Friday, November 21, 2008

Out Gay Actor Neil Patrick Harris: “I’m Striving to Be An Example of Normalcy”

To be perfectly honest I’ve never seen any of the TV series or films that actor Neil Patrick Harris is famous for. I can recall Doogie Howser, M.D. being shown on Australian TV in the years prior to my relocation to the U.S., but because the premise of the show failed to interest me, I never watched it.

So why a post on this particular actor? Well, I’m always interested and encouraged when a popular entertainer comes out as gay. Actually, I like hearing about anyone’s coming out; about how their life has changed for the better, how they have flourished, as a result of their often difficult journey to that holy ground from which truth, integrity, and self-acceptance springs.

Such stories have the power to change hearts and minds, and thus to help facilitate social change. And of course as well as being inspiring, they’re often just plain entertaining - reflecting, as they do, the myth of the Hero’s Journey (see my comment at the end of
this post).

I’ve previously shared at The Wild Reed my own coming out journey (see here, here, and here) as well as the experiences of British actor Ian McKellen and Australian singer/songwriter Darren Hayes.

Regular readers of The Wild Reed may also recall that just over two years ago in a post entitled
“Be Not Afraid, You Can Be Happy and Gay,” I referred to a Miami Herald commentary in which Leonard Pitts Jr. contrasted the coming out of Neil Patrick Harris with the ignoble goings-on of disgraced Christian evangelist Ted Haggard.

Here’s what I wrote:

Pitts notes that Harris, in talking about his homosexuality, has declared: “I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest.” Pitts also notes that for some people, such calm acknowledgement amounts to “flaunting” one’s homosexuality.

In comparing Haggard and Harris, Pitt’s commentary does an excellent job at exposing the destructiveness wrought to self and others by living a lie as opposed to accepting and integrating one’s homosexuality, and thus getting on with happily living life to the fullest – even if such living is considered by some as “flaunting it”.

“Wouldn’t you much rather be Neil Patrick Harris than Ted Haggard?” asks Pitts. “In other words, wouldn’t you rather be a content gay man living life to the fullest, than a closeted gay hypocrite living lies to the fullest?”

Given all of this, I was happy to see Neil Patrick Harris on the cover of the September 2008 issue of Out magazine, and to read an insightful interview with the actor within its pages.

Following are excerpts from this interview. Enjoy!


OUT: How would you say the [entertainment] business has changed for gay actors in the past 20 years?

Neil Patrick Harris: It’s all uniquely so personal to each person. I can’t say that the business is any different now than it was then, because I wasn’t 30 years old then and in a position to stand tall and say something. I think the fears that enveloped me then would be the same fears that would envelop people that are 15, 16, 17 now.

OUT: So your advice to a gay actor who is 16 now is no different than it would have been when you were 16?

Neil Patrick Harris: Oh, no. Clearly there’s way more exposure and a much larger gray area with sexuality and the public’s opinion towards it – on almost every level – professionally, artistically, legally. What made it more unique 20 years ago was that there were less examples – so that made it a shock. And I think the shock value has kind of worn off.

OUT: But is Hollywood still underestimating the American public’s acceptance level of homosexuality? The stigma still seems to be a reality in that business more than many others.

Neil Patrick Harris: People in the business are equally as terrified now – but I really find it a personal thing. And maybe I’m at the end of that era. I wouldn’t even want to stereotype today’s generation. But the majority of the casting departments are gay, and a lot of the executives are. I think it’s a matter of your abilities and how you carry yourself – I don’t behave any differently toward you right now than when I am with David [Burtka, his boyfriend] in our apartment, watching American Idol. OK, So You Think You Can Dance. [Laughs] I can see why an agent wouldn’t want to sign on a real overtly effeminate male actor – not because I have an aversion to them but because agents might know it limits their job opportunities.

OUT: . . . You were playing gay roles long before you came out.

Neil Patrick Harris: Yeah. That was tricky for me.

OUT: Was that a game you were playing? You seemed to be pursuing those roles – the gay friend in The Next Best Thing, the emcee in Cabaret, an “ex-gay” on Will & Grace

Neil Patrick Harris: No game. I thought it was clever. But internally. I figured if I kept working, it was an inevitability that someone would make that a story. I didn’t know how it would happen. So I thought when I got the job for The Next Best Thing – the Madonna movie with Rupert Everett – I thought, That’s kind of clever. I got to be on Will & Grace where I was an “ex-gay” with Sean Hayes, and I thought that was kind of clever too. When you look back you see there are some steps that I took.

