News Archive: March 2006

Acting Out! Gay Themes on The Big Screen will Bring Big Bucks!
Perhaps it all began, nobly enough, in 1946, when Harold Russell — a novice actor who lost both hands during World War II — earned a Best Supporting Actor award and a well-intentioned honorary Oscar for his performance in the star-studded postwar drama "The Best Years of Our Lives." Or maybe it was Ernest Borgnine bringing home the gold in 1956 for portraying the overweight, original 40-year-old virgin in "Marty." Either way, the trend gained momentum over the years, from Daniel Day-Lewis with cerebral palsy in "My Left Foot" to Tom Hanks as the mentally challenged "Forrest Gump" to Charlize Theron as a viciously unappealing "Monster." Over the subsequent decades, Hollywood agents, publicists and studios all whispered the same dirty little secret in the ears of young stars: If you want to fly high on Oscar night, give serious thought to becoming an ugly duckling.

For the 2006 Oscars, however, the handicapped, hideous and homicidal have vanished, replaced instead by progressive-minded films like "Capote," Transamerica" and "Brokeback Mountain." So what, exactly, is the lesson to be learned here?

"Gay is the new ugly," "Capote" actor Bruce Greenwood recently offered, laughing at a concept that's gaining steam among the Hollywood elite.

"It was a landmark year for gays, lesbians and transgender people in films," Damon Romine, Entertainment Media Director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said of the trend. "We're seeing more character representation this year than we have in many years, all at one time."

Within a span of months, actors like Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Felicity Huffman and have, in the eyes of some critics and fans, gone from courageous risk-takers to calculated Oscar-baiters. But the stars largely dismiss such an analysis, reminding moviegoers of the one thing they actually do have in common: namely, a reluctance to think of their characters as anything but human.

The best thing for a straight actor to think about when doing a gay scene, Jake Gyllenhaal suggested, was simply nothing. Keep the mind blank.

"There wasn't really a lot going on up here," he said of what went through his head when preparing for the love scenes with "Brokeback" co-star Heath Ledger, "so I can't tell you what I was thinking. I was tired. I had a cup of coffee."

"We were definitely trying not to mimic or portray anything outside of Annie Proulx's short story and the script that we'd been given," Ledger said" "We certainly didn't want to be making any political statements."

For Greenwood, who portrayed Truman Capote's real-life longtime companion in the film, such unbiased depictions offer some timely lessons for Hollywood.

"One of the things 'Capote' has done is not focus on the sexual orientation of the characters," he said. "They're just guys with lives, pursuits and obsessions that have nothing to do with their sexuality or their orientation.

Fair enough. And yet, the trend can't be denied.

"These movies just weren't being made before," said GLAAD's Romine. "We didn't have 'Brokeback Mountain' 20 years ago. When 'Philadelphia' was written 10 or 12 years ago, there wasn't another movie like that."

As long as there are movies, there will be actors on the hunt for Oscar gold. So, if gay is indeed the "new ugly," would that really be such a bad thing?

"When these movies are being made, and when these movies are being produced, big-name actors are being attracted to them," Romine argued. "It should be showing Hollywood, and it should be showing studios, that there are audiences for these films."

" 'Brokeback Mountain' is a love story; Truman Capote was a real person," Anne Hathaway said, echoing the notion that gay films need to simply continue to be good films. "These are peoples' lives and issues. There is certainly nothing in any way, shape or form wrong about it, nothing that anyone should ever judge or disapprove of. I'm thrilled that films are reflecting that now."

Film portrayals of gay men and women have rarely been sympathetic — or realistic. Here are a few that break the mold...

"We're breaking new ground, and it's exciting to be involved in this industry while that's taking place," insisted "Lord of the Rings" and "Lost" star Dominic Monaghan, one of many actors interviewed for this piece who said they'd happily accept a well-written gay character. "We're becoming a little bit more open to different things."

"It's wonderful that not only the awards people, the Globes and people like that, but the [people who make or break a film at the box office] are going to see the Capotes, and the Brokebacks," veteran actor Jeff Daniels beamed. "It really makes you want to do more of these."

"With Felicity in 'Transamerica,' she really is a great supporter of transgender causes and is being a great spokesperson for transgender issues," Romine said, adding that the other stars have similarly taught acceptance through their public appearances. "She not only embraced the character, but embraced the whole community of transgender people."

Ultimately, the decision to bypass another Oscar-baiting inspirational drama about a mentally disabled protagonist and instead embrace the pain of a character whose struggles are more internal is a move that has paid off for these actors. In the eyes of Romine, there's only one unfortunate side-effect to their Oscar-season success: Somebody will have to lose.

