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Queerty: As if! 20 of the absolute worst “gay for pay” performances on the big screen

To gay or not to gay, that is the question!

Not that many years ago, it was a rite of passage for a promising young heterosexual actor to do “gay for pay.”

OK, now get your mind of out of the gutter –– we’re not talking about adult films. We’re talking about portraying a homosexual character… and then receiving a bevy of awards show recognition. Here’s looking at you, Jared Leto and Eddie Redmayne!

Hollywood has made strides in casting LGBTQ+ actors in LGBTQ+ roles in recent years, but that’s not to say we’re past the trend, nor that there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to representation.

A few months ago, rumors surfaced that The White Lotus star Theo James was in talks to play George Michael in an upcoming biopic and Adam Lambert made headlines for sarcastically commenting, “Yay another straight man playing a gay icon,” on an Instagram post from The Advocate. Whoop, there it is!

Still, Lambert acknowledged that there’s nuance to the situation. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction that these stories are being told,” he told Queerty in an exclusive interview. “But I would just love to see an out actor play an out icon –– it’d just be nice, because you don’t really see it.”

he’s actually the only straight man allowed to play gay

— mitchy (@mitchoo_oo) January 19, 2023

So, where does that leave us? Because for every Cam from Modern Family, Robin Williams in The Birdcage, or Moonlight‘s Trevante Rhodes, there’s a James Corden in The Prom. Oof!

The world may never agree on whether or not straight actors should play gay roles, but we can certainly agree that some performances are better than others. From homophobic choices to forgettable films, there’s a few characters we’d like to forget ever existed.

Click through for 20 of the worst “gay for pay” performances on the silver screen…

1. James Corden – The Prom

James Corden looks puzzled wearing a blue sparkly tuxedo in a scene from 2020's 'The Prom.'

Was there anyone not offended by James Corden’s portrayal of a narcissistic and flamboyant Broadway queen in Ryan Murphy‘s 2020 adaptation of The Prom? Critics called his performance “truly disgusting,” “insulting,” and a “depressing testament to Corden’s clout in the industry.” And those were the nice ones!

2. Michael Douglas – Behind the Candelabra

Michael Douglas, ridiculously dressed as Liberace with flamboyant rings and a sparkling white tuxedo, stands in front of an equally over-the-top dressed Matt Damon in the poster for 2013's 'Behind the Candelabra.'

Need we say more? Just take one look at Michael Douglas dressed as Liberace (and Matt Damon as his Prince Valiant-looking lover) in Steven Soderbergh’s 2013 film Behind the Candelabra.

Why a director decided to cast Douglas as the lead in one of the GAYEST MOVIES EVER about one of the GAYEST PERFORMERS EVER is beyond us. But the fact that the film marks Debbie Reynolds’ final role before her 2016 passing is the real travesty.

3. Harry StylesMy Policeman

Harry Styles, wearing an overcoat and flannel, looks off blankly in a scene from 2022's 'My Policeman.'

Sorry Directioners, but this was not it. Don’t get us wrong: Harry Styles is gorgeous to look at it, but the only buzz that came from his dull performance as a closeted cop in 2022’s My Policeman came from a community accusing him of queerbaiting –– not The Academy. Or even the Golden Globes. Oh well, at least he gave us a movie that “feels like a movie.”

4. Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek, sporting long hair, a retro collared shirt, and large teeth as Freddie Mercury, talks to friends in a bar in a scene from 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

Sometimes a heterosexual actor does such a terrible job portraying a gay legend that Hollywood has no choice but to give him the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Aside from those f*cking teeth (pictured above), Rami Malek left a lot to be desired from the LGBTQ+ community with his take on Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. To be fair, the script basically glossed over Mercury’s gay identity completely, so perhaps no one was the champion after all.

5. James FrancoKing Cobra

James Franco smirks sassily, wearing a gray colored tee, in moody lighting as a gay porn producer in 2016's 'King Cobra.'

Remember when James Franco played a gay porn producer exploiting Brent Corrigan in 2016’s wannabe-thriller King Cobra? We’re sorry for bringing it up again. It wasn’t the first time that the self-proclaimed “gay c*ck tease” feigned homo for the big screen, but it was his most over-the-top role. We never thought we’d see Franco shout “F*ck that a**” while bent over a couch… and TBH, we don’t need to see it again.

6. Antonio Sabáto Jr. – Testosterone

Antonio Sabáto Jr. looks off judgmentally in a dark car in 2003's 'Testosterone.'

