Darren Criss: 'I've Been S**t On' for Talking about Straight Actors in LGTBQ+ Roles

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday December 25, 2021
Originally published on December 21, 2021

Straight "Glee" alum Darren Criss said in an interview with UK newspaper the Independent that he gets "shit on" no matter what he says about the controversy about straight and cisgender actors playing LGBTQ+ roles.

"The actor has appeared in a number of high-profile queer parts throughout his career, including Blaine in 'Glee,' Andrew Cunanan in 'The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,' and Hedwig in 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch,'" the publication noted in a separate writeup of Criss' comments.

Speaking about his "Glee" role, where he played a gay teenager and love interest for the character of Kurt, played by Chris Colfer, Criss told the Independent, "I have a lot of queer folks that come up to me, particularly older folks, that will say how much that relationship meant to them."

Criss went on to add: "They'll say, 'When I was growing up, I didn't really ever get to see that on TV'," before noting that, "As a cis straight man, I also didn't see that.

"And while I have not grown up as a queer person, I'm a lifetime subscriber, man," Criss, who grew up in San Francisco, went on to say. "I'm a season ticket holder to the queer experience."

Still, Criss balked when asked to give an opinion on the issue of LGBTQ+ roles going to straight actors.

"This is a really tough one because, let's just say, I've been shit on," Criss told the newspaper. "No matter what I say, I'm going to get into the same mess that I've always gotten in, which is me being what I believe is very fair and diplomatic, but nobody's interested in that, because compassion is not currently in vogue."

The actor then added: "I'm making it sound like I have some controversial thing to say, which I don't. What I say is very normal."

But the topic has been, for the past few years, an increasingly controversial one, with LGTBQ+ actors like Neil Patrick Harris defending straight and cisgender actors who take on non-heterosexual roles even as other LGTBQ+ people in the film and television industries —†including "Queer as Folk" and "Years and Years" writer Russell T. Davies — slamming the practice.

Straight actors, too, have voiced a continuum of opinions. Jake Gyllenhaal recently said he wouldn't do "Brokeback Mountain" now, but "Love, Victor" star Michael Cimino, who plays the titular gay teen on the Hulu series, has said that straight actors should be able to play LGBTQ+ characters "honor the situation honestly and truly and work as hard as they possibly can to represent the people on screen".

Other actors have talked around the issue in similarly delicate ways. Saoirse Ronan, who starred opposite fellow straight actor Kate Winslet in last year's critically acclaimed lesbian drama "Ammonite," told the press that she had gone to LGTBQ+ friends for "advice that we as mainly straight women wouldn't know about."

Viggo Mortensen delivered what might be the pithiest opinion on the issue. While defending having cast himself in a gay role in his own directorial debut, "Falling," last year, Mortensen noted that critics looking to take him to task for playing the part 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.