Blogging Broadway: Malcolm Gets lives the “Life”

Malcolm Gets in The Story of My Life (Photo: Aaron Epstein)

Although Malcolm Gets didn’t “come out” to the press until the late ’90s, that still earns him an honored place among the vanguard of actors who have chosen to be up-front about being gay. Best known for his portrayal of Richard Karinsky on the sitcom Caroline in the City, Gets is also a composer, classically trained pianist, vocal director, dancer, choreographer, and teacher. You may have seen him as one of the leads in the gay cult film Adam and Steve and, more recently, in the movie version of Sex and the City. His next big screen assignment: the colorful role of George Gould Strong in Grey Gardens, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, set for release in April.

Malcolm has appeared on Broadway in The Moliere Comedies (1995) and the lovely but short-lived Michel Legrand musical Amour (2002). Now he’s back, co-starring with Will Chase in The Story of My Life, a two-character musical about a deep, long-lasting, non-romantic friendship between two men.

Like many other performers in his position, Malcolm recognizes both the plusses and the pitfalls of being out and proud; in an interview a while back, he observed that “Once you talk about it on the public record, then you run the risk of, for the rest of your life, being labeled as ’out gay actor Malcolm Gets.’” He and I recently discussed this subject in his dressing room at the Booth Theatre, where The Story of My Life is playing. The authors of The Story of My Life, Brian Hill and Neil Bartram, are life-partners as well as writing partners. How cool is that?
Malcolm Gets: It’s great. They’re Canadian. They met doing a production of Forever Plaid, and they’ve been together for a long time. I had gone to Toronto to workshop another show that Brian and Neil wrote, and I was also asked to audition for The Story of My Life.  They wanted me to come and have a work session with Will Chase, so I showed up at what I thought was Brian and Neil’s office. They welcomed me in, and I said, “Wow, you have a fantastic office! It’s so comfy and cozy.” As the words were coming out of my mouth, I suddenly realized what was up, and I said, “Oh. You guys live together?!” I felt like such an idiot.

AE: Off the top of my head, there are few instances of gay life partners to be found in the annals of well-known musical theater writers. The only other example that comes to mind is the team of Wright and Forrest, who wrote Kismet and several other shows.
They were life partners? Wow, you learn something new every day! You might think it would be a precarious relationship, but Brian and Neil work together so effortlessly.

AE: Is it realistic to feel that there should be a place on Broadway for small, intimate shows like The Story of My Life?
I did an interview a few weeks ago, and I was asked, “Why should your show be on Broadway as opposed to Off-Broadway?” I said, “Well, why should Proof or Doubt be on Broadway?” My point is that this is really a musical play. I think Broadway would absolutely be a better place to have a show like ours running. And who knows? This is such an insane time economically that it may be the perfect time for The Story of My Life.  My character, Alvin, is obsessed with It’s a Wonderful Life – and believe me, Malcolm is also pretty obsessed with Frank Capra and Preston Sturges. It’s not lost on me that those films came out of the Depression. There’s a very simple, humanistic quality about them, and I think our show also has that quality in spades.

AE: There’s some indication in the show that Alvin is physically attracted to Thomas. Can you talk about that?
I think Alvin absolutely loves Thomas, and perhaps when he was a teenager, he was “in love” with him. I’m an openly gay actor and I love the gay characters I’ve played, but I just don’t think Alvin is a sexual being. I don’t think he’s ever taken off his clothes and been with another person. He’s not about that. He loves in a very intense, true way, and the object of his love happens to be a man. This show is not about unrequited romantic love; to see it that way makes the story so much smaller than it is.

Malcolm Gets and Will Chase in The Story of My Life (Photo: Aaron Epstein)

AE: I believe you were one of the first well-known actors to come out publicly – certainly, one of the first among men known primarily for their TV or film work.
Was I? The first guy I remember coming out to the press was my friend Mitchell Anderson. And then, who? I teach at NYU and I substitute at Juilliard. Twice in the last five years, the kids at Juilliard have gone to the faculty and asked if there could be a symposium on being openly gay in the industry. I put together the panels, and it was so heartbreaking: Denis O’Hare and a few other people showed up for me, but I called a lot of other people whom I assumed were out and they said, “Well … technically, I’m not.” Before that, I thought there was a whole patch of us, but now I think there are still not many – not even in the theater community.

AE: AfterElton and, as far as I know, most other media outlets use the yardstick that someone is not officially out unless he or she is out to the press, regardless of how open he or she may be in private life.
For some reason, the standard that has been set for the military is the same one that’s used in the entertainment industry: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” That’s been true since I was on television in 1996. When Ellen DeGeneres came out, a lot of people in my situation were approached by the media saying, “We want a guy to come out now, so if you’re willing to do it, we’ll give you the cover of the magazine, a feature at the top of the show.” But nobody did it. My experience in those years was that I had a boyfriend who came with me to every event. We would sit with the cast of Friends at awards ceremonies, but it wasn’t until I told Kathie Lee I was gay that it became official. I was doing Edward II in San Francisco, with Mark Lamos directing, and I just thought it was ridiculous not to be open about it. I couldn’t bear it anymore.

AE: Don’t you find it amazing that this is still such an issue?
I feel like if we all came out, we could all get on with our lives. Honestly, I’m at the point where I no longer need from my acting career what I used to need from it; I’m also writing, directing, and doing lots of other things, so I’m in a different position than most actors. Because I’m teaching, I often have young people come up to me and say, “I want to be who I am, but I don’t want my parents to throw me out of the house.” I wish we could just push the fast-forward button on the VCR of life and get past all of this.

AE: One unfortunate downside of being an openly gay celebrity is that some fans are going to want to know the details of your romantic and sexual life, in much the same way that so many people are so concerned about what’s going on with Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Jennifer Aniston.
Well, I certainly understand what you’re saying in that respect. I’m the child of English parents, so in a way I’m very private. My partner and I have been together for a long time, but I don’t like to talk about him to the press. We have a great, boring life together. The way I want to set an example is to lead a healthy lifestyle and have some sort of dignity.