Image Credit: Adam Taylor/ABC In an interview with The Advocate promoting his upcoming role as an HIV-positive love interest for Uncle Saul (Ron Rifkin) on ABC’s Brothers & Sisters, out gay actor Richard Chamberlain says he “wouldn’t advise a gay leading man-type actor to come out.” In an era when the President of the United States signed a bill repealing a law banning gay soldiers from serving openly in the military, the same month out actor Neil Patrick Harris hosted a video game awards show on Spike, Chamberlain’s words gave me more than a bit of pause.
Until he came out in his 2003 memoir Shattered Love, Chamberlain, now 76, was himself a closeted gay leading man-type actor. His career was launched with his role as the dashing title character on NBC’s 1960s drama Dr. Kildare, and it spiked again thanks to the 1983 ABC miniseries The Thorn Birds. He even once played Jason Bourne in a 1988 ABC movie of The Bourne Identity. But his resume through the 1990s was light on hits and heavy on forgettable TV movies. Since Chamberlain came out, though, he’s guest starred on Will & Grace, Nip/Tuck, Desperate Housewives, Leverage, Chuck, and now Brothers & Sisters. He played gay characters in some of those roles, and straight ones in others. But as The Advocate‘s writer implies when he asks Chamberlain, “When can a leading man come out — when he’s 69 and promoting a memoir?” it feels like telling the world he’s gay was the best thing that’s happened to Chamberlain’s career in 20 years.
That said, do you think he has a point? “There’s still a tremendous amount of homophobia in our culture,” Chamberlain continues. “For an actor to be working is a kind of miracle… so it’s just silly for a working actor to say, ‘Oh, I don’t care if anybody knows I’m gay’ — especially if you’re a leading man… Look at what happened in California with Proposition 8. Please, don’t pretend that we’re suddenly all wonderfully, blissfully accepted.” The sad truth is I can count the number of out A-list leading men on one hand — does that mean there’s no room in Hollywood for out gay actors? Is Chamberlain right — should they stay safely in the closet until their careers wane and/or they age out of leading men roles?