Jack Plotnick has spent the last decade as a working actor in Los Angeles. In film, he has appeared opposite Ben Stiller in MEET THE FOCKERS, Ian McKellen in GODS AND MONSTERS, Renee Zelwegger in DOWN WITH LOVE, and Sally Field in SAY IT ISN’T SO. Jack was a series regular and supervising producer on the Lifetime Television comedy LOVESPRING INTERNATIONAL (12 episodes on the air), which he also occasionally directed. He was also a regular on the Comedy Central cartoon series DRAWN TOGETHER and the FOX TV show ACTION. Other television includes recurring roles on RENO 911, JOAN OF ARCADIA, ELLEN and RUDE AWAKENINGS and has guest-stars on HOUSE, EASTWICK, THE MENTALIST, and THE WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE, among others. Jack executive produced and starred in the feature film GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS, released theatrically by IFC Films, and now on video by MGM. Along with his two co-stars, he won 2003’s BEST ACTOR AWARDS from LA’s OUTFEST Film Festival and the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
The following is a chapter from his free ebook New Thoughts for Actors. He teaches regular workshops in Los Angeles (and periodically in New York) and coaches privately. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the mailing list for his weekly $20 drop-in cold reading workshops and monthly $5 Lecture for Charity.
I received an email from an actor who had been reading my website, and had a specific concern he wanted to share with me:
There is an issue I have been constantly dealing with, and I think it is the reason I have held myself back all these years.
Every time I get an audition, it’s usually to play a straight, ‘total guy’. I know I’m not a raging queen but I go back to all the teasing from school, all the ‘faggot’ calling and it actually makes me think I can never get parts because I am gay and straight guys have it so easy.
This is a major issue. I guess I just wanted to know if you had felt that and if so how you deal with it.
My response was similar to the following:
As a gay man, I also struggled with that exact issue.
There was a time, not long after I had graduated college, when I felt I had a terrible secret.
And that secret was that I wasn’t really a “MAN”.
(Or at least not the kind of “man” I thought I was supposed to be.)
When I would perform, I was afraid that everyone could see my secret, and I let this issue negatively affect my performances.
Then, one day, it just hit me…
I AM a man.
I just simply am.
I don’t have to prove it, or “Act” it.
It just is.
By definition, I am a man.
My insecure ego was creating this self-doubt. It was an illusion.
Are all men super-macho?
My god, if Andy Dick can portray a straight man on “Newsradio” then certainly you or I can.
Not all straight men act “butch”.
Do straight men cross their legs?
Do straight men get emotional?
Stop cutting out your self for fear that you are not right.
If you look at a list of the top TV shows of all time, there are plenty of popular and successful actors that are far from macho: Alan Alda, Bob Newhart, Mathew Perry, Jerry Seinfeld, Don Knotts, Kelsey Grammer, Patrick Stewart, Tony Randell, Larry Hagman…
None of these men had any problem being seen as a straight leading man.
Why do we want to focus on the few tough-guy characters? Remember, for every Captain Kirk, there is a Mr. Spock standing right there alongside him.
And even William Shatner isn’t intrinsically a tough guy. He often plays very sweet, endearing roles.
Speaking of top TV shows, look at Henry Winkler. He was hardly the actor you’d first imagine to play the womanizing tough-guy “The Fonz”:
An interesting note about his character on ‘Happy Days’ was that director/producer Garry Marshall originally had in mind a completely opposite physical presence. Marshall sought to cast an Italian model-type male in the role of Fonzie. However, when Winkler, a Jewish Yale MFA student interpreted the role in auditions, Marshall immediately snapped him up, smelling success. Winkler’s character gradually became the focus of the show as time passed, a testament to Winkler’s acting and Marshall’s foresight.
You can only be who you are.
If they want someone with an innate energy that is tough and hyper-masculine, they will hire that guy.
However, as was the case with “The Fonz”, the more interesting choice was the less “on the nose” choice.
I heard a story, that for his HAPPY DAYS audition, Henry was merely doing an impression of Sylvester Stallone, who he had just worked with in LORDS OF FLATBUSH.
So, the tough inner life as funneled through a sensitive actor was just what the role needed.
So don’t talk yourself out of roles!
There is a secret to gays portraying straight roles:
If you try to prove you are straight, YOU WILL COME OFF AS GAY–
(- or at least stiff and stilted as though you are hiding something: i.e., that you are gay!)
However, if you don’t care, and don’t get involved in being anything but who you are, THEN YOU WILL COME OFF AS STRAIGHT.
We are all the same really. All humans share the exact same integral characteristics.
So if you honestly play the circumstances of the scene, you will come off as straight as the character is.
However, if you deny a part of yourself, and strictly control and monitor your behavior, then you will not be able to play the scene. Instead, you will be delivering some lifeless idea of the character.
You are your own tool to make your art. If you are not using your tool, then there is no human being inhabiting the role. The scene will be dead.
Why do we focus on the few hyper-masculine images out there?
Our ego wants to keep us in a place where we feel we are not “enough”.
Just accept that you will never be Vin Diesel. So what?! No one expects you to be!
Besides, that macho thing that you wish you could be is so fucking limiting. Those people don’t get many jobs.
On the other hand, think of your favorite film actors; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dustin Hoffman, Tobey Maguire, Gene Wilder, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Irons, Jason Schwartzman, Kevin Kline, Mathew Broderick, Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Murray, Johnny Depp, Owen Wilson, Richard Dreyfuss, etc. etc.
THEY certainly aren’t putting on some bullshit macho crap.
That macho behavior crap is learned and acted by the people who do it. It’s not real for ANYONE. No one comes out of the womb and acts like that. They see people do it, and they imitate it.
So, it’s not even REAL to begin with.
You are so much more interesting than that.
You have warmth and sensitivity. Why would you want to deny or hide that?!
A great tool to rid yourself of this issue is affirmations:
I release and destroy my need to be “masculine”.
I release and destroy my need to be an “Actor” – I’m just here to be me and have fun.
Those kids from your childhood may have called you “faggot”, but they’re gone now.
So, whose voice is that you’re hearing in your head, still calling you “faggy”?
They may have given you the baton, but you are the one who is still running with it.
Read the Finding Your Inner Child chapter on my website, and start treating your inner child with the love and acceptance he should’ve been given from the beginning.
He wants to shine.
The actor who had originally written to me responded to my thoughts as follows:
You are so right, I have always tried to “act” like a straight guy, and was so nervous that someone would ask about my girlfriend or wife, that I was not “being” the goofy, sweet, caring, funny person I am.
I always hold back, for fear of being found out as being gay, and therefore not as valuable as a “real” straight guy.
Outrageous! I know, I so see it!
I don’t know many actors who are gay and do great work. So I always wondered what it was I was or wasn’t doing right. Thank you for being there and open to talking to me about all of this. I am really very excited about this ‘new’ chapter or step for myself.
A side note:
With so many great actors coming out as gay lately, and still playing straight parts, there are plenty of terrific role models; Neil Patrick Harris, T.R Knight, Ian McKellen, Rupert Everett, Robert Gant, Chad Allen…