Matt Damon Made Some Puzzling Comments About Gay Actors Remaining Closeted

Photo: Rex/REX USA.
Matt Damon has a new movie coming out this Friday: The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott. Damon is doing the usual press rounds, including an interview with The Guardian that appeared over the weekend. It starts out with Damon apologizing for being a "bad movie star," so instead, author and interviewer Elizabeth Day offers a physical description of what Damon is wearing that day and his "entirely normal" life as a husband and father of four. "Damon is a self-confessed family man," Day remarks. Maybe it's because of his security that he's got nothing to hide that, "Unlike many actors, he answers questions with a reflective openness. There is a feeling that nothing is out of bounds."

That's what leads Damon into a bit of trouble later on in the interview. While talking about his role as Scott Thorson, Liberace's lover, in 2013's Behind the Candelabra (for which Damon received both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations), Day remarks that Damon was a straight man playing gay. She asks Damon if it's harder for actors who are openly gay in Hollywood.

"I’m sure. When Ben [Affleck, with whom he wrote Good Will Hunting (1997)] and I first came on the scene, there were rumors that we were gay, because it was two guys who wrote a script together...It’s just like any piece of gossip...and it put us in a weird position of having to answer, you know what I mean? Which was then really deeply offensive. I don’t want to, like [imply] it’s some sort of disease — then it’s like I’m throwing my friends under the bus. But at the time, I remember thinking and saying, Rupert Everett was openly gay and this guy — more handsome than anybody, a classically trained actor — it’s tough to make the argument that he didn’t take a hit for being out."

There are many things to unpack in that statement. First of all, why did Damon feel like he and Affleck had to respond to the rumors about their sexuality? It's true that this all took place almost 20 years ago, when virtually no one was out in Hollywood. And later on in the interview, he tells Day, "I think it must be really hard for actors to be out publicly. But in terms of actors, I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play."

Now, Damon most likely didn't mean to imply what many headlines are going to blare about these comments: "MATT DAMON SAYS GAY ACTORS SHOULD STAY CLOSETED." However, we all need to take a step back and marvel in the irony of how this piece in The Guardian started: With a discussion about Matt Damon, beloved husband (to a woman) and father of four. "You know, a guy who’s married happily with four kids is not quite a story," he tells Day about how his daily life is so average even the paparazzi have decamped from outside his house.

That's the thing, though. "Average" is still a straight man married to a woman: A non-story. The press still regularly outs people against their wishes and at least one critic has argued that straight actors can take gay roles, but gay actors have trouble playing straight characters (this particular person took a lot of heat for airing that view five years ago, but the piece did make it to print). Unfortunately, we're still having a lot of trouble redefining (or abandoning) terms like "average" and "normal." Also, an actor's personal life doesn't affect his or her ability to inhabit a role; it's their job to step into another character.

When you reach a certain level of fame, the public is going to find out details of your personal life. Matt Damon seems to forget how ho-hum and ordinary his personal life is because he's living the old-fashioned American dream with a wife and four children. The other actors he's urging to keep their personal lives and sexuality a mystery are still on the wrong side of what's considered "normal." That's not any fault of theirs — and that's the point Damon appears to be missing here.

If the public is unable to accept gay actors in certain roles, it means people are projecting their own preconceived notions, beliefs, and stereotypes onto the actors. As quoted by The Guardian, Damon seems to be trying to say that this is something that unfortunately happens, and it sucks. But it's jarring to hear him urge actors to remain in the closet and keep quiet about their sexuality. If public perception needs to be altered, accepting the status quo to keep the mystery alive when a gay actor plays a straight character isn't the way to go about it.

On another note, the wording is a bit confusing in that first quote, so perhaps something got garbled on the story's way to print, but how is coming out as heterosexual implying that being gay is a sort of disease and throwing any gay friends you may have under the bus? If you're gay, you're gay, and if you're straight, you're straight (and if you're somewhere along the spectrum of sexuality, you're somewhere along the spectrum). It's only an issue if you're stuck in the strict heteronormative paradigm that we've allowed to persist for entirely too long, in which being straight is considered the norm and anyone's sexuality that deviates from that is considered something worthy of a public announcement (or shamefully hiding in a metaphorical closet) or needing to be outed.

You may also be wondering why Matt Damon name-checked Rupert Everett. Everett gave a now-famous interview to The Guardian in 2009, in which he said that coming out publicly ruined his acting career. "[H]onestly, I would not advise any actor necessarily, if he was really thinking of his career, to come out," Everett said at the time.

That was back in 2009, though, and Day also notes that Damon "thinks attitudes are changing and welcomes the introduction of same-sex marriage in California in 2008."
Apparently, though, there's still a long way to go. (The Guardian)

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