Nathan Lane got super candid in a new interview about the troubles of him coming out as gay after he found international success with the 1996 film The Birdcage. He also recalled how Oprah Winfrey tried to out him during an interview on her show that he said was “terrifying.”
The 64-year-old chatted with The Hollywood Reporter on Saturday, February 8, about being out to the close people around him prior to being cast in the adaptation of the 1978 Italian-French farce La Cage aux Foiles as Albert, aka the drag queen Starina.
“I came out when I was 21 to my mother and to my family,” he said. “Everyone knew. And certainly everyone in [the] New York [theater scene] knew. But this notion of coming out publicly, as if I was a public figure — no one had been interested in my sex life up until then.”
He was faced with a difficult decision about his sexuality after the release and success of the Mike Nichols‘ directed film. “Suddenly I had a publicist and they had to say, ‘Well, what do you want to do? You’re going to walk into a room filled with journalists and this is going to come up.’ And I just said, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready to start discussing this…I finally get a nice role in a movie and I want it to be about the acting and not a coming out story.’ Right or wrong, that was my decision.”
The subject of his sexuality came up on The Oprah Winfrey Show where the legendary host questioned him in front of millions of viewers and the studio audience about it during an interview with him and the late Robin Williams.
“We had to discuss this beforehand and I said, ‘I’m not ready to discuss whether I’m gay or not with Oprah,” Nathan recalled. “I can barely deal with meeting Oprah, let alone telling her I’m gay.'”
“She says to me something like, ‘Oh, you’re so good at that girly stuff.’ Or whatever it was. And Robin sensed she might be going toward the sexuality question and he immediately swoops in and diverts the interview to protect me,” he continued.
Oprah asked Nathan this on the show: “Were you afraid of being typecast as ‘are you, are you not?’ ‘Is he, isn’t he…?'” Robin used his comedy as a way of breaking from the awkward question but she pressed on. “So..?” she asked. The Tony Winner then dodged the follow up Q in a really awkward manner.
Nathan finally came out publicly three years later in a 1999 cover profile on The Advocate. “And then people were just annoyed that I came out. ‘Yeah, we already knew! F**k you.’ So there was no winning there,” he says. “It was all so intimidating. Honestly, it was terrifying.”