When I watched Forrest Gump navigating a boat and catching hundreds of pounds of fish, I never once thought to myself that it was completely unrealistic for Tom Hanks to portray a shrimp boat captain because he was not a shrimp boat captain. Nor did I have a problem with Gary Sinise as a lieutenant who lost his legs in Vietnam injury — even though I knew fully well that Gary’s legs were perfectly fine. Why, then, does Ramin Setoodeh of Newsweek insist that a gay man cannot convincingly play a straight character?

You cannot successfully make an analogy to any other kind of portrayal in acting because it just doesn’t work. We are fully aware that the people in the BBC miniseries based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice cannot possibly have a full grasp of what it is like to be a person living in that time period and yet we believe that they are exactly who they purport to portray when we watch it while watching.

That’s the thing about acting — it’s someone entering into a character that is in many ways uniquely different from who they actually are. Morgan Freeman is not actually the creator of the universe, as he seems to be in the film Bruce Almighty.

Shock of all shocks, the people we rush to watch every week on Law & Order have little to no actual background in being members of the police or legal firms. Yet if you would hear it from Setoodeh’s perspective, it would seem that you have to be straight to portray a straight character.

But frankly, it’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, as if he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is. Even the play’s most hilarious scene, when Chuck tries to pick up a drunk woman at a bar, devolves into unintentional camp. Is it funny because of all the ’60s-era one-liners, or because the woman is so drunk (and clueless) that she agrees to go home with a guy we all know is gay?

SuperGenius Actress Kristin Chenoweth, Hayes’ costar in the play, responded to the article with sharp words of her own.

From where I stand, on stage, with Hayes, every night — I’ve observed nothing “wooden” or “weird” in his performance, nor have I noticed the seemingly unwieldy presence of a “pink elephant” in the Broadway Theater. (The Drama League, Outer Critics Circle and Tony members must have also missed that large animal when nominating Hayes’ performance for its highest honors this year.)

Granted, one may argue that Chenoweth is just a little biased as an actress that acts alongside Hayes. Nevertheless, she does make a strong point in mentioning the honors for which Hayes has been nominated. I am sickened to the thought of articles like this one in Newsweek being written and the thought process that went into it.

7 Comments

  1. Excellent article, Gordon!

    I wonder if Newsweek being on the block has anything to do with this wretched topic — and they’re trying to make as much noise as possible to pique some interested in a dying rag?

    http://www.observer.com/2010/media/newsweek-sale

    I think the point the author was hoping to make is that Sean Hayes is a terrible actor — and that he can really only play himself — and that limitation of talent doesn’t work in some roles because you can’t always be who you are on stage and have the audience believe you.

    You need to transform yourself into something you are not, and very few actors — straight or gay — are able to do that believably on a nightly basis from a live stage.

  2. I love Sean. I think he’s funny and great. He should win all the awards. He was sort of shy about answering the gay question when he was on Will and Grace, though. Was he ashamed then in refusing to answer because “it didn’t matter” like he said or is he just prouder now?