Neil Patrick Harris Defends Straight Actors Playing Gay Roles: 'It's Sexy'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday February 14, 2021
Originally published on January 21, 2021

Out actor Neil Patrick Harris has weighed in on the debate around whether cisgender and heterosexual actors should take roles depicting LGBTQ characters, saying that it's "sexy" when straights play gay, UK newspaper the Daily Mail reports.

Harris is currently cast in the LGTBQ-themed UK series "It's a Sin," from "Queer As Folk" creator Russell T. Davies. Whereas Davies recently stated that LGBTQ parts should go to actors from within the community, Harris disagreed.

"I think there's something sexy about casting a straight actor to play a gay role, if they're willing to invest a lot into it," Harris said.

Recalling his own stint playing a straight character in the long-running sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," Harris said, "I played a character for nine years who was nothing like me. I would definitely want to hire the best actor," regardless of their sexual orientation.

The Daily Mail offered a thumbnail description of the new series in which Harris co-stars, along with English comedian Stephen Fry: " 'It's A Sin' follows the lives of five 18-year-olds as they navigate life during the AIDS crisis in 1981, and sees Years&Years singer Olly Alexander take the lead role."

"It's a Sin" airs in America on HBO Max.

Series creator Davies, for his part, compared the casting of cisgender and heterosexual actors in LGBQ roles with blackface.

"I feel strongly that if I cast someone in a story, I am casting them to act as a lover, or an enemy, or someone on drugs or a criminal or a saint," Davies told UK publication Radio Times, adding, "they are not there to 'act gay' because 'acting gay' is a bunch of codes for a performance."

The debate around casting straight and cisgender actors in LGBTQ roles is ongoing. In a pair of well-publicized incidents, Scarlett Johanssen accepted and Halle Berry considered, roles in which they would have played transgender women. Both actors declined the roles when backlash ensued. Selena Gomez reportedly has accepted a movie role based on the real-life lesbian mountain climber Silvia Vasquez-Lavado.

Straight actors Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth (who have both played gay roles before, Firth getting an Oscar nomination for his turn in Tom Ford's "A Single Man") will co-star in the upcoming drama "Supernova," about a longtime gay male couple, while Viggo Mortensen's upcoming directorial debut finds him starring as the gay son of a homophobic father in decline.

Mortensen, in defending his choice to play the gay role in his own film, said critics were "assuming that I'm completely straight."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.