Root around in the annals of movie and television history, and you may be surprised at the number of famous actors who have gay or bisexual roles in their pasts. Before Leonardo DiCaprio romanced Claire Danes or Kate Winslet, he was David Thewlis’ lover in Total Eclipse (1995). Before Hugh Grant became the go-to guy for straight romantic comedies, he played gay in Maurice (1987) and the TV movie Our Sons (1991). Even Will Smith played a gay role in the 1993 film Six Degrees of Separation, though he refused to kiss a man on camera. It just goes to show that playing gay is not the career-killer it was once thought to be. Here are 10 of today’s TV and film stars who played gay or bisexual roles — many of which have been nearly forgotten — earlier in their careers.
10. Jack Coleman
Coleman currently plays Mr. Bennet, father of perky blond cheerleader Claire, on the hit NBC sci-fi drama Heroes. But not all viewers of the show may remember that Coleman had his own days of perky blondness. From 1982–88, he starred on Dynasty as the second actor to play Steven Carrington, gay son of the show’s main family and one of the earliest queer characters on American television.
The show struggled to keep Steven’s orientation straight, so to speak. He was married twice to women, fathering a child with one of them. But he also had several male lovers, one of whom was played by Grant Goodeve of Eight is Enough fame. Recalling the character of Steven Carrington, Coleman recently told TV Guide: "[Steven] was so timid by today’s standards, especially looking at what’s on cable, with The L Word, Queer as Folk and shows like that. … It was very much The Donna Reed Show in terms of four feet on the floor, nobody actually ever touching."
9 and 8. James Purefoy and Kevin McKidd
In the recently-concluded HBO historical drama Rome, James Purefoy plays Mark Antony, the legendary general, and Kevin McKidd plays Lucius Vorenus, a commoner. Though Rome won Emmy Awards for visual effects, hairstyling, art direction and costumes, the show has been notable for mostly steering clear of another aspect of ancient Roman society: male homosexual relationships.
But this wasn’t the case the last time McKidd and Purefoy shared a screen. In 1998, they starred together in the British romantic comedy Bedrooms and Hallways. McKidd played Leo, a gay-identified man starting to be interested in a woman. Purefoy played Brendan, a straight-identified man starting to be interested in Leo. In the process of exploring their sexual identities, the two men have an affair.
7. Naveen Andrews
Before he was cast as former Iraqi soldier Sayid Jarrah in ABC’s Lost, this British actor was probably best known to American viewers for his role as Kip in the 1996 film The English Patient. But before either of those roles, Andrews created a splash in the U.K. by starring in the 1993 BBC miniseries The Buddha of Suburbia.
Written by Hanif Kureishi (who also wrote the classic gay movie My Beautiful Laundrette), Buddha is the story of Karim Amir, a young, bisexual British Indian growing up in London in the ’70s. Impatient with fixed categories, whether national or sexual, Karim has lovers including Eleanor (played by Jemma Redgrave), a privileged young actress, but also Charlie Kay (played by Steven Mackintosh), a David Bowie-like figure who goes on to become an international punk star.