Actor Lee Pace just reignited a dormant debate in Hollywood.
Should LGBTQ celebrities feel a responsibility to live out and proud? Or should they have the same right to privacy when it comes to their sexuality and identity as anyone else?
The actor (known for "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "The Hobbit") once played a gay character on Broadway in "The Normal Heart," a story reflecting the pain and injustice of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
He recently spoke with W magazine about his return to the stage in the revival of "Angels in America."
Pace said he thought it was important for LGBTQ actors to play LGBTQ characters — yet called interview questions about his sexuality "intrusive."
In the Feb. 28 article, Pace seems to fire back at the interviewer, Brian Moylan, who wrote:
"[Pace] seemed a bit flustered and surprised by the question. 'I've dated men. I've dated women,' he explained. 'I don't know why anyone would care. I'm an actor and I play roles. To be honest, I don't know what to say — I find your question intrusive.'"
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.
Pace's response both raised eyebrows and rallied defenders.
To many, it felt hypocritical for Pace to note the importance of LGBTQ actors playing LGBTQ roles only to take offense to a journalist asking about his sexuality.
On the other hand, anyone — famous or not — is entitled to keep their sexuality private, Pace's defenders argued.
Pace's remarks added to an ongoing and often knotty debate over actors' sexual orientations and their right to privacy.
It's tempting to brush aside the issue and argue that the best actor should always get the role, regardless of sexual orientation. But that attitude ignores widespread problems that systematically diminish the value of LGBTQ actors.
In an entertainment industry oversaturated with straight (and white) roles, it's still relatively uncommon that queer characters take center stage. When those characters do appear, Hollywood tends to give those parts to straight, cisgender actors — and then reward them mightily come award-show season.
On the flip side, actors are often penalized when they come out as LGBTQ because their casting potential seems to weaken to many executives who are hesitant to place a "riskier" bet on their hire. The industry has evolved immensely for the better since Ellen DeGeneres famously lost her sitcom — and, at the time, her entire career — after coming out as a lesbian in 1997. But anti-LGBTQ discrimination is still pervasive.
While the new film "Call Me By Your Name" has been celebrated by critics and LGBTQ fans alike, many also panned its casting of two straight men in the lead queer roles while gay and bisexual actors struggle to find work.
Stars of "Call Me By Your Name" Timothée Chalamet (left) and Armie Hammer (right) both identity as straight men. Photo by Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images.
In lieu of the backlash to his remarks, Pace took to Twitter to clarify how he feels on the issue.
"My privacy is important to me, so I protect it," he wrote. "When interviewed by the media, I keep the focus on my work."
But Pace does, however, understand the value in living openly and honestly as a queer man in the spotlight, he wrote.
Pace's remarks fell perfectly into the crosshairs of this thorny debate.
His hesitation to discuss his sexuality openly — whether it be because he's simply a private person or he fears his queerness could hurt his career (or both) — is understandable. But his call to cast openly LGBTQ actors in LGBTQ roles also recognizes the importance of representation in our media and why it's so critical ample opportunities be provided to queer entertainers.
Pace has been — and will continue to be — part of the solution.
"It's been important to me to portray queer characters with dignity for my entire career," he said. "Onward, with pride."