattern at the risk of limiting my future career. Fighting type-casting isn't a one-man battle however, and I have definitely felt the pressure to take a break from homosexual roles. If more and more up-and-coming actors were willing to take the risk and approach playing gay roles with an attitude that it is no different from taking straight roles, I believe that a difference could be made. And though my next film, an indie feature called Milkshake, placed me in a straight role, I proudly stand by The Wise Kids and Nate & Margaret as a foundation for my film career. I wouldn't trade anything for the experiences and insight I gained from being a part of these projects.
Here's the trailer for Nate & Magaret:
TYLER ROSS won critical acclaim for his portrayal of Tim in Stephen Cone's award-winning indie film, The Wise Kids. In addition to Nate & Margaret, Ross also appears in the Starz series Boss and will be on this season of NCIS.