In 2003’s Testosterone, Antonio Sabáto Jr. portrayed Pablo, a hunk who mysteriously walks out on his boyfriend (David Sutcliffe), though that’s not to say he was missed. In fact, Sutcliffe had more chemistry with Jennifer Coolidge’s character than with his lover and as one critic put it, Sabáto is “a very wooden actor that’s painful to watch.”

But even that review might be a bit generous considering Sabáto has since become a hardcore Republican, stumped for Trump at the Republican National Convention and announced plans to create his own “conservative movie studio” after claiming he was blacklisted. Go figure.

7. Sacha Baron Cohen – Bruno

Sacha Baron Cohen, wearing a leopard print leotard and leopard print Uggs, seductively leans down to pick up his phone on the red carpet dressed as his character Bruno.

While Sacha Baron Cohen allowed for some smart commentary on race in 2006’s Borat, it’s hard to imagine that his portrayal of a b*tchy and problematic fashion journalist in 2009’s Brüno did anything but make the homophobes hate us more. Critics called the character “a caricature of the worst stereotype of gayness that non-gay people still believe,” and honestly, no one wanted to see that much of Baron Cohen naked either.

8. Bradley Cooper – Valentine’s Day

Bradley Cooper, wearing a blue dress shirt and black vest, looks on while sitting on an airplane in 'Valentine's Day.'

And the twist is… he’s gay! For a film aiming to be the American ripoff of Love Actually, 2010’s Valentine’s Day is waaaay too corny and bloated. We’re led to believe Bradley Cooper’s character is flirting with Julia Roberts for the entire movie, until he come homes to Sean Jackson (played by the equally hetero Eric Dane), a NFL player whose coming out is played for comedic effect. Their chemistry is nonexistent, and yet again, we’re left wishing the straights would exclude us from their heteronormative bullsh*t!

9. Jude Law – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Jude Law, wearing an overcoat and top hat, looks over his shoulder in front of a clock tower as Albus Dumbledore in a scene from 'Fantastic Beasts.'

We know Dumbledore is gay, but just *how* gay was his character (portrayed by Jude Law) in mega-flop franchise Fantastic Beasts? Did anyone see these movies? Does anyone even care?!

There was that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the third film (read: a line dispensable enough to axe for the film’s release in China) and Law’s performance never pushed past “questionably fruity,” prompting us to wonder why his character’s queerness (and this spinoff) existed in the first place.

10. Brandon Routh and Justin Long – Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Justin Long, holding a martini, and dressed in a black dress shirt, stands along Brandon Routh, wearing a name tag and suit jacket, at a high school reunion in a scene from 'Zack and Miri Make a Porno.'

Okay, maybe we are being harsh. This duo might just be the best part of Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks’ forgettable comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Brandon Routh surprises everyone at his high school reunion when he shows up with his boyfriend (Justin Long), a gay porn star who’s starred in fare such as “You Better Shut Your Mouth or I’m Gonna F*ck It.” Their smarmy portrayals of bickering and hot L.A. gays are far from believable, but also, where can we find that video?

11. Tracy Morgan – The Longest Yard

Tracy Morgan, wearing flamboyant makeup and a bonnet, looks suggestively at football players as Ms. Tucker in a scene from 2005's 'The Longest Yard.'

Tracy Morgan played ridiculously offensive inmate Ms. Tucker in 2005’s The Longest Yard, leading the gays in a cheerleading squad for Adam Sandler’s jail yard football team. Morgan’s cross-dressing character was called out for “continuing the trend of homophobic humor so prevalent in Sandler’s films,” and considering the flick scored a dismal 31 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s clear gays weren’t the only ones NOT laughing.

12. Channing TatumThis is the End

Channing Tatum, on his hands and knees wearing football shoulder pads, looks up hungrily as he takes off a gimp mask in a scene from 'This is the End.'

Channing Tatum had a surprise cameo as himself in 2012’s outrageous apocalypse comedy This is the End, taking on the role of Danny McBride’s “sexual gimp” (Seth Rogen’s words, not ours!) as Hollywood crumbled.

It’s a ridiculous premise, so we won’t hold this one against Tatum forever, though his enthusiasm for the role was questionable. “[Channing’s scene is] actually one of the scenes we had to tone down the most [because he] went like so into, like spreading his a** open,” Rogen said.

13. Paul Rudd – The Object of My Affection

Paul Rudd stands in an apartment, wearing a button-down collared shirt and gesturing flamboyantly in 'The Object of My Affections.'

