As our society finally and fortunately is becoming more accepting of LGBTQ relationships, the world of entertainment is rapidly catching up. In result, many familiar heterosexual actors have been taking on roles to tell the stories of real-life and fictional homosexual characters. Although there have been noteworthy performances all the way back to 1993, the number of strong gay character roles has risen in the last 10 years.
While roles in Hollywood are reflecting on the acceptance of LGBTQ in society, it doesn’t stop all media outlets from making ignorant comments. For example, sometimes the media likes to paint these straight actors as “brave” for taking on a role that differs from their sexuality. Not only that, these straight actors have to clear the air to fans and press about their sexuality. How crazy is that?! When an actor plays a role of serial killer, would you question if they ever murdered someone in real life? Acting is all about adopting a fictional personality and matching the outward manners of the character they are portraying.
Even though not all media outlets have caught up to the general norm of acceptance in society, it doesn’t stop talented actors from telling the incredible stories of these real life and fictional gay characters
Check out these 15 famous straight actors who have tackled great and inspiring gay roles of all kinds on-screen.
15. Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio is best known for playing a plethora of different movie characters. Ranging from the romantic and dreamy Jack Dawson to the womanizing and eccentric Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort. Before he took part in the blockbuster hit Titanic, he was in another romantic drama called Total Eclipse. Leo took a gay-themed role way back in 1995 when it wasn’t as widely accepted to take on such a controversial role. Luckily, times have changed majorly, but in 1995 it was in many ways still considered taboo and could have even been damaging to his career. In the film, Leo played French poet Arthur Rimbaud, who seduced his peer Paul Verlaine. Another interesting fact about Leo, he was one of the earliest celebs publicly to voice his opinion on LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage. He later went on to play in another gay role in J. Edgar.
14. Jake Gyllenhaal
Brokeback Mountain is said to be one of the most influential movie roles in Jake Gyllenhaal‘s film career. Jake took on the character of Jack Twist, a romantic yet sexually confused, cowboy. The film tells the story of a forbidden love between two cowboys in the 1960s. The film has had an enormous impact on our culture because it was one of the first mainstream movies to depict queer experiences truthfully. Other high profile actors had passed the role of Jack due to the graphic gay sex scene in the film between two men. Jake took on the role as a young actor who was just starting his career in Hollywood. Did he regret taking on such a substantial part? No way! Jake says that his involvement in the movie shaped his future as an entertainer.
13. Robin Williams
Robin Williams will always be remembered as a fun-loving and joyful comedian. He has played a couple of gay roles in his movie career. His best known is his role in The Birdcage, where he portrayed an openly gay and Jewish owner of a drag bar. The movie follows the story of a gay couple whose son is marrying a daughter is a straight-laced conservative senator. Robin has said if he could use his celebrity status to draw people into a movie theatre to see him perform as an admirable gay man and make them have a positive opinion of the gay community, why wouldn’t he? He has always exhibited acceptance for the gay community, even when questioned about his sexuality in the press. He would playfully deny rumors about being gay, but often discuss the sexuality of his pet pug, a gay rescue dog named Leonard.
12. Sean Penn
Sean Penn is known as a progressive person in the entertainment world and is a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights. In 2008, he played the role of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay official to be elected to public office in San Francisco, California. His performance in the movie Milk, was captivating and told the story of a strong and determined man in history. The 1970s based film also stars another straight actor, James Franco (who is also on our list) as his young lover. The role of Harvey Milk is one of the artist’s favorite movie characters and it also gained him an Oscar for his outstanding performance! Even after the press and attention from the film died down, Penn still continues to advocate for the LGBTQ community not only in the United States but worldwide.
11. Jim Carrey
Known in the industry as a goofball, Jim Carrey, caught many fans by surprise for his outstanding performance in the movie I Love You, Philip Morris. Jim’s character is Steven Jay Russel, a compulsive liar who gets caught and imprisoned for fraud. While serving time in prison he falls for a fellow inmate named Philip Morris. Morris is released early, and Russel breaks out of prison four times to see him. While doing press for the movie, Jim was asked by David Letterman if he was worried that playing a gay man would hurt his image. Jim replied, “And, regarding a leading man, a heterosexual playing a homosexual, do homosexuals say ‘well, that shouldn’t have been a homosexual’ or do you worry about your image as a heterosexual leading man playing a homosexual?” What a great response!
10. Heath Ledger
The handsome Australian actor Heath Ledger was probably best known for his role as the Joker in Dark Knight. In 2005, Heath was cast to play Ennis Del Mar, a cowboy who falls in love with Jack Twist, who is played by Jake Gyllenhaal. His character struggled with the gap between his identity compared to that of a traditional cowboy. When asked about the first onscreen kiss between him and Jake he explained it as a surreal moment. His co-star and onscreen love interest also say Heath was somber about the political issues surrounding the movie.
