Darren Criss first burst onto the national stage playing the uber-cute, openly gay ‘Blaine Anderson’ on the hit TV series, GLEE.
He followed that with an acclaimed turn on Broadway in the decidedly queer title role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
And now, after his star-making performance as ‘Andrew Cunanan’ in the TV mini-series The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, he’s not only won a Prime-time Emmy Award but is nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award.
But Criss has decided to no longer take on gay roles – and for the very best reason.
"There are certain [queer] roles that I'll see that are just wonderful," Criss recently shared in an interview with Bustle. "But I want to make sure I won't be another straight boy taking a gay man’s role."
Calling the creative experiences of playing these varied queer roles “a real joy,” Criss says he isn’t comfortable taking those roles, which he describes as "unfortunate.”
"The reason I say that is because getting to play those characters is inherently a wonderful dramatic experience," the 31-year-old told Bustle. "It has made for very, very compelling and interesting people."
As we’ve reported several times on Instinct, there’s an important, ongoing discussion about straight people playing gay roles, cisgender actors taking on transgender characters
GLAAD noted in its 2018 "Where We Are On TV" report that of 857 series regular characters on the five broadcast networks (ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS, The CW) in primetime in the upcoming TV year, only 75 were identified as LGBTQ. And, at 8.8 percent, this is the highest representation of LGBTQ characters the "Where We Are On TV" report has ever seen.
Criss acknowledges the issue of representation in film and television has been on his mind more lately having played ‘Cunanan,’ a Filipino-American. Criss’s mother hails from the Philippines and the bombastic role was the first time he was playing a character with which he shared that commonality.
He's also aware that Asian-American roles only make up about 1% of leading roles in television and film.
Looking forward, as television series from the past are getting the reboot treatment – like the recent Queer As Folk announcement – Criss is pretty confident he’s not all that interested in returning to the world of GLEE.
When asked if he'd consider revisiting GLEE’s ‘Blaine Anderson,’ Criss is of a ‘never say never’ mindset, but also doesn’t think that would happen anytime soon anyway.
"It’s not because I don’t love GLEE, or didn’t love my time on GLEE, it’s just GLEE was a new thing," he told Bustle. "The thing that made it special was its freshness. That’s hard to recreate."
“I like what it celebrated," adds Criss. “New faces and new voices and I’d want to see that incarnated but with somebody new."