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Nathan Lane reflects on the excruciating time Oprah Winfrey grilled him on his sexuality

Patrick Kelleher February 13, 2020
Oprah Winfrey Nathan Lane

Oprah Winfrey (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty) and Nathan Lane (Theo Wargo/Getty)

Nathan Lane has opened up about the time Oprah Winfrey grilled him about his sexuality on her talkshow in 1996 before he had come out publicly.

Lane appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show alongside Robin Williams, his co-star in The Birdcage, a film in which they played a gay couple, in 1996.

He had been openly gay to his friends and family since he was 21, and his sexuality was well-known in the New York theatre scene where he started off. But when his film career started to blossom, he was warned that he would be asked about his sexuality.

“This notion of coming out publicly, as if I was a public figure — no one had been interested in my sex life up until then,” Lane told the It Happened In Hollywood podcast.

Nathan Lane avoided discussing his sexuality in press interviews for The Birdcage.

“Suddenly I had a publicist and they had to say, ‘Well, what do you want to do? You’re going to walk into a room filled with journalists and this is going to come up,'” Nathan Lane continued.

“And I just said, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready to start discussing this. I finally get a nice role in a movie and I want it to be about the acting and not a coming out story.’ Right or wrong, that was my decision.”

I said, ‘I’m not ready to discuss whether I’m gay or not with Oprah. I can barely deal with meeting Oprah, let alone telling her I’m gay.’

He chose to avoid the topic of his sexuality while promoting the film, but the subject came up, and his most excruciating appearance was on Oprah’s show.

“We had to discuss this beforehand and I said, ‘I’m not ready to discuss whether I’m gay or not with Oprah. I can barely deal with meeting Oprah, let alone telling her I’m gay.'”

During his appearance on the show, Winfrey started to move towards the question he so desperately wanted to avoid.

Lane later revealed he was gay, noting he was ’40, single and works in musical theatre.’

“Robin [Williams] obviously sensed she might be going toward the sexuality question and he immediately swoops in and diverts the interview away from that to protect me,” he said.

But Winfrey came back to the question, saying: “Were you afraid of being typecast as, ‘Are you, are you not?’ ‘Is he, isn’t he…?'”

“Not really,” he said. “I don’t have an image to uphold. I’m basically a character actor. I’m not a sex symbol. From role to role I’m usually pretty different, and the material was so incredible, I don’t know how you could turn it down because you would be worrying about your image. It’s a wonderful character and very nurturing.”

In 1999, Us magazine asked him outright: “Are you gay?”

“I said, ‘I’m 40, single and I work a lot in the musical theater. You do the math. What do you need — flash cards?'”

 

 

More: coming out, nathan lane, Oprah Winfrey, Robin Williams, The Birdcage

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