Straight Actors Who Nabbed Oscar Noms for LGBTQ+ Roles
Straight People Who Earned Oscar Nominations in Queer Roles
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 most of the time.
Here's a list of straight actors who received Oscar nominations for playing LGBTQ+ characters.
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.
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.
Also nominated from All About Eve was Anne Baxter as the obsessive Eve Harrington. Whether the obsession Eve has for Margo Channing comes from a place of lust or insatiable ambition is up for debate.
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.
Peter Finch was nominated for his first Oscar in 1971 for his performance in Sunday Bloody Sunday in which he played Daniel Hirsh. The story revolves around A Jewish doctor, Hirsh, and a middle-aged woman, Alex Greville, who are both having affairs with the same male artist, Bob Elkin.
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.
In 1975 Al Pacino is nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon. The character of Sonny is based on a real life bank robber who attempted to hold up a bank in Brooklyn in order to pay for his partner's gender-affirming surgery.
Only When I Laugh (1981) tells the story of Georgia Hines, a divorced Broadway actress, who upon release from rehab for alcohol abuse, tries to put her life together. James Coco earned himself an Oscar nod, playing Jimmy Perino, a fabulous gay actor and one of Georgia's best friends.
Robert Preston was nominated for his first and only Oscar playing gay cabaret singer Carole "Toddy" Todd in the gender swapping comedy Victor/Victoria (1982).
In 1984, John Lithgow earned his first Oscar nomination playing Roberta Muldoon, a transgender ex-football player, in the adaptation of John Irving's The World According to Garp.
Silkwood (1983) tells the story of a brave woman who was poisoned and tortured by her bosses at a plutonium processing plant for trying to expose workplace safety violations. It was also the vehicle that earned Cher her first Oscar nod, playing Karen Silkwood's lesbian roommate, Dolly Pelliker.
Tom Courtenay was nominated for an Oscar for his turn as Norman, an effeminate set dresser trying to get an aging veteran theater actor through a very difficult performance of King Lear in The Dresser (1983).
In 1984's The Bostonians, a staunch feminist (Vanessa Redgrave) and a conservative Southern lawyer (Christopher Reeve) go head to head for the heart of a beautiful young girl. We aren't gonna tell you who walks away with the young woman, but Redgrave did walk away with an Oscar nod.
Longtime Companion (1989) told the story of a group of gay friends from 1981-1988, as the AIDS crisis brought panic and terror. The film was the first movie about AIDS to get a wide release and earned Bruce Davison an Oscar nod for his role.
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.
Shug Avery, played by Margaret Avery, who was also nominated for Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Alice Walker's The Color Purple.
William Hurt's portrayal of a gay man imprisoned for "immoral behavior" in Kiss of the Spider Woman earned him the 1986 Oscar for best actor in a lead role.
Tommy Lee Jones
You wouldn't think that a film about a U.S. president would have a gay orgy in it, but alas, we have Oliver Stone's JFK (1990). In it we have Clay Shaw, played by Tommy Lee Jones who was nominated for an Oscar for the role, engaging in a drug- filled sexcapade with several other men.
Tom Hanks won his first Academy Award for his portrayal of Andrew Beckett -- a man wrongfully dismissed from his job because he has AIDS -- in 1994's Philadelphia.
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.
Primary Colors follows a Clinton-esque president on the campaign trail. Along the way we meet one of his trusted advisors, a gun toting, potentially unstable, lesbian, who's depiction by Kathy Bates earned the actress an Oscar nomination in 1998.
A transgender man trying to find himself and navigate love in a small Nebraska town is the premise of Boys Don't Cry (1999). The powerful film earned Hilary Swank her first Academy Award.
Javier Bardem received an Oscar nomination in 2000's Before Night Falls, which tells the story of gay Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas.
In A Beautiful Mind (2001) Russell Crowe plays John Nash, a real-life mathematician, who becomes unable to differentiate the real world from fantasy. In the biography of the same name, John Nash was described as bisexual, a fact that was left out of the biopic.
Kate Winslet and Dame Judi Dench
Iris Murdoch, one of England's most prolific writers and secret lover of philosopher Phillipa Foot, is the subject of the 2001 film Iris which earned Academy Award nominations for both actresses playing Murdoch; Kate Winslet and Dame Judi Dench.
The 2002 film Frida, a biopic on acclaimed artist Frida Kahlo, produced an Oscar nomination for Salma Hayek in the titular role, and does not shy away from the artist's bisexuality.
The Hours (2002) connects three women over multiple generations looking for meaning in their lives. The film earned several Oscar nominations, including Nicole Kidman, who played not-straight novelist Virginia Woolf.
Another Hours nominee was Julianne Moore, playing disappointed housewife Laura Brown who shares an intimate kiss with her neighbor before leaving her family behind.
