Could Matt Bomer Become Hollywood’s First Openly Gay Actor to Play a Straight Romantic Big-Screen Lead? (ANALYSIS)

Gary Susman / August 15, 2012

K-Stew Talks 'Fifty Shades'
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It’s still unclear who’ll be starring in the film version of erotic bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey, much less who’ll be writing the screenplay. But novelist Bret Easton Ellis, who was briefly in line for the latter job, has some unflattering opinions about the former.

In a long series of tweets over the past week, Ellis has disparaged candidate Matt Bomer, insisting that the filmmakers would never cast him or any other openly gay actor as the straight romantic lead in a movie because of the belief that audiences won’t buy an openly gay actor as a brazenly heterosexual movie stud, like kinky-sex-loving Christian Grey from E.L. James’ book.

Ellis has taken a lot of heat over those views, to which he has responded by insisting that he’s not homophobic, he’s just voicing the conventional wisdom among Hollywood moguls about what moviegoing audiences will accept. One bit of flak came from Neil Patrick Harris, who poked fun at Ellis’ stance in a tweet of his own.

What did Ellis and Harris say in their war of words over openly gay actors?

Ellis’ series of tweets on the subject included a comment asserting, “Okay I’ll say it. Matt Bomer isn’t right for Christian Grey because he is openly gay. He’s great for other roles but this is too big a game.” In another tweet, he wrote, “Matt Bomer: I don’t care how good an actor you are but being married to another man complicates things for playing CG.” After several such tweets earned him some vehement replies, he responded, “I am NOT discriminating Matt Bomer because of his sexuality. Fifty Shades of Grey demands an actor that is genuinely into women. Get it?!?” Of Bomer’s straight role on TV’s White Collar, Ellis wrote, “I think Matt Bomer is incredibly handsome and a good actor but I think he comes off totally gay in White Collar. And that is why no to CG…”

Ellis insisted that his opinions had nothing to do with homophobia on his part but rather reflected the thinking of the movie executives who would make the casting decision. “Hollywood is the most homophobic place in the entire world,” he tweeted. Hoping to put the matter to rest, he wrote, “Final word: there is no way in hell that the makers of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ will hire an openly gay actor to play Christian Grey. Period.”

But that was not the final word. Harris weighed in with his own Twitter joke. “Bret Easton Ellis thinks gay actors can’t play straight roles,” Harris wrote.” Totally unrelated, I thought Christian Bale was amazing in ‘Welsh Psycho.’ “

See, Bale was thoroughly convincing as an American in the film version of Ellis’ American Psycho, even though moviegoers know Bale is actually Welsh. Similarly, Harris seemed to suggest, Bomer could be thoroughly convincing as an amorous straight man, even though viewers know he’s gay in real life.

(Asked by Celebuzz if Harris wanted to clarify or elaborate on his remark, his rep declined to comment. Reps for Ellis and Bomer did not respond to Celebuzz’s request for comment.)

Harris has long been the go-to example that proves a gay actor can convincingly play someone aggressively heterosexual, as Harris has done with hetero horndog Barney for several years on How I Met Your Mother. But that’s on TV, and a comic role. The sense of fantasy wish fulfillment and personal identification isn’t there the way it would be in a sweeping, larger-than-life movie on the big screen, the argument goes.

Bomer himself has played straight as the lead on TV’s White Collar, to the delight of many straight female fans. He also played straight as a steamy stripper on the big screen in this summer’s hit Magic Mike. But that was a supporting role.

Is Hollywood ready to cast an openly gay actor in a romantic straight leading role in a mainstream movie? Probably not, suggested Entertainment Weekly columnist Mark Harris, in the magazine’s cover story last month on uncloseted celebrities. “Could an openly gay actor, for example, have gotten cast in Channing Tatum’s role in The Vow? It’s doubtful,” wrote Harris. “On the other hand, could an openly gay actor have gotten Channing Tatum’s role in 21 Jump Street? Absolutely.”

Harris also observed that TV stars get more leeway to be open about their sexual orientation than movie stars do, since they’re “the most relatable show-business celebrities, the ones we have in our homes and with whom we feel on almost intimate terms.” They’re not, however, as likely to be the ones on which viewers project their own grand romantic and sexual fantasies. Viewers may be more ready than Hollywood suits to accept a known gay actor in a straight romantic movie lead role, but we’ll never know until some mainstream filmmaker actually tries to test the proposition.

As Entertainment Weekly staff editor Jeff Labrecque noted, whether Ellis is expressing his own prejudices or those of Hollywood studio executives doesn’t matter. The assumptions are the same, and as long as they persist, the casting of Bomer or any other gay actor in a straight romantic lead role in a movie remains a long shot. But what if it weren’t? What if Bomer became the test case to prove the conventional wisdom wrong? What if now was the moment someone tried to challenge it?

Even Ellis didn’t seem to buy his own argument, suggesting in an about-face that this was indeed the moment to challenge Hollywood homophobia. “You know what? I changed my mind: I now think a gay actor HAS GOT to play Christian Grey. It’s IMPERATIVE that someone gay plays him…” he tweeted. He then added, ” Let’s destroy the bullshit stereotypes of Hollywood studio moviemaking and cast a gay actor as Christian Grey in ’50 Shades of Grey.’ A win.”

Then again, Ellis may have been kidding. Soon after, he tweeted what appeared to be an endorsement of Ian Somerhalder, who starred in the screen version of Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction, and who is also reportedly a candidate for the role of Christian Grey. Of course, Somerhalder is well known to be straight, since he’s dating his Vampire Diaries costar, Nina Dobrev.

At least Ellis was fully aware of the firestorm he’d started, quipping, “Well, there goes my GLAAD Humanitarian Award.”

Watch video below for some other Christian Grey casting ideas.

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