GayFace: When Straight Actors Go Gay

After two seasons of working on a webseries called The Slope, I’m onto my first feature film. So far I’ve learnt that making a film is a lot like making a webseries, only it takes several years longer, costs 100 thousand times more and every time you have an idea you have to run it by 20 people until you eventually decide to cut it all together.

Short content for the web is especially fun because it has that instant gratification that comes with sharing content with an audience so quickly. A film, not so much. That’s why I thought that blogging for about the experience would be a natural solution to this creative constipation.

The film is called Disposable Lovers. It’s a gay Annie Hall that picks up where The Slope left off, with my character rebounding from the heartbreak of a lifetime. My producer Cecilia and I were meeting with a casting director when she asked us a question I hadn’t considered before that moment. “Does the romantic interest in the film have to be played by a lesbian?” Before I had time to think my (straight) producer spit out, “Yes. Of course.” And I agreed.

I knew that wasn’t the answer that the casting director was looking for, so it gave me a jolt of pride when I heard Cecilia make such a bold statement. When we discussed it afterwards she cited “street cred” as one of the deciding factors and the little Carrie Bradshaw in me “couldn’t help but wonder:” Do lesbian characters need to be played by lesbians?

Actors don’t always have to be of the same race or socio-economic background as the characters they play, so why sexuality? To say so may even be a bit bigoted of me. But what if I end up casting a straight woman, cutting her hair and make her act all butch? Would that be considered “gayface?”

Gay people play straight all the time. If someone insisted that a straight character be played by a straight person I’d be incredibly insulted. The thing is, there aren’t many mainstream films out there that feature gay characters.

It’s easy to sit on my gay high horse when I’m hypothetical casting in my mind. If I woke up in a fantasy world where a huge name actor were interested in doing my film, would I refuse her because of her sexuality? I’d like to think I would cast the right person for the role. The thing is: I need a romantic lead who can top. On some level finding the right person for a role in a film is pretty superficial, and Nicole Kidman doesn’t read as butch. Or at least she won’t until I give her a fake nose like they did in The Hours.

Now that I think about it, Nicole Kidman was pretty convincingly bi-curious in that film. And there are a lot of examples of straight actors playing gay effectively – most recently Tom Cullen in Weekend, Colin Firth in A Single Man, Adepero Oduye in Pariah, Felicity Huffman even went trans!

The more I think about it I see there’s no real reason to cast exclusively gay except for that I want to. In big budget films there’s no contest- the actress with the most box office appeal gets the role, and those actresses are not (openly) gay. But with my tiny indie film, where I have the control and I’m not trying to please any Weinstein brothers, it feels right to go lez.