Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender is gold! At least if you're talking about those statues handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences every spring. Of course, this rule also does not apply to openly queer actors, who, as Ian McKellen noted in 2016, have never taken home acting's top prize.
Here are 61 straight actors and actresses who received Oscar nominations for playing LGBTQ characters.
At the tender age of 22, Timothée Chalamet was nominated for Best Actor in the 2018 Academy Awards. His character, Elio, is the heart of Call Me by Your Name, the acclaimed gay film by Luca Guadagnino centering on a 17-year-old's summer romance with a 24-year-old graduate student, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Through Elio's eyes, audiences have been brought to tears in reliving first love and heartbreak, in the stunning backdrop of "somewhere in Northern Italy." And thanks to Chalamet, many will never be able to see a peach the same way again.
Richard Jenkins was nominated in 2018 for his role of Giles in The Shape of Water. The closeted character, living in Cold War-era America, feels trapped in time between the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals he worships and the era of gay liberation that is just over the horizon.
As narrator of the film, Giles tells the modern-day viewer of the fairy tale he witnessed, involving a mute young woman, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), and the amphibious being she falls in love with. Giles, who faces job discrimination as well as rejection by a man he loves due to societal stigma, knows what it's like to be an outsider. It is this understanding that allows him to empathize with Elisa's romance and help her overcome its obstacles.
In 1940, Alfred Hitchcock directed Rebecca, a story of a self conscious bride who is tormented by the memory of her new husband’s first wife. Judith Anderson earned an Oscar nod for playing Mrs. Danvers, the chilling and obsessive caretaker who may or may not have been in love with the deceased wife.
Star! (1968) tells the real life story of the rise of broadway/movie star Gertrude Lawrence who at the beginning of the film, gets cast in London’s Calling, a new play penned by Noel Coward, who was brought to life for the film by Daniel Massey. Massey's portrayal of Coward, a gay actor/writer/composer/etc. known for his wit and flamboyance, garnered him his first and only Oscar nomination.
Lenny Bruce is brought to life in the Bob Fosse directed Lenny (1974). The story centers on Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of the groundbreaking comic. But Valerie Perrine — who plays Bruce's bisexual wife Honey — turned in a riveting performance that earned her an Oscar nod.
The Color Purple (1985) introduced the world to Whoopi Goldberg, who was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Celie Johnson, a woman who struggles to find her identity after suffering years of abuse at the hands of men in her life. Celie enters a relationship with his husband’s estranged mistress, a slinky blues singer named Shug.
In 1997, Greg Kinnear was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role of Simon Bishop in As Good As It Gets. After being beaten up in an attempted burglary, Simon is left unable to take care of himself and calls upon his incredibly selfish, OCD neighbor — played by a cranky Jack Nicholson — for help.
Brokeback Mountain (2004) is the beautiful story of two cowboys, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), who find love one summer while working together as sheep herders and then try and navigate this new relationship over the years. Both actors were nominated for Academy Awards.
A young dancer gets the lead role in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake but soon struggles to maintain her sanity in Black Swan (2010). Natalie Portman won a best lead actress Oscar for playing the dancer, Nina Sayers, who while maybe not gay definitely shows some bisexual tendencies in one particularly steamy scene.
In The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011), Rooney Mara plays Lisbeth Salander, a bisexual, pierced, and tattooed computer hacker helping a disgraced journalist find a wealthy man’s niece who disappeared 40 years earlier. Mara was nominated for best supporting actress for the performance.
Alan Turing and his team of brilliant code breakers must race against time to turn the tide of of World War II in The Imitation Game (2014). Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who was nominated for a best actor Oscar, was gay and treated reprehensibly by the British government.
George Sanders won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his turn as dandy theater critic Addison Dewitt in the classic All About Eve. Though never outright gay in the script, to many film scholars it’s the otherness of being gay that he recognizes in Eve Harrington that causes the two to team up.
Olivia Colman was nominated in the Actress in a Leading Role category for her portrayal of Queen Anne in The Favourite. The period film shows the English monarch at the center of a love triangle with two female members of her court, portrayed by Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.
Melissa McCarthy was nominated in 2019 for Actress in a Leading Role for portraying the late lesbian writer Lee Israel in the (excellent) biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me? The film, based on Israel's memoir, shows how the out-of-work biographer coordinated an operation forging the letters of luminaries like Tennessee Williams and Katharine Hepburn, with the famed gay bar Julius' as her home base.
Rami Malek was nominated in the Actor in a Leading Role category in 2019 for his performance as the bisexual Queen front man Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. The film was popular at the box office, but it received criticism from some LGBTQ activists for its inaccurate portrayal of Mercury's sexuality and his battle with AIDS, as well as its problematic credited director, Bryan Singer.
Rachel Weisz is another secret lover of Queen Anne in The Favourite, a role that garnered her a 2019 nomination for Actress in a Supporting Role, a category in which she must vie against Stone for the trophy. Weisz also played a queer character in Disobedience, a film about forbidden love in the Hasidic community.
Mahershala Ali was nominated in the Actor in a Supporting Role category in 2019 for his performance as jazz pianist Don Shirley in Green Book. Shirley never came out in his lifetime. But the film depicts a real-life incident in which the musician just barely escaped being arrested for a same-sex encounter at a YMCA.
Richard E. Grant was nominated in the category of Actor in a Supporting Role in 2019 for his portrayal of Jack Hock in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Based on a real-life person from the memoir of Lee Israel, Jack is a former hustler who is homeless and HIV-positive. His friendship with Israel, which veers into criminal territory, is a rare movie depiction of a friendship between a gay man and a lesbian.
Antonio Banderas stars as a gay Spanish filmmaker, Salvador Mallo, reflecting on his life and career in 2019's Pain and Glory. The film is loosely based on the life of its gay director, Pedro Almodóvar, 70, himself a living auteur whose productions — many of them starring Banderas — have moved the needle internationally for LGBTQ visibility. In addition to being a reflection of a lifetime's worth of love, heartbreak, and the power of cinema to address personal and political crises, the film is a complicated and necessary relationship between a gay director and his straight muse.
Bombshell investigates the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News that brought down Roger Ailes through the eyes of Charlize Theron’s Megyn Kelly and Nicole Kidman’s Gretchen Carlson. But it’s Margot Robbie’s composite character Kayla, who has a fling and a friendship with Kate McKinnon’s Jess, and who struggles with her sexual identity amid the toxic environment at Fox News who truly teases out the myriad complications of working there.
Robbie, who is nominated for Best Supporting Actress for the role, spoke with The Advocate ahead of the film's premiere.
“Story-wise, it adds to the idea that they can’t come forward and be open and honest, and their jobs are on the line,” Robbie said.