Straight male actors rebuke gay kissing scenes

Hank Stuever has a good article in the Washington Post today about reporters’ love of questioning male actors on their same-sex on screen kisses and the homophobic responses to these queries.

In the relentless publicity interviews [James Franco has] been doing for his new movie, “Milk,” there’s plenty to ask about his performance as the neglected lover of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, the gay rights martyr. So what does every interviewer — from David Letterman to the Philippine Daily Inquirer to public radio’s Terry Gross — want to discuss most, over and over and over?
The kissing.
Wasn’t it really difficult to kiss another man? Implied: Without throwing up, seeing as you’re so obviously straight? What were you thinking as you kissed? Did you rehearse it? What was it liiiiiike?
Underlying the questions (and the answers) is this notion that a gay kissing scene must be the worst Hollywood job hazard that a male actor could face, including stunt work, extreme weather or sitting through five hours of special-effects makeup every day. We live comfortably, if strangely, in a pseudo-Sapphic era in which seemingly every college woman with a MySpace page has kissed another girl for the camera; but for men who kiss men, it’s still the final frontier.
Judging from their interviews over the years, actors who have filmed scenes in which they have pointed a revolver at someone’s head and pulled the trigger still think gay kissing is the grossest thing they’ve ever had to do for a movie.

Unfortunately this is not surprising. Just another example of how homophobia (particularly targeted at male queerness) is still running rampant. Even professional actors, who do a damn good job of presenting queer characters on screen feel the need to be extremely unprofessional in response to these questions. Take a look at Steuver’s piece for some of the more heinous examples. Obviously the media fascination with asking this question only promotes this type of homophobia and posturing as well.
Also interesting is Stuever’s explanation of how female actresses responses to these questions differ.

Women actors who’ve kissed other women in love scenes, meanwhile, sound like an enlightened other species in interviews about kissing. For them, it’s no big whoop. The men, on the other hand, talk as if they’ve outdone themselves and are now ready to accept their golden statue.

Join the Conversation

  • Sandor Krasna

    I’ll spare the obvious response (the topic writes its own scathing commentary), but I’d like to mention that not only are female actors content with treating the experience as some innocuous, perfunctory scene..but female movies, largely, treat the revelation of sexual attractiveness to females as a ‘party-girl’ ‘coming-of-age’ prelude to true love – or some side-show act for the male protagonists. Sexual liberation, even in many progressive film circles, finds itself preoccupied with undressing the issue from the gay male perspective, an ultimate taboo.
    That’s also not to mention that most same-sex subjects are brought to the forefront, if they’re not treated as some caricatured token character, of films for the coming-out party, as if we’re still discontent with having our casts with characters who’s sexual orientation is just another plain-old personality trait.

  • DevenL

    I think Jake Gyllenhall’s (let’s see YOU spell it!) response after Brokeback Mountain was pretty cute. It went something along the lines of “I’ve done sex scenes with people I’ve been extremely attracted to and people I’m not attracted to at all. Heath was somewhere in the middle”

  • Lauren

    actors who have filmed scenes in which they have pointed a revolver at someone’s head and pulled the trigger still think gay kissing is the grossest thing they’ve ever had to do for a movie.
    That reminds me of a teenage boy in The Laramie Project who talked about how his parents were disgusted and upset when he played a gay character in a school play but had no problem when he played a murderer in Macbeth.

  • anon

    This article was a great find Miriam. Thank you! I remember being very disappointed as I listened to Terry Gross (Terry FREAKING Gross) pester James Franco on and on about the kissing.
    I think Franco is doing a great job fielding these questions. It certainly is revealing to hear how the different actors handle all these bizarre situations. Jakey Gyllenhall has always been on my “love him as a person and an actor list” and I’ve now recently added Franco.

  • LA719

    As a reporter myself, I would like to respectfully disagree. While I cannot speak for others in my profession, I don’t necessarily see these questions as homophobic or promoting homophobia so much as I see them as a genuine matter of curiosity (although perhaps this would depend on how the question was phrased). I think it would definitely be worth asking a straight actor how they handled a gay love scene, particularly in a culture that’s still pretty homophobic. It might be a tough role for some or easy for others. I don’t really think that simply ignoring the subject will make homophobia go away, and I’ve read a couple of really excellent responses to that question.
    However, I’ll grant there are probably quite a few journalists who wouldn’t handle a question like that too gracefully. This is an interesting subject, though, and now I’m thinking it would be really interesting to write something concerning the reaction to gay characters versus homicidal characters in film.

