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Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto on the pressure to be a ‘good gay role model’

Emma Powys Maurice April 29, 2021
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Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto

Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto pictured on May 30, 2018 in New York City (Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)

Zachary Quinto and Jim Parsons reflected on what it means to be gay in the modern era after voicing two historic gay icons, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.

After starring in Ryan Murphy’s remake of The Boys In the Band, the actors are delving into the lives of the gay literary giants in the documentary Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation.

Speaking to Attitude, the pair explored Capote and Williams’ rare status as out gay figures during the mid-20th century, compared with their experience today.

“I don’t know what the average audience member was thinking when they were watching them, but I’m certain it was different than it is now, and they had less experience and less exposure to people like Truman and Tennessee,” Parsons said.

“It fascinates me, and it fascinates me [how] being gay in that time affected their work and their art.

“I wouldn’t trade the life I’m living through right now and the time I’m living through right now for the world, but I am intrigued by that idea of the degree to which they were pushed into their choices by things more strongly out of their control than what I’m living through right now.”

In the documentary Jim Parsons takes on the role of Truman Capote, the American novelist, screenwriter and playwright best known for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958).

Meanwhile Star Trek actor Zachary Quinto voices Williams, the legendary playwright behind A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955).

Both Capote and Williams battled with drug and alcohol addiction throughout their lives. It’s an experience Quinto could relate to, though he acknowledged that he has access to far more support and resources than his counterpart ever did.

“We are encouraged in our contemporary society I think to more fully talk about our experiences, whether they relate to our sexual or gender identity or just the social pressures of the time,” he mused.

“I think there’s more of an integrated sense of self-examination now than there was then. And I do think that Truman and Tennessee among some of their other contemporaries were bearing a certain kind of burden for society, where their sexuality was an unspoken but undeniable part of their personas and who they were.

“And so I do think there comes a unique pressure with that, at that time in particular.”

Asked about whether the pressure to be a “good gay role model” as a gay man in the public eye compromises their personal lives, Jim Parsons replied: “I don’t feel compromised by it, but I think anybody – not even just LGBTQ+ people –  right now who has any platform for any reason at all feels a certain obligation [to speak out].

“And many times, I’ll be blunt about [it], it’s fear: ‘I’m just trying to speak honestly, am I saying something wrong that’s going to cause me big issues?’

“To me, that can be a worrying aspect of being somebody who’s known by other people.”

Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation is available on Dogwoof on Demand and other platforms in the UK and Ireland from 30 April.

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