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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Newsweek Scandal

By Michael Slezak

Kristin Chenoweth, 473; Newsweek, 0. Yeah, that’s a blowout score, but there’s no other way to tally the points after reading the magazine’s recent piece by Ramin Setoodeh, which argues that openly gay actors like Sean Hayes and Glee‘s Jonathan Groff, pictured right, can’t successfully portray heterosexual characters, and the scathing and spot-on response posted Friday by Chenoweth, who costars with Hayes in Broadway’s Promises, Promises.

There’s so much wrong with Setoodeh’s story — Chenoweth rightfully calls it “horrendously homophobic” despite the fact that its author is reportedly gay — that you could pretty much line up every sentence and shoot holes in them like wooden ducks at a carnival gallery. “This article offends me because I am a human being, a woman and a Christian,” writes Chenoweth. “For example, there was a time when Jewish actors had to change their names because anti-Semites thought no Jew could convincingly play Gentile. Audiences aren’t giving a darn about who a person is sleeping with or his personal life. Give me a break! We’re actors first, whether we’re playing prostitutes, baseball players, or the Lion King.”

Points well made! Still, there are a few specific areas Chenoweth doesn’t tackle in her succinct, salty response, first of which is Setoodeh’s infuriating implication that his problem isn’t necessarily with casting homosexual actors in straight roles; rather, he argues that his beef begins when said thespians have the audacity to ruin everything by coming out of the closet. “For all the beefy bravado that Rock Hudson projects on-screen, Pillow Talk dissolves into a farce when you know the likes of his true bedmates,” Setoodeh writes. “Cynthia Nixon was married to a man when she originated Miranda on Sex and the City. Kelly McGillis was straight when she steamed up Top Gun‘s sheets, and Anne Heche went back to dating men (including her Men in Trees costar). If an actor of the stature of George Clooney came out of the closet tomorrow, would we still accept him as a heterosexual leading man? It’s hard to say. Or maybe not. Doesn’t it mean something that no openly gay actor like that exists?”

Setoodeh’s line of thinking is almost comically dim, as if he already knows somewhere out there, a gay actor is “duping” him into believing a heterosexual romance in a fictionalized piece of work. It’s as if he’s saying, “I’ll show you, Closeted Gay Actor! The minute you open about your sexual orientation is the minute I’ll put your DVD on eBay or toss it in a bonfire at the end of the cul de sac!” What Setoodeh doesn’t address, however, is whether he’ll believe, say, Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher as romantic partners this summer in Killers, even though he (and the entire viewing audience) knows that in real life, said thespians are (gasp!) respectively married to Josh Kelley and Demi Moore. Heck, maybe Setoodeh thinks Angelina Jolie missed out winning the Oscar for Changeling because Clint Eastwood failed to cast little Maddox in the role of her son. If actors’ real-life domestic situations can truly interfere with the characters they portray, I wonder if Setoodeh was comfortable last year watching anything beyond the CGI- and performance-capture-heavy worlds of Avatar and A Christmas Carol.

The other laughable part of the Newsweek screed is that Setoodeh’s gay-panic casting theories don’t extend to heterosexual actors tackling same-sex-loving roles. “While it’s OK for straight actors to play gay (as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger did in Brokeback Mountain), it’s rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse,” he writes. “[Portia] de Rossi and [Neil Patrick] Harris do that on TV, but they also inhabit broad caricatures, not realistic characters likes the ones in Up in the Air or even The Proposal.” Cue needle scratching across record, yo! Did this dude just suggest that Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds weren’t playing broad characters in The Proposal? Look, I enjoyed last year’s rom-com smash perfectly well, but Revolutionary Road it was not. But what am I doing, looking for logical thinking in this story? Maybe we should just limit gays like Harris and de Rossi to animated voice-over work, provided those roles don’t call for nuanced explorations of human sexuality.

Heck, if Newsweek’s antiquated story was put into practice, we’d have to recast Anna Paquin (who recently revealed she’s bisexual) in True Blood, reshoot Lilly Tomlin’s scenes as a vindictive (and straight) family matriarch in Damages, and halt all future cable reruns of Rupert Everett daring to be a dashing hetero dude in An Ideal Husband and Meredith Baxter bringing to life classic sitcom mom Elyse Keaton on Family Ties.
Oh, but wait. I forgot. It’s 2010. We live in a time when women throw their bras with abandon at Adam Lambert concerts, where Cheyenne Jackson can be the object of heterosexual lust on 30 Rock, where nobody watched 24 and freaked out because Cherry Jones’s Mrs. President had a Mister shacking up with her in the White House.

Sure, there’s a faction of society that’s stuck in a perpetual time-warp, people whose imaginations would reside most comfortably in a home with a black-and-white television, a Formica kitchen table, and a mom who prepares a pot-roast every Wednesday night while dressed like Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven. But those folks deserve our pity, and nothing more.

