High School Musical’s Lucas Grabeel says he knew Ryan was gay from the start, but probably wouldn’t play him if asked today
High School Musical star Lucas Grabeel has said that if the films were made now, he would want his fan favourite character Ryan Evans to be played by a gay actor.
Last week, High School Musical creator Kenny Ortega confirmed long-standing rumours that Grabeel’s character in the franchise was intended to be gay — but ended up wedged firmly in the closet over fears of a backlash from Disney.
The actor opened up about the issue in an interview with TMZ, explaining how he and Ortega originally settled on a version of the character that included subtle background references to his sexuality.
Grabeel said: “I came up to Kenny one day, and was like: ‘Can we talk about the character for a second? Ryan’s gay, right?’
“He was like: ‘Well, it’s a touchy subject sometimes with children’s programming and I’m not sure if Disney is ready right now for that kind of thing, but I absolutely agree that he is, and I think we have an opportunity to showcase a real person and something that a lot of kids go through and don’t often see portrayed on television.’
“At that time, it was either extremely flamboyant or very closeted and kind of shut off.”
Grabeel added: “We need to start educating everyone at the youngest age possible and that’s why it will fall to people like Disney who create so much great programming for the developing minds of our future country.
“We in the film industry have a responsibility to educate as well as entertain.”
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On whether he would play the role today, the actor continued: “There’s so many amazingly talented gay actors who could do it as well, and so if High School Musical was made today I don’t know if I would play Ryan. I would love to, but I just don’t know.
“The last thing that I want to do is take an opportunity away from other people, and as a straight, white man I know that even without trying I’ve taken opportunities away from people.”
High School Musical creator Kenny Ortega says Ryan would have come out in college.
In his interview with Variety last week, Kenny Ortega said he believed the character was “probably going to come out in college”. He continued: “It was less about coming out and just more about letting his true colours come forward.”
Ortega added: “I have to be honest with you. I didn’t think at the time – and Disney is the most progressive group of people I’ve ever worked with… I was concerned because it was family and kids, that Disney might not be ready to cross that line and move into that territory yet.
“So, I just took it upon myself to make choices that I felt that those who were watching would grab. They would see it, they would feel it, they would know it and they would identify with it. And that is what happened.”
The gay filmmaker continued: “I put a lot of who I am into my work. I mean, really all the way back from the earliest work that I’ve done, even as a choreographer in film and television.
“I think, yeah, that it’s just there, and whether it’s screaming at you, or whether it’s just sort of quietly there, it’s there.”