Paul Rudd plays Jennifer Aniston’s gay roommate that she decides to raise a baby with and then develops feelings for in 1998’s The Object of My Affection. His “Sexiest Man Alive” status aside, Rudd’s portrayal of GBF rarely ventures beyond acting sensitive, wearing collared shirts, and offering interior decorating advice.

14. Colin Firth – Mamma Mia

Colin Firth shrugs off his suit jacket as he makes moves towards a young man while dancing at a wedding in a scene from 'Mamma Mia.'

Is it any surprise that in a cast of queens like Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, and Julie Walters, Colin Firth’s gay character was the least exciting part of 2008’s Mamma Mia? We’ve never seen an actor fight their repulsion quite as hard as when Firth embraces a man during “Take A Chance On Me,” though we got Cher in the sequel, so all is forgiven.

15. James Marsden – Sex Drive

James Marsden, sporting highlighted spiky hair and a vintage tee, looks on while sitting in a car with his hand on the wheel in 'Sex Drive.'

James Marsden plays the older brother from hell in 2008’s Sex Drive, hurling homophobic insults like “ball bag,” “sissy,” “ch*de stroker” and “Clay Aiken” at his younger bro, only for the film to reveal in its closing moments that Marsden’s character is, in fact, gay. “Now he only uses the word ‘f*ggot’ during rough sex,” the movie’s closing narration says. It was a different time –– though it’s still Ronald Gladden from Jury Duty‘s favorite film.

16. Andy Samberg – I Love You Man

Andy Samberg, wearing a sporty gym jacket, looks up from the dinner table annoyed in 'I Love You, Man.'

Andy Samberg was the most masc-for-masc gay ever in 2009’s I Love You, Man. While his brother in the movie (portrayed by fellow “gay for pay” listee Paul Rudd) can’t even find a male BFF, all Samberg has to do is look at another guy and they’re suddenly dating. It’s comical to think any gay man could find a bae so easily –– perhaps they should’ve added a scene where Samberg showed off his “d*ck in a box”?

18. Jim Carey – I Love You Phillip Morris

Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor make the shape of a heart while jumping in the air, wearing orange prison jumpsuits, in a promotional photo for 'I Love You Phillip Morris.'

As far as Jim Carrey movies go, I Love You Phillip Morris is hardly his worst film, nor is it his most homophobic. But despite the movie’s strong critical reception, it’s hard to watch and not just see Jim Carrey playing a gay man who flops, talks, and goofily throws himself around like, well, Jim Carrey. Still, bonus points go to the screenwriters for this line: “Being gay is really expensive.”

17. Ewan McGregor – I Love You Phillip Morris

Jim Carrey, with slicked back hair and an over-the-top black V-neck, walks in front of a bleach blonde Ewan McGregor, smiling flamboyantly, in a promotional shot for 'I Love You Phillip Morris.'

Ewan McGregor portrays the perfectly pleasant counterpart to Jim Carrey’s crazy character in I Love You Phillip Morris… but it’s just too hard to get past that cringy bleach job! Still, even that couldn’t stop McGregor from going gay again in Ryan Murphy’s 2021 series Halston… to extremely tepid reception. We were rooting for you, Obi-Wan!

19. Henry Golding – Monsoon

Henry Golding pensively looks on in purple lighting, holding a beer at the bar in 2020's 'Monsoon.'

The most exhausting part of Henry Golding playing gay in 2020’s Monsoon was how hard he defended his decision. “It was so beautiful the way that [my character’s] sexuality didn’t even matter to the bigger picture or the story at hand,” Golding told Indiewire of the film, adding, “There’s no real right or wrong answer when it comes to straight actors playing gay characters, or gay [actors] playing straight roles.”

To be fair, his character’s sexuality is severely underplayed, leading us to insist that if you’re gonna go gay, you might as well go all the way!

20. Katherine Heigl – Jenny’s Wedding

Katherine Heigl, wearing a white wedding gown and holding a bouquet, smiles as she walks down the aisle towards Alexis Bledel in the poster for 2015's 'Jenny's Wedding.'

Congratulations to Katherine Heigl for being the only actress to make the cut!

After wreaking havoc behind-the-scenes of Grey’s Anatomy (and exiting the show in 2010), Heigl played a lesbian coming out to her family after getting engaged in 2015’s Jenny’s Wedding. Though critics dubbed it a “lecture on tolerance,” the hardest part was tolerating Heigl’s interpretation of a gay woman: sourpuss look, lots of complaining, and zero chemistry with her fiancé.

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