A prominent gay British actor has rejected calls from acclaimed screenwriter Russell T Davies for gay performers to be prioritised for LGBT roles.
James Dreyfus, who played pioneering gay roles in Nineties sitcoms The Thin Blue Line and Gimme Gimme Gimme, said an actor’s sexuality has nothing to do with their ability to ‘convince and amaze’.
And the 52-year-old believes audiences would be deprived of the ‘superlative’ recent performances put on by straight stars if roles were only based on sexual orientation.
His comments come after Davies – best known for his work on Queer As Folk and Doctor Who – said gay actors should get LGBT roles and compared a straight actor playing a gay character to black face.
Davies insisted he was ‘not being woke about this’ and said it would ensure an authentic portrayal.
James Dreyfus played a gay man in Nineties sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme with Kathy Burke
James Dreyfus played a policeman whom colleague suspect is gay in The Thin Blue Line. He also has a longing desire for fellow constable Maggie Habib, played by Mina Anwar
Screenwriter Russell T Davies said only gay actors should play gay characters in film and TV
The homosexual characters in his upcoming Channel 4 Drama It’s A Sin, set during the 1980s HIV epidemic, are all played by gay stars including Stephen Fry, Olly Alexander and Neil Patrick Harris.
But as recently as 2018, heterosexual Hugh Grant played the role of Liberal politician Jeremy Thorpe in Davies’s adaptation of A Very English Scandal.
And in his 2015 series Cucumber, straight actors Freddie Fox and Vincent Franklin played gay roles.
Dreyfus told The Times: ‘I’m not completely convinced he understands what ‘acting’ actually involves, i.e. inhabiting a totally different character.
‘There have been some superlative performances by straight actors playing ‘gay’.’
All the gay characters in the upcoming Channel 4 drama It’s A Sin are played by gay actors. It follows the stories of three gay 18-year-olds who arrive in London in 1981, at the beginning of the HIV epidemic, and its cast includes Olly Alexander, Neil Patrick Harris, and Stephen Fry
Davies’s 2018 miniseries A Very English Scandal featured Hugh Grant, who is straight, playing Liberal politician Jeremy Thorpe
Queer as Folk – about the lives of three men in Manchester – was Davies’ first gay TV drama – and he cast straight actors in the roles. From left: Charlie Hannun, Aidan Gillen and Craig Kelly
And he cited the examples of Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci in the British film Supernova, a film about a middle-aged gay couple who have to deal with the diagnosis of early-onset dementia.
Gay actors who have won critical acclaim for portrayal of straight characters
Andrew Scott: Gay actors have won critical acclaim for their portrayal of heterosexual characters – most notably Andrew Scott for his turn as the ‘Hot Priest’ in Phoebe Waller Bridge’s hit show, Fleabag.
After he played Waller Bridge’s love interest in the second season of her show, the phrase, ‘Can you have sex with a Catholic priest?’ became one of the most googled terms of 2019.
Luke Evans: The Welsh actor Luke Evans, who recently split with his boyfriend, won ‘Best Villain’ at the 2017 Teen Choice Awards for his portrayal of the Lothario Gaston in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast.
Ben Whishaw: The revered stage and film actor has been nominated for, and won, dozens of awards for his depiction of characters including Hamlet, Richard II and Q in James Bond. He also played Keith Richards in the Rolling Stones biopic, Stoned.
Jim Parsons: The actor came out publicly in 2012 in a New York Times profile. He won several awards for playing Sheldon Cooper on the CBS show, The Big Bang Theory. The role saw Parsons become one of the highest paid actors in the world, earning $1million per episode. In the series, Sheldon marries fellow scientist Amy.
Zachary Quinto: The actor came out in 2011. He is perhaps best know for his turn as Spock in the Star Trek films.
Dreyfus said the pair, who are both straight, gave ‘astounding turns’ as gay men, adding: ‘Totally convincing and brilliant. It’s what acting is all about.’
He maintained he had great respect for Davies and praised him as an ‘exemplary’ writer
Supernova is set to be released this year and has already been praised LGBT publications.
Queer as Folk – about the lives of three men in Manchester – was Davies’ first gay TV drama – and he cast straight actors in the role.
And actor Alan Davies starred as a gay teacher in Davies’s hit 2001 show Bob & Rose.
Davies told Radio Times: ‘I’m not being woke about this but 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.
‘They are not there to ‘act gay’ because ‘acting gay’ is a bunch of codes for a performance.’
He added: ‘You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t black someone up.’
Davies said his latest project It’s A Sin – which began filming in October 2019 – is loosely influenced by his own life.
The writer, who is gay, was just 18 when the HIV crisis began in 1981, but he did not contract the disease.
Davies has previously cast gay actors in roles where they played gay characters – including Russel Tovey in Years and Years, and John Barrowman in Torchwood.
Tovey spoke out in 2018 after Jack Whitehall faced criticism for being cast as a gay character in the Disney movie, Jungle Cruise.
Tovey told the Independent: ‘If you’re an actor, you’re an actor. The whole thing with Jack playing a gay character… I’m like, just let him act.’
Straight actors portraying gay roles have been blasted by critics for years – with several accused of using harmful stereotypes.
The actor most recently in the firing line was James Corden in his role as gay Broadway star Barry Glickman in Netflix’s The Prom.
Actor Alan Davies starred as a gay teacher in the 2001 show Bob & Rose
Davies’ 2015 series Cucumber – and its companion show Banana – also saw straight actors Freddie Fox (left) and Vincent Franklin (right) in gay roles
Other films criticised for actors playing gay roles include Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, Cate Blanchett in Carol, Sean Penn in Milk and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.
Call Me By Your Name – which received an Oscar in 2018 – featured Armie Hammer as a gay character.
Timothée Chalamet plays his young love interest.
The film’s director Luca Guadagnino defended the casting at the time, telling The Independent: ‘I honestly don’t believe I have the right to decide whether an actor is straight or not.
‘Yes, Armie is a straight man with a wife and children and the same can be said of Timothée.
Straight actors portraying gay roles have been blasted by critics for years – with several accused of using harmful stereotypes. James Corden was in the firing line in his role as gay Broadway star Barry Glickman in Netflix’s The Prom (pictured alongside co-star Meryl Streep)
Davies – who revived Doctor Who in 2005 – said directors must cast gay men to play gay male roles as you ‘wouldn’t black someone up’ in the modern day. Other films criticised for actors playing gay roles include Tom Hanks in Philadelphia (pictured)
Straight actor Sean Penn won an Oscar in 2009 for his role as gay rights activist Harvey Milk in Milk (left). Cate Blanchett was nominated in 2016 for playing a lesbian in Carol (right)
Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger played gay characters in Brokeback Mountain (pictured)
‘But do I ask them to swear on their sexuality, on their identities, on their desires, before I cast them? I don’t.’
Corden’s co-star Andrew Rannells, who is gay, defended the actor’s portrayal of a gay character in Prom, saying film casting is about finding ‘the best person for the job’.
Speaking to Attitude magazine, Rannells said he thinks ‘representation’ in films and TV is important but added that the movie’s director Ryan Murphy is ‘looking for talent’ first and foremost.
He said: ‘You know, I kinda go back and forth about this. Obviously, representation is very important, but what I feel that Ryan does so well is, you know, it’s the best person for the job, quite frankly.’