Viggo Mortensen thinks it's fine for straight actors to play gay roles — himself included.
The Lord of the Rings star portrays a gay role, John, in a new film he penned, Falling, which is also his directorial debut. The movie tells the story of John's relationship with his antigay father Willis (Lance Henriksen), who moves to L.A. to join his son after a dementia diagnosis.
“There are certain characters I’m not going to play,” Mortensen told Reuters in a recent interview, but he drew the line at playing another race, not LGBTQ+ identity. “I wouldn’t play Eric, the Chinese-Hawaiian American." Eric is John's husband in the production.
The 62-year-old actor made a joke to illustrate his defense. “I apologize to all the proctologists for casting David Cronenberg,” said Mortensen, referring to his casting of the director as a colon surgeon in the film.
Mortensen stressed to Reuters that the gay role is not "a gimmick, anchor or some trigger." While he had not initially planned on the character being gay, he was inspired to change his sexual orientation while penning an airport scene in his script where John receives a call from his partner.
“I thought, what if it’s not a wife? What if it’s a husband?” Mortensen said. “I’ll try that. I’ll write the next scene and see how it feels. If it doesn’t work or feels somehow not right for the story, then I won’t use it, but I liked it.”
Mortensen's remarks come at a time of debate over the appropriateness of straight actors portraying gay roles. While the casting of a straight actor in Disney's first clearly gay role in Jungle Cruise sparked a sizable backlash on Twitter — campy tropes are particularly sensitive territory — indie fare like Supernova, a Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci starrer, have a warmer welcome. Falling, which also stars LGBTQ+ favorite Laura Linney and was slated to screen at Cannes this year before the pandemic canceled the film festival, likely falls into the latter camp.
Historically, out actors were less likely to be cast in starring roles, even gay ones, as this list of 61 straight people who received Oscar nominations for LGBTQ+ roles attests.