Matt Damon, actor, Behind the Candelabra

No, Matt Damon, Being Openly Gay Doesn’t Kill Acting Careers

Attention, queer actors. Matt Damon wants you to stay in the closet. Matt Damon, a proud heterosexual, thinks that if you come out of the closet, you will lose that “mystery” that an actor requires to be successful. After all, look what happened to Rupert Everett. Really, it’s for your own good!

Except it isn’t. Not anymore. In case you haven’t heard, Damon was interviewed by the The Guardian and in the course of the conversation, the rumors that Damon and Ben Affleck were in a gay bromance came up — just what you’d expect to talk about when interviewing the star of a $100 million sci-fi film about an astronaut stranded on Mars. Damon suggested that all actors should keep their personal lives private because the less somebody knows about them, the easier it is to play a believable character.

By the way, did you know that Damon is heterosexually married with kids and thinks it’s just great? He’d love you to read all about it in this “exclusive interview” with Your Tango. By the way, you should also check him out in Behind The Candelabra!

Behind The Candelabra, if you might remember, is the 2013 movie where Damon played Scott Thorson, the longtime same-sex companion of flamboyant pianist Liberace. Not only was the film a critical and commercial success, Damon’s performance was singled out for praise. It even earned him an Emmy nomination. It’s a good thing we didn’t know that Damon was a life-long heterosexual, otherwise we never would have bought his performance as a gay man.

Oh. Whoops. I guess that kind of thing — some call it “acting” — only works if you’re straight. Kind of like line dancing or Adam Sandler films.

But what about Rupert Everett? Gay actors need to stay closeted, or they’ll end up like him! He came out and he destroyed his career!  Actually, no. It didn’t happen quite the way Matt Damon says.

Rupert Everett was not a particularly well-known actor in the United States prior to his 1997 role in My Best Friend’s Wedding as the gay best friend of the main character. His most well-known role prior was the 1984 British film Another Country, where he also played a gay character. Everett certainly saw his personal brand gather heat after Wedding became a massive hit, as did nearly everyone else involved with it, so he could have potentially done anything he wanted afterwards.

So he played the villain in the live-action adaptation of Inspector Gadget that nobody asked for. Then he starred as the male lead in the misbegotten and generally awful Madonna vanity project The Next Best Thing. In interviews, he generally came off as arrogant and full of himself. In fact, like Damon, he’s encouraged gay actors to stay in the closet and has publicly stated that gay marriage is “a waste of time” and “beyond tragic” and “can’t think of anything worse” than a child being brought up by gay parents. Maybe he isn’t quite the best example of a healthy, well-adjusted, out and proud gay actor.

But Everett’s career hasn’t been destroyed. He’s worked quite steadily ever since, especially in the UK. He’s done a number of supporting roles and voice over work (including in the inexplicably-successful Shrek franchise). He’s worked quite a bit on the stage, and he’s written a couple of books. Basically, he won’t be standing in a bread line anytime soon. But if anything’s to blame for his career cooling off, it’s Everett’s horrible choices in projects much more than his coming out.

There is a modicum of truth in Damon’s statement, but if he’s basing his ideas off of Everett’s career from 20 years ago, he seriously needs his database updated. Jim Parsons, who came out publicly in 2012, is currently the highest-paid actor on television for his role in The Big Bang Theory, where he plays a straight man in a relationship with a woman. Parsons won an Emmy for the role a year later. Neil Patrick Harris came out in 2006, early into the run of his show How I Met Your Mother, where he played an unabashed heterosexual womanizer. He was nominated for multiple Emmys for that role, and he drew praise for his role in the 2013 film Gone Girl, where he also played straight (and was directed by Damon’s BFF Affleck). Matt Bomer came out in 2012, and that didn’t stop him from playing a straight male stripper in two highly-successful Magic Mike movies, providing the voice of Superman, or playing a straight character (and the lead) for five seasons on White Collar.

By contrast, Damon hasn’t headlined an unqualified domestic hit film since 2007. He’s either been a supporting character in hit films, or he’s been in small films that are successful but forgettable. In fact, one of his most noticeable and critically applauded roles since then was when he played…wait for it…a gay man.

Coming out may have been a major risk 20 years ago, and Everett should be commended for taking it when he did, but it’s clearly no longer as much of an issue as Damon thinks it is. Actors, musicians, and athletes are coming out in a near constant stream these days, and in most cases, it’s clear that the general audience doesn’t care.

It’s unfortunate that this comes just two weeks after Damon was taken to task by social media for appearing to “whitesplain” cinematic diversity to a black filmmaker, and then was later taken to task again for taking credit for “starting a conversation” on race in film when there was already one already in progress. Damon might think that he’s saving all the gay actors out there from some career heartbreak, but it seems much more that he is simply unable to see things outside of the privilege afforded to him for being born white, male, and straight. He’s unable to put himself in the place of someone who does not come from his background.

And for an actor, that’s going to be a major handicap. Best of luck, Matt. I’ll try to forget about how heterosexual you are next time I see you on the screen. Give my love to the wife.

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