The “straight actor for a gay role” debate has come back again.
Former Doctor Who star Matt Smith is gearing up for the release of his biopic of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, but some have expressed criticism of him in the role.
Mapplethorpe was a celebrated photographer known for his homoerotic photos. He liked to depict naked men to express male beauty and vulnerability. That said, he also enjoyed photographing nature shots and flowers as well. Plus, he’s known for his great friendship with Patti Smith, the mother of punk rock, and he photographed a few of her album covers too.
But the conversation of straight men playing gay roles strikes again, and this time in the direction of Matt Smith. The actor then recently defended his work, according to Indie Wire.
“I think your sexual orientation, or your sex and your choices outside of work, shouldn’t influence — in either way, positive or negative — what happens,” Smith responded. “So, to me, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight. That has no bearing on whether you should get the part.”
“Where does it stop?” he said. “Like, do we then say, do we apply that logic to going, ‘Okay, I’ve got a part, and it’s playing a brother, and he’s addicted to heroin.’ Do we then go to people that have only taken heroin?”
This conversation of straight actors playing gay roles became a heated debate last year. It was around the time that British comedian Jack Whitehall’s character in the upcoming Jungle Cruise film was announced to be gay.
Since then, several actors have expressed their opinion on the issue including a recent comment from Cate Blanchett.
She said, "I will fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience.
"I think reality television and all that that entails had an extraordinary impact, a profound impact on the way we view the creation of character.
"I think it provides a lot of opportunity, but the downside of it is that we now, particularly in America, I think, we expect and only expect people to make a profound connection to a character when it's close to their experience."
This debate hasn’t stopped straight actors from playing gay roles and from them being honored for their performances. Right now, Rami Malek and Olivia Colman are Oscar nominated for best actor/actress awards for their work as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody and Queen Anne in The Favourite respectively.
As for Matt Smith, he told Entertainment Weekly that he’s learned a lot about gay life from his work on Mapplethorpe.
“Just investigating that moment in time, it certainly made me reflect on being a homosexual in the “70s in New York and the way they were treated for a disease that was completely misunderstood,” he said.
“You think with what we know now about HIV and AIDS, you think if only we could have imparted a bit of the medicinal knowledge and the cultural understanding of that thing.”
“It was appalling really what happened to gay men then, and the way they were treated, and what they had to go through.”
“It’s amazing how far we’ve come in being able to treat that particular disease. It absolutely made me think about that.”
“[Robert] died so young and if he were around now, then he’d live out the whole of his life and still be a brilliant, prolific artist I’m sure.”
“Because he was prolific. He just worked and worked and worked.”
If you want to see the work that changed the man, Mapplethorpe releases in select theaters on March 1.