  • ikkin

    I think the reporters and articles can say whatever they want, but what it comes down to is what was put on screen. The actors from Milk and Brokeback Mountain can say whatever about what it felt like to kiss another man, but I think the proof is in the pudding. The screen kiss is a big part of acting and as far as I have seen, all the actors have done superb jobs of creating chemistry on camera. What do we want them to say?
    In addition, we all have to recognize the bravery it takes anyone to create these films in the environment we live in today, 30 years after the death of Harvey Milk.

  • Transcend

    I think that this is a great article, and I think Jake Gyllenhaal (who is to me the most attractive man in film right now) and his reply, recorded by DevenL, is fantastic.
    Me? I’m more optimistic than most. I’m glad that we can laugh about it, even if they’re nervous laughs. I mean, we’re making sympathetic films that represent gay male characters who are allowed to kiss one other onscreen — and these are mainstream movies, getting attention from everyone, even David Letterman.
    50 years ago, I’m sure men and women were interviewed incessantly about showing a bit of skin onscreen — naive people ask these questions because they’re titillated. The homophobic responses from actors I could do without — though actors like Colin Farell are going to be some of the last people feminism reaches — but god how i love the fact that people are noticing gay characters onscreen and are curious about it.
    Give it ten years, and we’ll be asking about something else; the films about gay characters will remain.

  • JessPenn

    I liked Ryan Phillipe’s response to Jay Leno:

  • Punchbuggy Green

    Though it’s not film, you should look up some interviews of Michael C. Hall, who played a gay character on 6 Feet Under and plays a serial killer on Dexter.
    To paraphrase, he says that he gets questions all the time about whether it was uncomfortable/difficult/weird/etc to play a homosexual since he is heterosexual, but rarely ever gets asked about the difficulties of playing a murdering sociopath since, well, he’s not a murdering sociopath.

  • LalaReina

    I’m sorry I don’t think anyone should do anything out of their comfort zone. And no its not homophobic if they have a problem with it.

  • Willinois

    Actually, I can think of numerous interviews where women were asked about sex and/or kissing scenes with men and some of them expressed awkwardness or discomfort about doing it. Do those women deserve to be called an ugly name on par with “homophobic” for feeling that way? It’s a common interview question that isn’t asked exclusively about male kissing scenes.
    When I read the article I didn’t find nearly the “heinous” quotes I was expecting. Some were positive.

  • Theaz

    Do you really mean that, or something more like no one should be forced to do things that make them uncomfortable? I think the first is something actors do all the time, and report “working outside their comfort zone” as a major plus of their career. If the second, I’m not sure where it comes into play here.

  • Abby B.

    I really do think I agree with you, here. If a reporter can get a good, enlightened answer to this typical question out there in print, maybe people with narrow views will get to read them and with enough responses like Gyllenhaal’s, start to think that hey, if all of these different actors don’t think it’s that unusual, maybe it isn’t.
    People like Leno, battering and belittling an actor because they don’t react to homosexuality with disgust, though, I could stand to see a lot less of them.

  • cordelia9889

    I remember reading an interview with Peter Sarsgaard around the time Kinsey came out where he responded to a “what was it like to GAY KISS a MAN??” question by pointing out that no one ever asked him what it was like to rape Hillary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry, and shouldn’t people also assume that he doesn’t do that in his daily life?
    I like James Franco’s response to David Letterman. Which is good, because James Franco is Danny Desario and I never want anything to spoil my love for him.

  • Rebecca

    I quite agree. No one should have to sign a contract for a huge amount of money and a good deal of fame to kiss a person of the same sex onscreen. Some people just apparently think it’s worth the payoff.

  • spike the cat

    Who was called ugly names on par with being homophobic?
    Miriam said that some actors answered unprofessionally and I didn’t see anybody calling people names in the article.
    I read the article as pointing out that the issue is more with the interviewers and audience’s expectations to make male kissing out to be a big crude joke and so interviewers and hosts push the topic for additional laughs and shock value—which in general isn’t done for 2 women kissing, or when gay and lesbian actors have opposite sex kisses.
    And that’s how it promotes homophobia, because we generally don’t go up to homosexual actors who have done opposite sex kisses, and expect them to go “ew grodie” while interviewers and hosts milk the issue for additional laughs.