Ed Harris was also nominated for his role in The Hours as Richard Brown, a gay man dying of AIDS who wants to end his life on his own terms.
Charlize Theron won an Oscar in 2004 playing bisexual Florida prostitute-turned-serial killer Aileen Wournos.
There's always been speculation about whether or not Katharine Hepburn was indeed LGBT, but Cate Blanchett's portrayal of the iconic actress, which garnered her a best supporting actress Oscar for The Aviator (2004), left out any hint of homosexual tendencies.
Felicity Huffman was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Bree in 2004's Transamerica, a transgender woman who learns she fathered a son who is now a hustler.
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal
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.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
In Capote (2005), Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the titular character, the lauded In Cold Blood author who was openly gay when the subject was completely taboo.
Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judi Dench played the obsessive Barbara Covett in 2006's Notes on a Scandal. Covett, a veteran school teacher befriends a new colleague, who engages in an affair with a student. It soon becomes clear though that Covett may have more than just platonic interests in mind.
Harvey Milk was a pioneer of the gay rights movement who became one of the nation's first openly gay elected officials. In 2008, Sean Penn won a best actor Oscar for playing him in the critically acclaimed Milk.
Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man tells the story of an English professor who a year after the sudden death of his boyfriend is still reeling from the loss. Colin Firth was nominated for an Oscar for playing the beleaguered professor, George Falconer.
In 2009, Penelope Cruz was nominated for her second (and won her first) Academy Award playing Maria Elena, the fiery and tempestuous ex-wife of an artist who enters into a new relationship with the artist and his new girlfriend in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
At 82, Christopher Plummer became the oldest winner of a competitive Oscar for his turn as Hal in Beginners (2010). The movie tells the story of a young man who's world is rocked when his aging father makes two announcements; he has terminal cancer and a young male lover.
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.
Annette Bening was nominated for a best actress Academy Award for her role as Nic, who with her partner Jules had two children via artificial insemination, but when the kids want to meet their biological father, everything gets very complicated in The Kids Are All Right (2010).
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.
In 2012, Glenn Close was nominated for a best actress Oscar for playing the titular role in Albert Nobbs. In the film, Close plays a woman who in order to make a better life for herself, poses as a man so she can work as a butler in one of Dublin's most posh hotels.
Also nominated from Albert Nobbs was Janet McTeer, who played another woman posing as a man, a painter named Hubert Page. Page shows Nobbs another possibility besides the solitary life he was living; one with love and a family.
Jared Leto had his first Oscar nomination and win in 2013 playing Rayon, an enigmatic and troubled HIV-positive transgender woman who teams up with a straight man to get expensive medications in Dallas Buyer's Club.
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.
In 1950s New York City, a young photographer finds herself in a love affair with an older woman in Carol (2015). Cate Blanchett was nominated for a best actress in a lead role Oscar for her portrayal of Carol Aird, the older woman escaping a loveless marriage.
Also nominated from Carol is Rooney Mara, who plays the aspiring photographer who meets Aird while working in a department store, dreaming of a better life.
The Danish Girl tells the story of an artist who becomes a transgender pioneer. Eddie Redmayne's beautiful portrayal of Einer Wegener/Lili Elbe earned him a best actor Oscar nomination.
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.
At the tender age of 22, Timothee 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.
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.
Richard E. Grant
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.
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.
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 Almodovar, 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.
Without giving away too many spoilers for those yet to see Parallel Mothers, Penelope Cruz earned another Oscar nomination for a queer role in her latest collaboration with Pedro Almodovar. Cruz, who won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for 2008's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, plays Janis, a single mother who meets Milena Smit's young single mom Ana in the hospital while they're both in labor. The women form an unbreakable bond that straddles various types of relationships between women in an elegiac film that also investigates shared cultural trauma and chosen family.
For his second nomination in a queer role (The Imitation Game was his first), Benedict Cumberbatch plays a queer cowboy suffocating under the weight of his toxic masculinity in Jane Campion's multi-Oscar nominated The Power of the Dog (2021). A macho man in chaps for much of the film, Cumberbatch's Phil alternately torments his brother George's (Jesse Plemons) new wife Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her sensitive teen son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and heartachingly reveres and longs for the long-dead cowboy Bronco Henry, who appears to have once broadened Phil's horizons.
A veteran child actor in Australia, Kodi Smit-McPhee earned his first Oscar nomination for his at once sensitive and dark turn as Peter, the teen son of Kirsten Dunst's put-upon Rose in Jane Campion's 2021 film The Power of the Dog. Book smart and gentle (until he's not), Peter is an antidote to the brutal cowboys on the ranch his mother's new husband George (Jesse Plemons) runs with his aggressively masculine and queer-leaning brother Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch). Recognizing something unnamed in Peter, Phil takes the boy under his wing. The extent of Peter's queerness is never elucidated, but the cowboys peg him as such and roundly mock him.