inside the actor’s bedroom: conservative hollywood and the obsession with sexuality
We may be living in more progressive times, but we still want in on Hollywood sex lives.
In the 50s, Hollywood was a pretty closeted place. The prevailing mood was perhaps surmised by Henry Willson, agent to tinsel town's biggest gay stars who said: "No two men can live together and have a career in Hollywood. It is not allowed. You'll ruin it all if you live with this other man." Back then Willson's clients like Rock Hudson--a kind of brooding, romantic 50s RPatz--portrayed red blooded heterosexual hunks on screen, while living their lives as gay men away off it, in the fear the curtain-twitching masses might not want their matinee idols sleeping with other men.
While the films the Hollywood A list star in have dramatically changed since those conservative times - hello Philadelphia, Brokeback Mountain, Milk, The Kids Are All Right et al - you'd still be hard pushed to name a genuine Hollywood player who shares their bed with someone of the same sex. This does not stop us trying, of course. We love to speculate on who's got the phony model girlfriend or why a most eligible bachelor took so long to get hitched, or if so and so's 'gal pal' is more than just a BFF.
It's a nosiness that plays out in the press, who given any opportunity, will speculate on our behalf. So up until he married a woman last year, George Clooney took questions about his sexuality on the chin every time he was interviewed. He once, sportingly answered the most googled questions about himself, top of that list being 'is George Clooney gay?' Clooney was gracious about it, repeatedly (and perhaps wearingly) stating that to get into the business of denying his imagined homosexuality does a disservice to his gay friends, as if gayness were something that should be denied or admitted to.
So spare a thought for Cate Blanchett, who this week had to clarify that when she said she'd had relationships with women 'many times' she meant in a strictly platonic sense. Blanchett's original statement was made to a journalist for Variety on the outset of promoting her role in Todd Haynes' Carol, a tale of not-so-doomed lesbian romance in the 50s. When the film premiered at Cannes at the weekend, Blanchett used the press conference to set the record, well, straight. Like Clooney, she tried (perhaps wearingly) to do this in a gracious, jovial manner. It was not that important if she had or hasn't. "But in 2015, the point should be: who cares?" she said.
Yet it appears we do. If it seems like an actor has made a close, personal friend of the same sex we can't help but speculate what they get up to after hours. If an actor comes out, it's big news but the kind of news that follows them around for the rest of their career. You are now never allowed to be just 'Ellen Page' but 'out gay Hollywood actress Ellen Page'. In Carol, the big surprise is that the two lesbian characters go on to conduct their affair in private despite the constraints of the time; the irony is that several decades on, privacy has been to foregone in the interests of transparency. As Blanchett went on to say of her character: "[Carol's] sexuality is a private affair. What often happens these days is, if you're are homosexual, you have to talk about it constantly, the only thing, before your work. We're living in a deeply conservative time."
This isn't an argument against coming out, which remains perhaps the most potent force against homophobia. Being closeted is a deeply damaging way to live, as anyone from Hollywood stars to housewives who have come out can tell you. What it is, is an argument against prurience; in obsessing over sex and sexuality under a guise of 'being honest'. There may be some measure of legitimacy to asking Cate Blanchett if she's got any previous experience in scissor sistering that might have prepared her for the role of a 50s lesbian housewife, but I think we'd all be lying to ourselves if we said that we're just interested in the actor's craft with that line of questioning. Face it; we want to know exactly what Blanchett gets up to in bed, not because we want her to be honest with her true self or because it might shed some light on her performance, but because it's titillating.
It's lesbianism as click bait and it's deeply weird. Call me mad, but I'm not sure that knowing the ins and outs of Kristen Stewart's real life love affairs undermines the extent of her commitment to getting involved in a love triangle with a 104-year-old vampire and a werewolf in Twilight. These people are actors! Whatever they do in their private lives shouldn't actually impinge on their lives on screen. The only reason a card carrying gay man shouldn't play Prince Charming to some damsel in distress would be if he wasn't that good at playing the part of Prince Charming, not if the audience can't get their head around the concept of acting. As Blanchett puts it: "Call me old fashioned but I thought one's job as an actor was not to present one's boring, small, microscopic universe but to make a psychological connection to another character's experiences. My own life is of no interest to anyone else. Or maybe it is."
Here, for actors like Blanchett, is the kicker. We may not pass the same kind of judgement on their relationships as they did in the 50s but we still want to pass judgement. Think of it this way: imagine two leading Hollywood men came out and said they were partners, sharing a nice double futon furnished pad in the Hollywood hills. We'd all be totally cool about it. But we'd also want all the salacious, who's the top and who's the bottom, details. We'd want the E! hour long special, we'd watch the Ellen show clips on YouTube, wait for the shared Snapchat dick pics to pop up online. We're so happy for you! Please share! So the curtains may be made of a different material now, but they still twitch.
Text Colin Crummy