  • annajcook

    I heard the Terry Gross interview with Franco and I had two reactions to their conversation about kissing. One is, yes, I rolled my eyes and though “jeez, do we really need to ask one again whether it was hard to act outside your orientation in a scene with sexual content?” And I was impressed with Franco’s response to the question (he basically pointed out that you don’t spend a lot of time “preparing” for kissing scenes in movies about hetero romance, and he didn’t for this one either).
    On the other hand, as Willinois just pointed out, asking about the kissing is a fairly standard part of actor interviews. Some version of “what was it like to kiss ________” has been asked about pretty much any movie with kissing in it. I always think it’s kind of tacky. Because what the hell are you going to say? Saying it was gross or unpleasant is mean to your fellow actor in the scene; saying it was awesome brings sexual pleasure into the interview and that’s awkward for everyone.
    Also: I’ve heard Terry Gross ask similar questions of actors playing straight sex scenes, such as a discussion she had with William H. Macy about “The Cooler.” So I don’t think the question or the conversation she and Franco had following it were out of character for her, regardless of the straightness or non-straightness of the characters in question.

  • marilove

    But don’t you think it is curious that, as others have mentioned, no one seems to ask these same questions about actors who play murderers or rapists? It’s always “OMG GAY KISSING!”

  • Danyell

    Clearly, we as a society are more comfortable with horrific violence than we are with sex, and especially GAY (pronounced to sound spooky, like gaaAAaaay) sex.
    It’s funny since David was always one of the more moral character in 6 Feet Under. And the role has meant a lot to gay people working in the funeral business, which apparently was never really discussed before. And Dexter is equally brilliant in nearly opposite ways. But the point is that Michael C. Hall is neither a gay funeral director, nor a serial killer, but he is an ACTOR. Playing anyone other than himself should be a stretch and a challenge within his craft.

  • alixana

    Your comment makes no sense in the context of this article. Who’s forcing whom to do something they’re not comfortable with?

  • happiestsadist

    You’re right, good thing nobody is forcing them to take contracts where, presumably after reading the script, they know exactly what they’re expected to do.

  • happiestsadist

    Being called on homophobia isn’t ugly. Being an anti-gay bigot is.

  • rustyspoons

    For the record, Michael C. Hall can kiss men, murder people, and pretty much do anything and I’ll want to watch it.
    Also I have no real socio-political point to make here.

  • Erik

    I haven’t read the article, but I watched the Letterman interview. For everyone who’s all “heeyyy.. that’s not homophobic!”…
    a) James Franco may or may not be straight. Letterman is obviously treating him like a straight person. Pretending queer people don’t exist is homophobic.
    2) Dave suggests that maybe Franco would’ve wanted to screw up the kiss to prove to everyone he’s straight. The need to constantly prove to everyone that you’re straight is homophobic.
    c) Focusing on the prospect that some straight actors are making out, to the exclusion of discussing the dozens of other newsworthy elements of the film demonstrates an obsession. Reporters obsessing over the possibility of someone being a homo at the expense of the rest of the story is homophobic.
    iv) Dave suggesting that kissing another guy is so gross that a straight guy would have to be drunk to do it… that’s homophobic.
    And for anyone up in arms about being forced to do or think anything…
    If the thought of kissing someone of the same sex is revolting to you, then you’re homophobic.
    I’m not trying to force you to work on your homophobia, I’m just pointing out that it’s there. If you want to pretend like it’s not, that’s your perogative.

  • Lilith Luffles

    Agreed. I my opinion, kissing ANYONE you don’t want to kiss is awkward. Whether they are a man or a woman should not be important. It is in fact homophobic to say “that person is the same sex as me, I don’t want to kiss them,” as opposed to “I don’t feel intimately enough about that person to want to kiss them.”
    I don’t watch interviews like this, so I wouldn’t know, but how do people react when a male actor ‘gets’ to kiss a ‘hot’ female actress? Is there any thought the man doesn’t want to kiss her, do they imply the man is lucky, or do they even bring it up? I know that I’d have trouble kissing even a hot co-worker if I didn’t feel intimate with them in anyway, and their sex wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Then again, Maybe I’m a privileged bisexual.