'QAF' Creator Russell T. Davies: Gay Actors Should Play Gay Roles

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday January 12, 2021

Russell T. Davies has weighed in on the question of casting for LGTBQ roles, comparing the casting of straight actors in gay roles with blackface in an interview with UK publication Radio Times.

Davies said he was not "being woke about this," but he said, "I feel strongly that if I cast someone in a story, I am casting them to act as a lover, or an enemy, or someone on drugs or a criminal or a saint... they are not there to 'act gay' because 'acting gay' is a bunch of codes for a performance.

"It's about authenticity," Davies added. "You wouldn't cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn't black someone up.

"Authenticity is leading us to joyous places."

Davies' career as a television writer and producer has broken ground throughout his career, from featuring a lesbian vicar in the 1994 soap opera "Revelations" to the success of 1999's "Queer As Folk," which followed a group of gay friends in Manchester. "Queer As Folk" became an international sensation when it was adapted in America for the Showtime series of the same name, which ran from 2000 - 2005.

Davies also took over for several seasons as writer and show runner for "Doctor Who," and created a spinoff in 2006 - "Torchwood" - that featured a pansexual hero. More recently, he created the gay-themed 2015 drama "Cucumber." His upcoming project, the five-episode series "It's A Sin," launches Jan. 22 and centers on "a group of young gay men who move to London just as the epidemic starts," and is, The Hollywood Reporter explains, "loosely based on Davies' own experiences in the early 1980s".

The new series, which will be shown in America on HBO Max, stars Olly Alexander in the main role, and includes out actors Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris in the cast.

The debate around casting straight and cisgender actors in LGBTQ roles is ongoing. In a pair of well-publicized incidents, Scarlett Johanssen accepted and Halle Berry considered, roles in which they would have played transgender women. Both actors declined the roles when backlash ensued. Selena Gomez reportedly has accepted a movie role based on the real-life lesbian mountain climber Silvia Vasquez-Lavado.

Straight actors Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth (who have both played gay roles before, Firth getting an Oscar nomination for his turn in Tom Ford's "A Single Man") will co-star in the upcoming drama "Supernova," about a longtime gay male couple, while Viggo Mortensen's upcoming directorial debut finds him starring as the gay son of a homophobic father in decline.

While some actors argue that the job is all about pretending to be someone other than who they are in real life, others decry the casting of straight and cisgender actors in LGTBQ roles when there are plenty of talented performers who are genuinely part of the community.

Mortensen, in defending his choice to play the gay role in his own film, took a nuanced position, saying critics were "assuming that I'm completely straight."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.