Straight Men In Tinseltown
A Tom in Oz Editorial
There’s was an interesting article in the UK Independent in March 2010 about gay actors, straight actors and actors who play gay characters. They seem to make a bigger thing about it in Hollywood than over in the UK it would seem. In the UK, for instance, Russell Tovey in the highly successful TV series “Being Human” plays George, a heterosexual and in love with a woman. But Russell Tovey the actor is gay. This kind of thing doesn’t play well in America. So what’s the difference between British audiences and American? Why can Russell Tovey, a gay man, play a straight man (well, werewolf) and be seen kissing a woman passionately and not ruffle feathers? Well, in my opinion it is the quality of Russell’s performance. He owns his role and plays it with conviction. I don't think the audience would think twice about Russell’s personal life while watching him in a performance. In Will Kevans’s video clip for the song “Dialling Tone,” has it escaped your notice that at the end Russell is in between two women and looking pretty much exhausted and all I think is lucky bugger! It doesn’t cross my mind that here is a gay man in the wrong place!
Here in Oz the whole debate about gay actors/straight actors is pretty much a non-issue with the average Aussie viewer. Gay men were on the TV ever since I was little and one of my favourite actors from that time was Gordon Chater who was a quiet unassuming older gay man who played a rotten old granddad in a comedy show called “My Name’s McGooley”. Gordon also hit the big time in Oz in a play called the "Elocution Of Benjamin Franklin". The play broke new ground in Australian theatre with its shocking opening scene (in which Chater walked onstage naked) and its discussion of paedophilia. Frank Thring was another superb TV actor who went off to Hollywood and worked with Charlton Heston and the likes in major blockbusters.
We’ve had leading gay actors on the TV soap “Number 96” way back in the 1970s that also appeared nude at times (like Russell Tovey in “Being Human”), and pretty much gratuitously at times, but the ratings for “Number 96” went through the roof year after year. This and other shows like it also introduced homosexuality to Oz society and made it seem commonplace to the rednecks who were actually watching for the naked ladies.
A couple of our leading Oz actors have happily taken roles as gay men. One of the ones people overseas may not know about is Russell Crowe who played a gay man in a wonderful movie called “The Sum Of Us”. Most people would know Heath Ledger was in the highly acclaimed movie “Brokeback Mountain”. Hugh Jackman played Peter Allen (the gay husband of Liza Minelli) in the Broadway show “Boy From Oz” and Hugh is nowadays lusted after by numerous gay fans because of his stage role. Peter Phelps played a gay man a couple of years ago in a movie called “Lantana” which certainly didn’t hurt his career. Many of the gay roles these actors have taken on have more emotional complexity to play, than the straight man roles. Russell Tovey has said that he’d like to play one of these dark, complex roles instead of sticking to a stereo-typical gay role.
Nowadays, in Oz we have openly gay doctors, nurses, politicians, teachers, police and senators who march yearly in one of the oldest televised Gay Pride marches on the planet (Sydney Mardi Gras). When we, the wife and I, were a young married couple with kids, we went along to a few of the Mardi Gras in Sydney because it mostly happened to coincide with my birthday and it was a chance to dance in the streets with my family and have a good fun time. I know it’s generalising but gay men seem to have great dance music and the town of Sydney certainly knows how to throw a good party.
Speaking historically, Australia was founded by mostly convicts with a ratio of 4 men to every woman for about the first 50 years - chances are that gay men may have been the norm at one stage!