For a straight actor to successfully play a gay character is not as easy as one might think. Not everyone can pull a Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, a River Phoenix in Private Idaho, or even a Robin Williams in The Birdcage. When I see a movie about gays with a straight lead and director and it fails, I often wonder how the voice would have been different with a gay director or gay actor. Would Cruising be the same film if the director were gay? Here are just a few gay characters played by straight actors that we all could’ve lived without.
Will Smith in Six Degrees of Separation
Will Smith wasn’t a terrible actor in the 1993 film Six Degrees of Separation; however, it was obvious he was a little green for the role. Smith played the role of Paul, based on the true life story of David Hampton, a con man who managed to convince many people he was the son of Sidney Poitier. The character of Paul was openly gay and was represented as such in the 1990 stage play.
When Will Smith signed on to do the role, director Fred Schepisi begged Smith to do a kissing scene with another man. Smith adamantly refused saying a male kiss would “gross out” his fans. Over ten years later, Sir Ian McKellen, who played the role of Geoffrey Miller in the 1993 film, blasted Smith, saying his remarks were homophobic: “He thought he was saying something very individual but what he was actually confirming was that he’s got the disease so many people have – homophobia.” There were also rumors that Denzel Washington urged Smith to not do the kissing scene. For me, the refusal to kiss another man completely ruined Smith’s already shakey performance and it’s definitely a gay role I could’ve done without. Will Smith later said he regretted not doing the kiss.
Macaulay Culkin (right) in Party Monster
2003’s Party Monster was the story of the life and times of legendary club kid Michael Alig, who was sent to prison for murdering his drug dealer. Many people had high hopes for Macaulay Culkin as Alig, hoping this would be his break-out and establish him as an adult actor. Of course there was much buzz about the Home Alone boy playing a gay role. However, playing gay is not as easy as it seems, and adding a swish to your walk or a lisp to your voice is only a caricature, which is what Culkin seemed to focus on.
There was no depth in his portrayal of Alig — he was bashed by critics and The New York Times ranted, “His whispery, giggly diction is both overly theatrical and insufficiently bold.” Seth Green as James St. James, Alig’s sidekick, gave a good performance, constantly overshadowing Culkin. In addition, Alig managed to have a hot boyfriend in the movie played by Wilmer Valderrama and we didn’t see anything more than a hug! What a disappointment … Culkin was no party in Party Monster.
Tracy Morgan (center) in The Longest Yard
I had a laundry list of films to choose from that have the flaming sissies lusting for all of the uber-straight, masculine men. So, I did an eeny-meeny-miny-moe and I landed on Tracy Morgan in The Longest Yard. 2005’s The Longest Yard was a remake of the 1974 classic, which tells the story of prison inmates who form a football to challenge the prison guards. The film includes Chris Rock, Adam Sandler and old school sex symbol Burt Reynolds … and then we have Tracy Morgan as Ms. Tucker.
Ms. Tucker is a trite and stereotypical “sissy” who salivates for any man in the prison. It’s asinine, overtly homophobic, but so stupid that no protests are needed. Movieboy.com says, “No attempt is made to treat him as anything other than a freak meant to be ridiculed. Gay jokes can be funny — anything can be funny in the right context — but there is a nasty undercurrent to the ones here that are absolutely disgusting, especially when considered that they are showing up in the semi-progressive day and age of 2005.” Tracey Morgan as Ms. Tucker is a role we have seen a thousand times and could do without for the rest of cinematic history.
Al Pacino (left) in Cruising
Al Pacino is a flawless actor and nine times out of ten wows his audience. He was incredible in Dog Day Afternoon as the bisexual Sonny with a transgender girlfriend and of course in Angels in America — but every great actor makes a mistake or two. And Pacino’s protrayal of Officer Steve Burns in the homo-horror flick Cruising is a role we all could’ve done without.
Officer Burns goes undercover as a cop looking for a gay serial killer, but manages to fall into his own homosexual urges. The film was wildly protested by gay activists and credited as a reason for a rise in hate crimes. In The Celluloid Closet, author Vito Russo stated, “Gays who protested the making of the film maintained that it (the film) would show that when Pacino recognized his attraction to the homosexual world, he would become psychotic and begin to kill.” The film was consider a new low in gay in Hollywood — and lucky for us, the film will be released on DVD later this year.
You can also revisit TheBacklot.com’s list of cinema’s worst sissy villians.
*Note: An earlier version of this feature ran in May 2009