Joss Whedon Takes On Gay Actors Playing Straight In His ‘Much Ado’ Adaptation

I still can’t quite believe this thing is real, but I guess it is. And newly-out Sean Maher is talking about the decision Joss Whedon made to cast him as Don John in his Much Ado About Nothing adaptation — and to turn the character into a serious ladies’ man:

It’s so funny because I had talked to Joss about my choice to come out – he was so supportive. He just wanted me for this because he saw me in this role of a villain. A very mean-spirited, mischievous, manipulative villain. What Joss did was write don John’s associate, who is a man in the play, as a woman – and we have some very promiscuous sexually-charged scenes together. So during this whole coming out process, with all the press asking me if I could ever be seen as a heterosexual man on screen again, I so badly wanted to say, “well, Joss Whedon just cast me as the guy in between Riki Lindhome’s legs.” But he asked me to keep it a secret, which I did.

I said, somewhat flippantly yesterday, that Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing remains the gold standard for me, and as much as I love Whedon, I’ll want to see how he approaches the material. And now that we’ve heard about this, I’ll be curious to see what other changes he’s made to the plot — Keanu Reeves didn’t have to have a love interest written into Branagh’s adaptation to evince a strong sense of sexual danger around him.

But all of that aside, it’s nice to see Whedon continuing his commitment not just to writing good, non-stereotypical gay characters, but to making casting decisions that challenge stupid stereotypes about whether good actors can sell good characters no matter who they are in real life. And I hope that his Much Ado About Nothing gets a release wide enough to be seen by people other than the core Whedon fandom, who I think are largely on board with both of the messages I hear about here. One of the reasons I’m sorry to have seen The Playboy Club be so bad and fall apart so fast is because I think it’ll be important not just to see gay actors nailing straight roles, but to see them go back and forth between gay and straight roles. It’d be a good thing for mass audiences to have a chance to see Sean Maher playing a gay political leader and a gay man with an active love life on network television and to see him steam up multiplexes with a woman. And it would be good to see Neil Patrick Harris break up his string of hetero lotharios with a gay character. Bad actors won’t be able to sell much beyond things they’ve experienced themselves. Good ones can inhabit multitudes, no matter who they are or where and what they come from.