Actor Sean Maher, who plays a closeted gay man named Sean on The Playboy Club, says he's gay in real life and living in the closet made him “miserable,” according to Entertainment Weekly.
Maher, who is a father to two children with his partner of nine years, has never publicly discussed his sexual orientation. He admits that he was nervous to do the interview, but later adds, “This is my coming out ball. I’ve been dying to do this.”
Maher, probably best known for the cult series Firefly, recalls that when he began his career on the Fox drama Ryan Caulfield: Year One, he was advised by his publicists, who were unaware he's gay, to keep his girlfriend out of the spotlight to not compromise his appeal to a female demographic. Maher says he decided against being honest with his publicist because earlier his manager, who also didn't know of Maher's sexual orientation, had told him to get a girlfriend so people wouldn't presume he's gay.
Maher, then 22, was also concerned that coming out would prevent his landing other roles.
“I didn’t know anything,” he says. “So that sort of started the idea of, okay, well, I’m working a lot, I guess I’ll just keep that gay part of my life on the back burner for now. I went so far as to sleep with women a couple times. It was a very confusing time for me.”
Maher found being a closeted actor to be a tormented existence. “It was so exhausting, and I was so miserable,” Maher says. “I didn’t really have any life other than work and this facade I was putting on. So I kept my friends from college [where he was out] separate from my work friends, and that was very confusing. I just kept going on and on painting this picture of somebody I wasn’t. I didn’t have time for a personal relationship anyway. And you just don’t realize that it’s eating away at your soul.”
Maher reveals that while working for out producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who would become mentors to the young actor, on two projects set him on the path to coming out publicly. “[Craig] says he knew the instant he met me, although he told me this months later,” Maher says. “Craig was a really wonderful mentor to me because he knew, but he never asked me and never forced me to say anything. He just did his best to indirectly guide me.”
Maher's character in the early '60s-set The Playboy Club, which premiered last Monday, is involved in founding the Chicago chapter of the Mattachine Society, one of the country's first gay rights groups. It's a story that Maher says needed to be told. “That’s part of the reason I wanted to do it so badly,” Maher says.
“Creatively, I feel so much more open and free, and I am so happy on The Playboy Club,” Maher says. “I think it’s because I’ve never been so open on set. All of the relationships that I have off-camera, I never would have allowed five years ago. It feels so liberating.”