"It's a difficult choice, having to choose between a Heath Ledger and a Philip Seymour Hoffman," he lamented. "It's a plethora of riches that two actors are playing two of the top gay characters in cinema in the past year. How could you really choose between the two?"

Whatever happens on Oscar night, there's a good chance that after the dust settles these actors will continue to find well-written, respectful scripts in their mailboxes, scripts that simply view gay, lesbian or transgender characters as exactly that — as characters. As people. And there's nothing ugly about that
Mary J. Blige Unveils Alter Ego 'Brook' In Busta Video
Mary J. Blige created a rapping alter ego — "Brook" — for her album The Breakthrough, to give her the freedom to spit cocky rhymes without worrying about how they might affect Mary's persona.

"I had to separate the two because Mary is nice, you know, intelligent," she explained. "Brook is crazy and ignorant and she don't care.

Now, like a shadow, Brook is following Blige around. Brook went along when Busta Rhymes asked Mary to be one of six people who joined him for remixes of "Touch It" (DMX, Lloyd Banks, Papoose, Missy Elliott and Rah Digga appear on other versions).

"Brook cut lose on the Bus record, she did her thing," Mary laughed. "Busta didn't just want Mary on it, he wanted Mary and Brook. So the calm one [rapping] is Mary, but the [wild] one is Brook. You gotta think about Busta when you get on a Busta record — he's all the way over there at the top [going crazy], so you gotta get either over him or right below him."

The clip, of course, has been marred by the tragic murder of Israel Ramirez, one of Busta's bodyguards, which took place outside the video's set (see "Police Want To Question Busta Rhymes About Fatal Shooting At Video Set"). The investigation is ongoing and police say Busta has declined all requests to talk with them. A spokesperson for Blige said the singer had left the video set before the shooting, and Mary herself said the day had been a pleasurable experience.

She also seems to have thrown herself into the role of playing Brook. "That was so much fun, because Mary is all calm with the braids wrapped around [her head], and Brook is all 'Ahh!' " she said. "Y'all gotta see Brook — she's got a big old afro and big old earrings. She's just showing off everything — not everything! — but you know, she's gonna show a little abs and her arms. We could only do the first eight bars of our rhymes because Busta had [edited the different remix versions together for the video]. Everybody was there shooting the video, so he had to get everybody in.
Dave Chappelle Says New Movie Will 'Let The Healing Begin'
NEW YORK — "Inside the Actors Studio" host James Lipton described Dave Chappelle's recent soul-baring appearance on the Bravo show as one of its standout interviews.

"He was emotionally and intellectually naked," Lipton said. And on Tuesday night in New York, at the premiere of his new movie, "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" (see "Fugees — Yes, Even Lauryn — Reunite For Dave Chappelle's Block Party"), the comedian explained why walking away from "Chappelle's Show" was the best thing he could have done.

"It's difficult, I guess, in a lot of ways, but I guess it's better to have it off your chest," Chappelle said about telling his side of the story to Lipton and, prior to that, Oprah Winfrey (see "Dave Chappelle Comes Clean On 'Oprah' "). "So ... yeah, man. Let the healing begin. No looking back, right?"

Moving forward, Dave is putting out his first movie in years on Friday. In attendance at the premiere were Lipton and many of the documentary/concert film's main players: Mos Def, the Roots, Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu.

"It was a really good experience for all of us," said a raspy-voiced Badu, who seemed to be suffering from a cold, on the red carpet. "We each used our platforms to make other statements besides entertainment. We're artists who are often unheard. And Dave has chosen to define himself. I'm with that and I love him for that."

"I'm not looking at it like I'm giving them an opportunity at all," Chappelle said. "I'm just happy to be a part of something like this. I have the utmost respect for these artists. They really stay true to the music. One of the hardest things to do in this business — as you probably know — is to stay true to yourself. So that's the fight, and I think we're putting up a good fight."

Chappelle's movie was filmed two summers ago in Brooklyn and his hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio. The centerpiece is a huge concert/block party with some of his favorite artists. Chappelle also is shown organizing the event and inviting several people in his hometown to attend.

If you're speculating what Chappelle's next move will be once the film is released, you're definitely not the only one. He says he doesn't have anything in the works as of yet.

"I'm just trying to enjoy the moment," he added. "I've learned to appreciate the moments when you got them."

Kanye West, Jill Scott, Dead Prez and the Fugees also appear in the movie. (And if you look really closely, you'll see MTV's own Sway in the background of several scenes.)

"Dave Chappelle's Block Party" hits theaters Friday.