There’s no shortage of straight, cis actors playing LGBTQ+ roles in TV and movies – but some have shared their second thoughts about being cast in queer roles.
Even as LGBTQ+ characters become more prevalent on screen, queer folks aren’t necessarily being cast in these parts, brought into production or invited into writing rooms at the same rate as their cis, straight counterparts, as Hollywood continues to reckon with decades-long representation issues.
Several celebrities – including Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen, Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies and Gentleman Jack‘s Suranne Jones – have weighed in on the already simmering debate on whether non-LGBTQ+ actors should be cast as queer characters.
In a new interview with The Sunday Times, All Of Us Strangers star Paul Mescal argued that straight actors should be able to play queer roles – but it “depends on who’s in charge of telling the story”.
“The issue is that there have been so many queer performances in cinema that have been offensive, but that’s because the filmmakers and the actors have been careless,” he said.
There are several actors who have given critically-acclaimed performances as LGBTQ+ characters. Over the years, some have changed their views on representation as queer issues have gone mainstream, and reconsidered what roles they would be willing to accept today.
Here are six actors who have spoken about taking on LGBTQ+ roles that don’t align with their experiences, and why they’d think twice about it going forward.
Tom Hanks wouldn’t take on gay lawyer role in Philadelphia today – and ‘rightly so‘
Tom Hanks thought audiences wouldn’t “accept the inauthenticity of a straight guy playing a gay guy” in Philadelphia if the film was recast today. (Getty)
The 67-year-old won his first actor for best actor for 1993’s Philadelphia, in which he portrayed a gay man seeking justice over being discriminated against, and fired from his job, because of his HIV status.
Nearly 30 years later, Tom Hanks admitted that he wouldn’t play the role today, and he understands why.
“Let’s address ‘Could a straight man do what I did in Philadelphia now?’ No, and rightly so,” he told the New York Times magazine.
“The whole point of Philadelphia was don’t be afraid. One of the reasons people weren’t afraid of that movie is that I was playing a gay man.
“We’re beyond that now, and I don’t think people would accept the inauthenticity of a straight guy playing a gay guy.”
Eddie Redmayne said The Danish Girl role was a ‘mistake‘
Eddie Redmayne has said multiple times that it was a “mistake” to take on the role of trans icon Lile Elbe in 2015’s The Danish Girl. (Universal Pictures)
Eddie Redmayne has spoken at length about how he regrets playing trans artist Lile Elbe, one of the first people in history to have gender affirmation surgery, in the 2015 film The Danish Girl.
The film was praised by some at the time, but others felt a trans actor should have been cast in the role.
Redmayne told The Sunday Times that he made the film “with the best intentions”, but he thought “it was a mistake”.
In 2023, he revealed that he was “quite rightly interrogated” about his choice to do The Danish Girl while attending a workshop with trans actors.
The attendees pointed out that “many trans actors don’t go to drama school because they don’t see it as an opportunity”, and Redmayne agreed communities that “haven’t had a seat at the table” historically need to be represented.
Halle Berry apologised for saying she wanted to play a trans character
Halle Berry said she “should not have considered” playing a trans role in 2020. (Getty)
After facing immense backlash on social media, Berry announced in 2020 that she was no longer considering portraying a trans man in an upcoming film.
The Oscar-winning actor first discussed playing a trans man in an unnamed film project during an Instagram Live video. Berry wanted to “experience that world” and “understand that world”, referring to the trans experience.
The interview prompted a wave criticism as Berry repeatedly misgendered the unnamed character throughout the discussion and claimed the project was a “female story”.
Then, in a statement posted on social media, Berry apologised for her remarks around the LGBTQ+ role. She recognised that she “should not have considered this role” and that the trans community “should undeniably have the opportunity to tell their own stories”.
“I am grateful for the guidance and critical conversation over the past few days and I will continue to listen, educate and learn from this mistake,” Berry added.
“I vow to be an ally in using my voice to promote better representation on-screen, both in front of and behind the camera.”
Darren Criss said he didn’t want to be ‘another straight boy taking a gay man’s role‘
Glee star Darren Criss stepped away from playing LGBTQ+ roles in 2018, saying he doesn’t want to be “another straight boy taking a gay man’s role”. (Getty)
Darren Criss has played a variety of LGBTQ+ roles in the past including Blaine Anderson in Glee, Hedwig from Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway and serial killer Andrew Cunanan in American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.
But in 2018, Criss told Bustle that he wouldn’t be accepting any further LGBTQ+ roles because he didn’t want to be another straight actor depriving queer talent of future opportunities.
“There are certain [queer] roles that I’ll see that are just wonderful,” Criss said. “But I want to make sure I won’t be another straight boy taking a gay man’s role.”
He said it’s “been a real joy” playing queer characters, but he didn’t feel comfortable taking on similar roles now.
In 2021, Criss weighed in on the debate surrounding straight actors in LGBTQ+ roles, saying he’s been “s**t on” the topic in the past. He said actors should analyse if they “add value” to the role that they’re up for.
Hilary Swank believed a trans actor would have been ‘a lot more right’ for Boys Don’t Cry role
Hilary Swank, who played a trans man in Boys Don’t Cry, said that the role would probably not go to a cis actor today. (Searchlight Pictures)
Over two decades after winning an Oscar for the LGBTQ+ film Boys Don’t Cry, Swank acknowledged that a trans actor would have been more appropriate in the role than a cis, straight celeb.
The 1999 film is based on the tragic true story of murdered trans man Brandon Teena.
In 2020, Swank opened up about whether she would take on the part today, saying a trans actor “would obviously be a lot more right for the role”.
She told Variety that the lack of trans and LGBTQ+ visibility at the time would have made casting a trans actor in Boys Don’t Cry difficult because so “few people were listening”. As times have changed, Swank said there’s been more opportunities for trans people to be represented on screen.
“We still have a long way to go in their safety and their inclusivity, but we now have a bunch of trans actors who would obviously be a lot more right for the role and have the opportunity to actually audition for the role,” she said.
This wasn’t the first time Swank hinted at some regrets about her Boys Don’t Cry role.
Swank told The Guardian in 2018 that she thought the “struggle” lies in the fact that “not everyone is given an opportunity”. She believed people of “all genders should have an opportunity to be an actor and to tell their stories”.
Scarlett Johansson ‘mishandled’ controversy over trans role in Rub & Tug
Scarlett Johansson admitted that she “mishandled” the situation after she was widely criticised for defending her choice to play a trans character back in 2018. (Getty)
Marvel star Scarlett Johansson stepped into hot water in 2018 when she agreed to play Dante ‘Tex’ Gill, a trans man who ran illicit massage parlours in the 1970s, in Rub & Tug.
The casting of the triggered a wave of backlash with many pointing out that the role of the LGBTQ+ historical figure should have gone to a trans actor – not Johansson.
Initially, Johansson met the outcry with a defensive statement.
“Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” her representative told Bustle, referring to other cisgender actors who’ve played trans roles in the past.
Johansson quickly issued a contrite follow-up statement and departed the project.
In 2019, Johansson admitted she “mishandled” the situation, telling Vanity Fair that her “initial reaction” to the backlash “was not sensitive”.
“I felt terribly about it,” she said. “To feel like you’re kind of tone-deaf to something is not a good feeling.”