’Playboy Club’ Actor Kicks Down Closet Door
Often, success means that gay actors stay deeply, carefully closeted--or, in some cases, that they stuff themselves back into the closet even if they might have come out earlier.
Maher, 36, has worked in Hollywood for almost a decade and a half, appearing on TV shows such as "Ryan Caulfield: Year One" and "Firefly" before landing his current gig on "The Playboy Club."
In all that time he’s felt it necessary to keep the truth about himself a secret. He has a male life partner of nine years, Paul, and two adopted children: 4-year-old daughter Sophia, and son Liam, who is just over one year old. But, Maher told Entertainment Weekly, one of the first pieces of advice he got was to be seen escorting women.
Those days in the closet are over now.
"It’s so liberating," said Maher. "This is my coming out ball. I’ve been dying to do this."
Conventional wisdom in Hollywood has long been that gay actors--as well as producers, directors, and others in the entertainment business--should project a heterosexual image, whatever their actual sexuality might be.
Maher related his own experience with receiving such advice from a manager who told him to have "a girl on [his] arm" and a publicist who wanted him to keep the girlfriend that the publicist assumed he must have out of the limelight in order to make his TV character more appealing to female viewers.
Those early experiences were bewildering for the young gay actor.
"I kept thinking, ’This is my first show, I don’t want to get fired,’ " Maher told Entertainment Weekly. "I’m thinking, ’What is the potential that if they caught wind that they had cast a gay lead actor that they would fire me?’ I was young, I was 22. I didn’t know anything. So that sort of started the idea of, okay, well, I’m working a lot, I guess I’ll just keep that gay part of my life on the back burner for now. I went so far as to sleep with women a couple times. It was a very confusing time for me."
The effort to isolate his personal and professional lives carried a price, with the maintenance of a heteronormative life "eating away at [his] soul," Maher said, and proving to be "exhausting."
But Maher indicated that he was now ready to put his family ahead of his career, if it should come to that.
"I have these beautiful children and this extraordinary family," Mayer told Entertainment Weekly. "What would [Sophia] think if I said, ’Oh honey, you can’t come with me to work because they don’t know I have an adopted daughter and they don’t know that I’m gay,’ " the actor asked.
"My children and our family, I’ve really never been as proud of anything in my life," Maher continued. "I couldn’t be happier at this point in my life, and I feel like we’ve created this pretty extraordinary family."
The timing also seemed auspicious to Maher, whose "Playboy Club" character is a closeted gay man married to a lesbian for appearances’ sake. His character becomes active in the gay underground, but Maher seems not to have any intention of retreating from the sunlight.
"Creatively, I feel so much more open and free, and I am so happy on ’The Playboy Club,’ " Maher told the publication. "I think it’s because I’ve never been so open on set."
In recent years, GLBT characters have gained a toehold on network television, though often in secondary roles. The rare gay or lesbian-centric series has appeared on cable, as with Showtime’s "Queer As Folk" and "The L Word," each of which ran for five seasons on the cable channel. One notable exception was the long-running NBC series "Will and Grace," which was a hit comedy for eight seasons.
But even gay-friendly shows such as "Glee" tend to put the spotlight on straight characters. When a gay character takes center stage--especially in terms of love or romance--anti-GLBT groups take notice and controversy ensues, as has been the case with "Glee" and the new season of "Dancing With the Stars," which features openly gay Carson Cressley and Chaz Bono, the trans son of Cher and Sonny Bono.
Actors remain reluctant to come out, fearing that public disclosure could derail their careers. Richard Chamberlain emerged from the closet in his 2003 autobiography, only to tell The Advocate last year that gay actors would be better served to keep quiet about their sexuality.
Openly gay British actor Rupert Everett made much the same comment when he told British newspaper the Guardian in 2009, "The fact is that you could not be, and still cannot be, a 25-year-old homosexual trying to make it in the British film business or the American film business or even the Italian film business."
Everett went on to add, "It’s not that advisable to be honest. It’s not very easy. And, honestly, I would not advise any actor necessarily, if he was really thinking of his career, to come out."