Our post about gay actors playing straight characters got us thinking about the flipside, straight actors playing gay characters.
But a list of straight actors successfully playing gay would be obvious (Tom Hanks, Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and frankly dull. So we decided instead to sharpen our knives and make a list that’s a hell of a lot more fun.
Straight actors who crashed and burned attempting to play gay.
Most of these performances rely on cliche and stereotype, and to be fair, a lot of our favorite gay performances from straight actors do lean heavily on the flamboyant. But actors such as Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) manage to inject warmth, heart, and sincerity into the theatrics.
These actors, on the other hand, either try way too hard, or not hard enough, and embarrass themselves … and us.
Mark Adair-Rios and Peter Oldring, Love That Girl
If you’ve never seen TV-One’s debut sitcom Love That Girl, you should definitely check it out, if only so you can say you were witness to one one of the worst shows in the history of TV (and coming from someone who managed to see the good in Small Wonder, She’s The Sheriff , and Woops!, that’s saying something).
Appalling in every regard (this show is so lazy that the same laughtrack is applied to every single joke), Love That Girl manages to up the ante by featuring a pair of nosy gay neighbors named Adonis (Mark Adair-Rios) and Fabian (Peter Oldring), who are Lenny & Squiggy circa In Living Color.
Leering and lewd , they would need to tone it down just to get to offensive.
John C. McGinley in Wagons East and Wild Hogs
It’s not often an actor can lay claim to playing both ends of the gay cliche spectrum, but Scrubs star John C. McGinley managed that … honor.
In the abysmal 1994 comedy Wagons East (which was so bad John Candy died during filming), he played Julian, a blatant caricature whose cringeworthiness may have stood out more in its offensiveness if the movie itself weren’t so offensively stupid.
Even worse was his performance in Wild Hogs, in which he played that other chestnut, the predatory gay. Each time his cop character met up with the lead foursome (Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, John Travolta, and William Macy), creepiness ensued, thanks to his camera mugging and bizarre line readings. I don’t know what the hell he was going for, but if it was “skin crawl expert,” he succeeded brilliantly.
Kevin Bishop in Food of Love
Kevin Bishop played Paul in this 2002 coming-of-age drama, a talented music student working as the page turner for a concert pianist. He and the pianist embark on a relationship, which leads to complications, of course, especially when Paul’s nutty mother (Juliet Stevenson in a entertainingly over-the-top performance) finds out.
Unfortunately, Kevin is wooden and bland, and plays the gay love scenes as if he’s holding his breath waiting for it to be over. Even the occasional butt shots lose their interest, as we’re too busy looking for the stick up his ass to really appreciate it.
Keir O’Donnell in Wedding Crashers
Look, another predatory gay! But the character of Todd in the inexplicably popular 2005 comedy Wedding Crashers also added mental illness to the mix. In one of the low points of film comedy in recent years, his attempted rape of the Vince Vaughn character was treated as a comic set piece.
Making matters worse is the performance from Keir O’Donnell, whose motto seems to be, “when in doubt, twitch.” Indeed, his tics and intense mugging bring another dimension of creepy to the character. He must have missed the lesson at The Jim Carrey School for Comedic Acting that covered, “when to turn it down a notch.”
Rex Harrison and Richard Burton in Staircase
This 1969 museum curio piece features two legendary actors thoroughly embarrassing themselves as gay hairdressers Charlie and Harry, a bickering British couple who try to out-shrill each other. Especially bad is Burton, who walks around with his head bandaged, like a lobotomized Norma Desmond looking for her closeup. I think Roger Ebert summed it up best:
“We’re not asked to watch a movie about homosexuals, but a movie about Harrison and Burton playing homosexuals. They play them with embarrassing clumsiness. I wonder if that was deliberate. Harrison minces about in a parody of homosexual mannerisms — not that many (or perhaps any) homosexuals ever acted as he portrays them. Maybe he’s trying to tell us he’s so straight he can’t even play a homosexual. But he doesn’t even play a character. Neither he nor Burton is believable for more than seconds.”
Jason Alexander in Love, Valour, Compassion
His heart was in the right place, but Jason Alexander’s performance as Buzz was the weakest link in 1997’s Love, Valour, Compassion. All surface mannerisms, Jason would have been better off trying to dig a little deeper instead of trying to ape Nathan Lane (who originated the role on stage).
Tracy Morgan in The Longest Yard
Well, duh. When you think, “Tracy Morgan as a gay prison inmate,” this is probably what you picture, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
There was absolutely nothing to his Ms. Tucker that was original, creative, or amusing. The script had, “Tracy Morgan as a gay prison inmate,” and they didn’t bother writing anything after that because hey, that’s all you need to know.
If he had put a minute of effort in to the performance, it may have risen to offensive, but he couldn’t even manage that.
Greg Kinnear in As Good As It Gets and Tommy Lee Jones in JFK
And now we come to a category we’re calling “Undeserved Oscar Nod.” Both Michael Jensen and Brent Hartinger nominated Greg Kinnear for this honor, for his performance as gay artist Simon in As Good As It Gets. As Brent put it, “He gave a great performance as a straight guy acting like a gay guy. It was all surfaces mannerisms, showy and obvious, and absolutely nothing real. And I confess it really chaps my lips that he was nominated for an Oscar the same year that Rupert Everett, an actual gay man giving one of the best, most memorable ’gay’ performances in the history of film, was not.”
To that performance I’ll add Tommy Lee Jones in JFK. The dubious history-telling of Oliver Stone aside, Jones’ performance as Clay Shaw was gimmicky and artificial.
So why did these two performances get Oscar nods? In Kinnear’s case, he rode the wave of accolades that As Good As It Gets received that year, and as for Jones, he was a macho leading man playing gay. That was enough.
Mickey Rourke in Balls of Steel: The Gareth Thomas Story
I know i’m jumping the gun … but trust me.
These are are just a couple of examples of cluelessness. I know a lot of you would probably name Will Smith in Six Degrees of Separation, but aside from the whole kissing debacle, I didn’t think his actual performance was that bad.
So what are your least favorite gay-for-pay performances? The aforementioned Will Smith? Al Pacino perhaps? Who had you saying, “Nice try … but no sale?”