Heterosexuals have been portraying homosexuals on the silver screen at least since 1946, when Henry Travers boldly embodied heaven's nelliest angel Clarence in the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life, but now, for possibly the first time in Hollywood history, a really, really, really, really gay man is playing a heterosexual.
Nathan Lane stars as Max Bialystock in the new movie The Producers, reviving the role he originated on Broadway. Bialystock is a scheming, underhanded, amoral producer of Broadway flops who, along with his accountant Leo Bloom (played by actual heterosexual Matthew Broderick), hits upon a plan to earn millions by intentionally fundraising for a short-lived flop. For Bialystock, the ends justify the means in his whatever-it-takes approach to showbusiness.
To raise two million dollars for his planned fiasco Springtime for Hitler, Bialystock romances wealthy old Manhattan dowagers, but also falls for his ingenue-cum-secretary, the Swedish bombshell Ulla.
"I don't really view Max as straight," said Lane in a recent interview. "His first love is producing for the theater, and I think his relationship with the old widows really strikes him as a completely normal business transaction, he doesn't really let his emotions get involved. And as far as Ulla goes, she's more of an archetype than a character. He finds himself attracted to her innate sensuality, her embodiment of a certain feminine ideal, in a Jungian sense, rather than lusting after her physicality."
"Also, the world of The Producers is a very lonely, isolated place," said Lane. "There aren't many appropriate partners for him. The widows might as well be sheep for all the emotional connectivity he has with them. In a way, he's stranded in a wilderness of theater types, and Ulla is really the only one outside that world for him."
"The more romantic moments were a bit daunting at first, I confess," chuckled Lane. "But Uma was great to work with, very supportive, and ultimately it's about acting. As our personal relationship deepened during the filming, the intimacy became easier."
Still, the performance is being hailed as a cinematic milestone. "This flings the closet door wide open," said Harold Wickenberg, president of StereoTypes, an activist organization that advocates for so-called "colorblind casting" and other nontraditional hiring methods in film and theater. "People are seeing that acting is not about the actor, it's about the character. This was the next logical step in a progression that began with Nicole Kidman's fake nose, and I think it won't be very long before we start seeing paraplegic superheroes and black Klan members."
"This is crucial for cultural awareness," said Shelley Thompson of the Heterosexual Rights Campaign. "It's important for people to understand that heterosexuality has a variety of expressions. Not every straight man is Sylvester Stallone or George W. Bush. Some of us are Tom Cruises or Matt Damons and, yes, even Max Bialystocks."
Still, not everyone is cheering. "This film is utterly deceitful," said Harvey Mann, spokesperson for Citizens United for Normal Traditions (CUNT). "It suggests that homosexuals can somehow "pass" for straight. It implies that there is a fluidity of gender roles and attractions that simply doesn't exist, and I think this could be dangerously confusing for young people."
"The Bible is very clear on this," said Heather Waterston of Families Against Gays (FAG). "Gay men should suppress their desires and marry women and have the kind of families that God ordained for us as natural, but you can always tell when a man is a homo. The idea that a gay man could ever be perceived as a heterosexual is part of this extreme leftist agenda that has been coming out of Hollywood for years."
Even some gays are upset. "The purity of Broadway's image is really tarnished by this reprehensible casting error," said Ivey Lowenstein of TKTS. "Broadway is gay, very gay, everyone knows that. To have a movie about a heterosexual involved with a Broadway production is pure fiction, and does not represent the way things really are here."
When asked about the controversy, Lane laughed. "People are so silly, really. If they want to see a movie with no heterosexual characters, they can go to Brokeback Mountain instead."