9. Matt Damon
Matt Damon is recognized as one of the most gifted actors in the industry. Named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2007, he is one of the most well-known leading men in Hollywood. Some of his most notable performances include Good Will Hunting and The Bourne Identity. In 2013, he took part in an HBO TV biopic on the life of Liberace. He played the role of Liberace’s, played by Michael Douglas, lover Scott Thorson. He is no stranger to crazy Hollywood rumors. Even before taking on this role, he has been questioned about being in a romantic relationship with best friend, Ben Affleck. He says he never denied the rumors because he was offended and didn’t want to hurt his friends who were gay. He also states that if Liberace were alive, today no one would care who he dated in his private life and love his music.
8. Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor is no stranger to playing gay roles in movies. He has been cast as a homosexual character in The Pillow Book, The Velvet Goldmine and most recently alongside Jim Carrey; he plays Philip Morris in I Love You, Philip Morris. Ewan is remarkably talented and loved by the gay community since he represents strong homosexual characters with sensible straightforwardness to the press. When asked about same-sex kissing on screen he states to Out magazine that anything on a movie set that takes you by surprise and gets your blood up is a good experience.
7. James Franco
James Franco is always in the headlines for the controversial film roles he takes on as a talented actor. He has played multiple gay characters and has faced much debate for doing so. James has played Sal Mineo in the biopic titled Sal and Allen Ginsberg in the motion picture Howl. His most known gay role is Scott Smith, the lover of Harvey Milk, in the movie Milk. Franco, often questioned about his sexuality in the press, does not mind all of the buzz surrounding him. He likes to challenge himself and be provocative in his work. When directly asked about his sexual preference he said: “Well, I like to think that I’m gay in my art and straight in my life.” Franco also likes to start up a conversation with shocking Instagram posts that make fans question his sexuality further. He has affirmed that when people assume he is gay; he loves it because it’s a great shield.
6. Daniel Radcliff
Even though the saga has long ended, Daniel Radcliff will always be linked to his young character Harry Potter. He has been taking roles to break away from his childhood role. One of his recent roles was as the famous poet Allen Ginsberg in yet another bio-drama about his life titled Kill Your Darlings. Daniel has worked with the Trevor Project, a non-profit organization; that offers suicide prevention to LGTBQ youth. He often speaks passionately about helping these kids and removing the taboo stigma of coming out in our culture. When Daniel’s gay sex scene was labeled as shocking by the media; he publicly stated that he thinks that is strange since we see straight sex scenes all the time in Hollywood.
5. Colin Firth
Colin Firth grabbed an Oscar nomination for his role in the movie A Single Man playing depressed British university professor George Falconer. Colin is a branded straight actor from England and has been in several mainstream movies such as Love Actually and The King’s Speech. When asked about the stigma of straight actors taking on gay roles, he gave the best reply “If you’re an actor who is afraid to play a character because they’re gay, you should probably go and get yourself sorted out. Grow up. I certainly didn’t walk around gay, thinking gay, brushing my teeth gay.”
4. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been in the industry since he was young. He has starred in independent flicks as well as Hollywood blockbusters. Buzzfeed has even given him the title of the “Perfect Man.” In 2004, he took on the role of a gay character in the movie Mysterious Skin. JGL stars as Neil McCormick, who was gay from a young age, but suffered sexual abuse by his baseball coach, and resulting in him becoming a young prostitute in NYC. The emotional film takes a real look at the damage that is caused by childhood sexual abuse. JGL does an outstanding and raw performance as a portrayal of this strong character. When asks if he’s gay, he refuses to address it. Why? “That would be tacky they would win if I had to clarify” Great point JGL!
3. Greg Kinnear
Greg Kinnear, a known American actor, has appeared in some modern blockbuster hits. His most remarkable role that has gotten a Golden Globe as well as a handful of other academy nominations is Simon Bishop in the movie As Good as it Gets. Greg plays the supporting role of a gay artist, who loses his muse after a home robbery. He then bonds with his racist, homophobic and OCD neighbor, played by Jack Nicholson. After he had taken on this role, many headlines questioned if he was gay in real life.
2. Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks is a household name, who has been in the film industry for decades. In 1993, Hanks took on one of his most outstanding performances in the movie Philadelphia. The role of Andrew Beckett landed Tom Hanks the Academy Award for Best Actor. His character was a lawyer at a large Philadelphia firm, but after one of his colleagues had found out that he had AIDS, he got let go. Not only did this film bring a lot of attention to gay rights in America, but it also sparked an extensive conversation about HIV-AIDS. This moving performance is one of Hanks best, which says a lot for this seasoned actor.
1. Eric Stonestreet
Eric Stonestreet is an American actor who is best known for his role as the funny, charming and flamboyant Cam Tucker in ABC’s Modern Family. Eric has received two Emmy Awards for this role. Although he is an “openly straight” actor, he has gotten tremendous admiration from male fans for playing such a high profile gay role on a hit TV series. He said that while portraying Cam for five seasons didn’t change the way he thought about the community it did open his eyes to have “more compassion and more empathy” for LGBTQ people than he has before the show. He even went on to tell People Magazine that if anyone ever hit co-star and on-screen husband Jesse Tyler Ferguson with an offensive slur, he would “punch them out.”