Which is why my heart breaks a little for Setoodeh when I read this sentence of his Newsweek item: “As viewers, we are molded by a society obsessed with dissecting sexuality, starting with the locker-room torture in junior high school.” Here’s a guy so caught up in his own internalized terror, he doesn’t realize that he’s the one who’s shut himself in the locker. The football jocks? They’ve already gone home for the evening, presumably to watch the gay guy playing a straight heartthrob on Glee.

Who do you side with in the Chenoweth-vs.-Newsweek debate? (If you missed the respective stories at the center of the drama, check ‘em out here and here.) Sound off in the comments below — try to keep it civilized, please!



Hokey said...

You and Kristin said it all!

Sadly, too many producers still live in fear that Setoodeh's thinking is correct at some level.

It may be 2010 but it is so easy to backslide without people like Kristin to stand up and speak out.

Anonymous said...

I dont care who sleeps with who,I want to watch a very good movie with rich characters and not studio made actors like Cruise who cant act..that is when sexuality comes into play in the cinema because the focus in on the PERSON and not the acting..Good actors really have people thinking of what they do with whom when you see them on screen!
If we can sucessfully ignore all the studio made commercial characters that we an embodiment of the actors themselves like Smith and Cruise, we will all be better off.
I wouldn;t doubt that Lawrence Oliver was gay, but do I care, nope, he made a great othello!
Also Kevein Sapcey is one of those rare talents whose work speaks for itself. If the actor is doing a really good job, I mind doesnt wander off to his sexuality!

Anonymous said...

The Newsweek article is a complete abomination. It should NEVER have been published in this day and age. I know there are still people out there that think in the dark ages but to publish a ridiculous 1956 sounding article now?? Is Newsweek actually so starving for some attention that they would actually agree to publish something horrid like this? Give us all a break. And PS GB, you did a great job on your post, 20 times better than Ted. Sorry to compare but this is the hot topic today, even if it isn't something fluffy distracting us from the horrible Twilight crap. Ugh, am still sick from the Newsweek article bile.

blc said...

"For all the beefy brovado that Rock Hudson projects on_screen, "Pillow Talk" dissolves into a farce when you know the likes of his true bedmates."

Hmmm....really....then explain to me
why so many women are crushing on John Barrowman....myself included.

Anonymous said...

Um..GB didn't write it. He stated Michael Slezak wrote it and provides a link to the source

Anonymous said...

I think that an actor having any well publicized life can hurt them. i would have a hard time being convinced that Lindsay Lohan was a goody good in a movie. Or gerard butler was a loving husband and father. They can do it but they have to do their job and act their asses off. If your a good actor/actress you can do it. but if you are only in movies because your good looking and a marginal actor/actress than being tabloid regulars can hurt your career. For whatever reason your in the tabloids for.

A Pimp Named DaveR said...

Bad gay actors can't play convincing straight characters. But not because they're gay -- because they're bad actors.

Good gay actors can play whatever role you want them to play, and well. Not because they're gay -- because they're good actors.

Such is life!

Anonymous said...

@nonny11:53, I never said that GB wrote the Newsweek article, I am certainly literate and know who penned the Newsweek atrocity. I was referring to GB's own post ABOUT the horrendous Newsweek article..... GB wrote a much better one than Ted did today is all I was saying. Sorry if you misunderstood my intentions.

Anonymous said...

GB didnt write any of this, he re-posted it all from Michael Slezak

Anonymous said...

I read the Newsweek article and was horrified. As another poster has so aptly said, BAD gay actors cannot play heterosexual roles convincingly, not because they're gay but because they are bad. Watching a performance requires a suspension of disbelief, requires an audience to separate an actor from the role and to watch only the role. Otherwise, I am forced to believe that Brandon Routh can fly and that Tom Cruise has any interest in a female.

Anonymous said...

Newsweek just pulled a Kanye and guaranteed Sean Hayes the Tony!

Discobitch said...

omg am i the only one who never knew lily tomlin is gay?1?!?!?!?!?!

doesnt NPH play a total manslut in HIMYM and he's gay? if i didnt have the internet i would never have known (honestly!!)

personally it doesnt bother me if an actor is gay or straight, thats their business. do journos in the US think that all gay men are all queenie and camp or something? eeehhh wrong! these medieval scumbags should be sacked on the spot/burned at the stake for just being a-holes!!

thank you =)

BobNYC said...

Funniest line: "straight actors to play gay (as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger)" Jake is straight - HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I guess he really IS a good actor! Gay playing Straight playing Gay. WOW! What a mind warp!

starstattoo said...

Gossip Boy,
I actually really really really want to know YOUR gut reactions, opinions, and theories about this whole thing. Of all the bloggers I read, you are the only closeted(-ish?) working actor who has complained mightily about how coming out can ruin one's career as well as how Hollywood agents and casting directors have created this huge homophobic feedback loop of no-out-actor-can-be-a-lead because-no-out-actor-has-been-a-lead.
Of all the gay people's opinions I can read on the interwebs, yours is the only one I actually really want to know.
Please open up about this, even if you have seriously mixed feelings. Because Chenoweth (an Okie like me), Setoodeh, & Slezak are talking about YOU.


Anonymous said...

I never bought Lassie as a dog.