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INTERVIEW: Nathan Lane

The first interview in which Nathan Lane acknowledged being gay. For real…look it up!

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Outward and Upward

 With the closet behind him, Nathan Lane is just getting started

Nathan Lane puts up a good front. Although he’s been giving one-on-one interviews for the better part of a day, he insists he’s enjoying the grueling process of promoting his latest movie, Nicholas Nickleby. It’s possible, of course, that Lane really does have an incredibly high tolerance for the painful task of answering the same questions over and over again. Or, it could simply be that he’s buoyed by that most reliable of stimulants: love. Word has it a new man in his life is responsible for the spring in his step and the great, big smile plastered across his face.

Only a few short years ago, the Tony- and Emmy-winning actor didn’t talk much about his personal life. But after enduring years of innuendo and gossip on the subject of his sexuality, Lane, 46, officially came out in 1999 in an interview in The Advocate.

Even without the romance, Lane has plenty of reason to be happy these days, starting with the Tony Award he earned earlier this year for his critically acclaimed performance as Max Bialystock in the Broadway smash The Producers. There’s also his upcoming TV show, Charlie Lawrence, about a former actor turned idealistic Congressman who only happens to be gay. Then, of course, there’s Nicholas Nickleby, in which he plays the eccentric manager of a traveling theater troupe opposite Barry Humphries (better known as Dame Edna) as his ridiculously regal wife. With Charlie Hunnam (of British Queer as Folk fame) as Nicholas, Billy Elliott’s Jamie Bell as Smike, and gay actor Alan Cumming rounding out the cast, the film has a decidedly lavender glow, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Lane. Sipping hot tea and looking only slightly weary from a hard day of tackling the press, he sat down with Gay City News to chat about the film, coming out, and life after The Producers.

Rumor has it there’s a new love in your life.

I thought we were going to talk about Nicholas Nickleby!

Okay. How was working with Dame Edna?

We had a great time. Barry is very entertaining, and I was a huge fan of his. Once he saw that I was a great audience, well, he wouldn’t take over the set or anything – that’s not his style – but he would just kind of lean over and whisper things to me, and crack me up. We really hit it off.

You two should be in a show together.

Yeah. I could play Dame Edna’s gay son Kenny.

How were your other costars?

I didn’t know Charlie before doing the movie, but I was a huge fan of the British Queer as Folk. The fact that it was his debut, and he was only 17, well, I thought he was brilliant. You could see he was going to be a movie star. And Jamie is such a sweet boy, and so talented.

This version of Nicholas Nickleby has a lot of gay appeal.

That’s true. And maybe that draws people in, but ultimately, the film’s success rests on whether the movie works or not.

You also have a new TV show coming out. Is television a place you’d like to stay for a while?

Yeah, it’s great, especially when the writing is smart and funny and the characters are compelling. I’m really proud of this show. I’m also an executive producer and a writer on it, and it’s got a really great cast. All I can do is try to create the best show possible, and I feel we’ve truly done that. Now it’s really up to the network as to where they put it, how they advertise it. All of the stuff I don’t have any control over.

Any more theater in the works?

Nothing, really. A few readings, but nothing big planned.

How does it feel coming off a show as huge as The Producers? Does the exhilaration stay with you for awhile?

Um…

While it’s going on, it’s got to be the highest high.

Yeah, but even so, it’s a job. When you have to do it eight times a week, the euphoria runs out pretty quickly, and it becomes “How do I get through this?” It has nothing to do with not enjoying doing the show. It’s like asking, “How does it feel to be Leonardo DiCaprio?” You know, it has its ups and down, like everything else. It was a great, great milestone in my career. And it’s nicer looking back on it, as opposed to being in the middle of it and having vocal problems and thinking “Oh, my God, if I’m out of the show, people are going to hate me.” It gets to be too much. It’s just an evening’s entertainment, ultimately. But, yes, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

And the press adored you. You’ve had a hard time with gay press in the past, which has at some points been quite malicious. How hard was that to accept, especially coming from the so-called “community”?

There are some people that the press likes to pick on; not just the gay press but the press in general. And some people, the press just doesn’t care about at all. I seem to always inspire a strong reaction, one way or the other (laughs). There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground with me.

Why did you hesitate to come out?

At the time, I did what I thought was best. It wasn’t like I was saying I had a fiancée, or was hiding anything. But people must have viewed it as I was backpedaling, or I was suddenly saying I was straight or something. All I was trying to do was say, “Hey, I’ve finally got a big part in a movie, and I wanna talk about that.”

Would you handle it differently now?

Looking back, I think I made mistakes.

A lot of New Yorkers didn’t even realize you were ever in the closet, because you were very visible in the gay “scene.”

It got to be where I had to make some sort of a statement, and then that seemed weird: “Why do I have to make a statement when I’ve been living this way all the time?” I needed time to think about it, to figure it out. It’s a cliché, but there really is no handbook about the celebrity thing; you have to figure it out as you go along. People have to do things in their own time, and that’s what I did.

Are you relieved it’s over with?

Yes, definitely. I’m glad I did it. The thing is, you build it up so much in your own head, and then you finally do it, and people are like, “So? What’s the big deal?” The same people who were attacking you. You can’t win.

What would be your advice to a young actor who’s in a similar situation?

Everybody has to make that decision themselves. Sure I think it is healthy to speak the truth, and be who you are, and be proud of that. But, you have to take into consideration that from a business standpoint, especially if you’re young, it could be problematic. It may have an effect. Maybe it won’t, and things won’t change unless everybody does it, but you’re definitely taking a risk. (Pauses). You know, you see a lot of young actors who have no problem with it. But they’re young; they haven’t lived through the shame! (Laughs). They’ve come up in another generation, where they pop out of the womb and into a parade! On a big float! I came from a very, very, you know, working-class…this was not…it’s this huge issue to overcome, just on a personal level.

As it is for any gay man.

People think they know who I am, because I’ve played so many very, very out gay men on stage, and they think that’s me. So they wonder why there’s a problem.  And it’s two different things. I am not those men. But yes, certainly it is something I’m really happy I did, no matter what. It was a valuable thing, an important thing to do.

So, back to my first question. There’s a new man in your life. Are you in love?

Yes. I’m very happy. I didn’t think I could be this happy.

Michael Rucker is a regular contributor to Gay City News.

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