OUT: Did growing up in Hollywood make it easier or harder for you to come out?

Neil Patrick Harris: I think it was harder. Actually, I think it was easier for me, because I was around a lot of people who were gay and I was around a lot of people who were very confident. I was surrounded by people I could talk to freely about anything, and they were very successful emotionally and otherwise.

OUT: And yet . . .

Neil Patrick Harris: And yet, part of the coming-out process is figuring out who you like and what that means and how to act upon it. Being an actor reduced my level of anonymity. I couldn’t just go to some bar and walk in and ask someone out on a date, because there was too much awareness of me. So it made it more difficult in that sense. I couldn’t be, like, “Maybe I like this kind of guy” or “Maybe I’m into this” – I couldn’t really experiment. I sort of had to narrow my gaze from afar. If I had any regret, it would be that strange lack of anonymity that created panic within myself that I would be found out. But I think that’s everyone’s big fear.

OUT: You don’t regret that you didn’t get out ahead of Perez Hilton forcing your hand in your coming-out process?

Neil Patrick Harris: Hmm. I’m just glad it wasn’t based on scandal. I didn’t want there to be some “we got footage” story where I have to make some sort of statement about some event that happened. But I’m not that scandalous . . . I don’t have a lot of random sex . . . I’ve never done cocaine. I’m not a crazy partyer. I don’t stay up and rent private jets and go on yachts and whoop it up in Miami. I found a guy that I’m head over heels for and we have similar interests and we spend our time together.

Above: Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka.

OUT: You and David have been together for 4½ years. When you first started dating you were out personally but not professionally, right? Did that create some early relationship tension?

Neil Patrick Harris: No. If anything, it probably gave us more exclusive time together because we weren’t out in public places. We’d have dinner and then hang out. But he has had lots of interesting chapters as well. His first boyfriend – they had twins together. So they were involved in the whole surrogate/making babies/two dads-with-babies-in-strollers thing, so he’s lived with scrutiny in many ways that I haven’t.

OUT: But dating someone whose every trip to the airport is now covered on blogs must have some distinct challenges.

Neil Patrick Harris: Well, there has been one other negative element about being out publicly as a couple. He and I are both actors, and I’ve been trying to be protective of him so that his identity wasn’t linked so much to mine so that he could succeed on his own. But by being so, it creates its own strange dynamic. Because if we walk hand in hand down the red carpet together, then he’s known as being linked to me. But if I walk down the red carpet and he goes ahead of me, then it looks like we’re not proud of being with each other. So that’s been tricky. It requires a lot of communication between us.

OUT: Are you thinking about marriage?

Neil Patrick Harris: Well, I think if and when we do, we’d probably announce it after the fact as opposed to making the big announcement that it was going to happen.

OUT: But it’s important to you?

Neil Patrick Harris: Yeah. We both wear rings, and I’m giddy when I see all the pictures of people so happy standing there, confirming the love they wish they could have expressed for a long time.

OUT: Like the 75-year-old couples –

Neil Patrick Harris: It’s unbelievable. I think that speaks way more than the “God Hates Fags” signs.

OUT: . . . [Y]ou realize that you’re a role model whether you like it or not.

Neil Patrick Harris: I’m striving to be an example of normalcy. Because I’m noticed as an actor, people are aware of what’s happening in my life, and that I can’t change, and if I tried to, it’d be an uphill battle. I’d be angry and bitter. I’m a big proponent of monogamous relationships regardless of sexuality, and I’m proud of how the nation is steering toward that. Then you can look around and say, “I really deeply feel like I’m in love with this person, there are people who feel the same thing, and those models are normal.” The “normal” couples were sort of in the shadows for the past 15 or 20 years because you sort of needed other people to come forward and speak out.

To read Out magazine’s interview with Neil Patrick Harris in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Coming Out: An Act of Holiness
Darren Hayes, Coming Out, . . . Oh, and Time Travel!
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Be Not Afraid, You Can Be Happy and Gay
Real Holiness
In the Footsteps of Spring

1 comment:

kevin57 said...

This man's become an icon within the gay community because of his "normalcy." He's come out with quiet dignity. And seemingly, his career has not suffered. Progress is coming, albeit all-too-slowly.