For decades Stephen Fry has been one of the most prominent out stage and screen actors. He first caught the U.K.'s attention in the '80s with the sketch series, A Bit of Fry & Laurie, in which he co-starred in with Hugh Laurie, but he is probably most known to international audiences for playing Oscar Wilde in the 1997 biopic of the legendary witty writer.
Since then he has appeared in everything from Spice World to V For Vendetta, Sherlock Holmes, and The Hobbit movies. Fry has also had roles in some of the most acclaimed queer television series in recent years: It's a Sin, where he played a closeted Conservative MP, and Heartstopper, as the voice of the school principal.
For his latest role, Fry joins the fantastical dream world of The Sandman, Netflix's highly anticipated adaptation of Neil Gaiman's acclaimed comic series. In the series, he plays Gilbert, the mysterious lodger at a bed and breakfast owned by a drag performer named Hal, played by John Cameron Mitchell.
Logo spoke with Fry about how he was introduced to The Sandman, if he would ever be a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race U.K., and playing king for a day in Prime Video's upcoming Red, White & Royal Blue movie adaptation.
So, Stephen, I'm just curious, what was your introduction to Sandman?
Well, it followed my introduction to Neil [Gaiman], really. We have mutual friends going all the way back to Douglas Adams, who was a very close friend of mine, who wrote Hitchhiker's Guide and is in some ways a similar figure to Neil. I mean, both are incredible storytellers who use all the range of human emotions, including wit and blackness and science and all kinds of different features, to tell their stories. I was aware quite early on that The Sandman was regarded by many as Neil's masterpiece, and I wasn't familiar with it. I'd read American Gods, the book. And I always felt, and I think there are a lot of us like this, that somehow graphic novels, comic strips, were just not something I could ever get on with. It wasn't snobbery, exactly. It was just a feeling that that was a bus I'd missed. That maybe when you're a teenager you get into them, and that I wouldn't really know how they work, as it were. But then one day, I can't remember how or why, I happened on the graphic novel, and I started reading it, and my jaw dropped. I told that to Neil ages ago. I was aware that he'd been trying to get it off the ground with others, over the years, and then, I guess two years ago or something, he let me know that it was really going ahead and that he'd love me to consider playing Gilbert. And so I reread, and I, of course, was thrilled to say yes. And I'm thrilled for him. I'm thrilled for the audience. Thrilled, for fans of The Sandman, that this was going to happen and that finally, it was going to happen with all guns blazing, all bells and whistles. All the proper attention paid to it. Taken seriously.
As a young gay kid, The Sandman meant a lot to me because it was one of the only comics with queer characters.
When did you become aware of The Sandman's LGBTQ fanbase?
I was pretty aware of it quite early on, but it's only really because of social media that I've become aware of quite how dedicated that fan base is and how much it means to people. And it's really important. Neil's an amazing writer like that. He is a superb creator of queer characters and of women characters, characters of color. Especially now, in this production, there's been all kinds of gender swapping and race swapping in roles, that have been done with complete authenticity and ease. Anybody watching it will feel it's just the most natural way to tell this story because it's a story about the whole of humanity. So all of humanity's highways and byways, and all of the sexuality and gender and race differences between us, are somehow an important part of that mix, I think. It's great in the production, because I've watched all 10 episodes now, and I was just thrilled by the feeling that if I was 10 or 12 years old, watching this, it would just mean everything to me that no kind of human is excluded, in a strange sort of way. And that's a marvelous feeling.
In the series, we're introduced to Gilbert when he's on his way to a drag show. Are you a fan of drag? Did you ever go to drag shows?
I used to. There was a place in London called Madame Jojo's, that I used to love to go to, where they did fabulous drag shows. And occasionally to the Vauxhall Tavern, as well. There's a very well-known story about how Freddie Mercury got Princess Di into the Vauxhall Tavern in disguise, and she spent a happy evening watching the drag acts there. And I know John Cameron Mitchell, a little, as well. We're friends. So I was thrilled to see him giving it his all. He was just marvelous. It's amazing because we now live in a post-Drag Race world, and a huge sort of non-queer audience is passionate about drag and is passionate about what it does, the energy of it. And that's all to the good, I think.
Will we ever see you guest judge on Drag Race U.K?
Do you know, I think I was asked once because I seem to remember my agent saying, "Oh well, you couldn't do it because you were away." Actually, I was away doing The Dropout, in fact. If Ru or someone asks me, I would be of course honored. I'm no expert. I have dragged up, if that's the right phrase to use, of my performances for comedy reasons because I used to do this series with Hugh Laurie where we were the only performers in it, essentially. So if we needed a female role, we would play the female role. But I don't think I have the skin for it. I'll be honest with you.
It was fun hearing your voice in Heartstopper. It's so wonderful that young queer kids have a show like that.
It's amazing. We are living in a golden age, for that kind of queer representation. What's great is that it's not about the problems of being gay. It's about the problems of being in love, and those are the problems that face queer people. Love, relationships, ups and downs. Yes, there are problems of stigma and acceptance and they still exist in the world. It's horrible but true to recognize, and there are elements of that, of the fear of coming out and so on. But what's really behind it is personality, people, and friendship. I know so many people who have said, as I would, "I wish that had been around when I was 12. Why couldn't that have been there for me?" But they're not too upset because they're so thrilled for the new generation who can watch it. So yeah, I'm absolutely delighted for those beautiful young actors in that amazing story, and how well told it is. I can't wait for there to be a second season. Maybe my character will actually be seen next time.
I'm a huge fan of the book Red, White & Royal Blue, so I have to ask: Can you tease anything about your role in the movie?
It's being directed by Matthew Lopez, who is an extraordinary figure. I don't know if you saw The Inheritance.
Wasn't it one of the most amazing pieces you've ever seen? He's got this deal with Amazon, and Amazon got behind this project [Red, White & Royal Blue]. It's a beautiful, gay love story. In every sense a fairytale story, I suppose you could say. The cast was new to me. I play the king who is the grandfather of the gay prince. I had a marvelous day working with them, and I think it'll be something rather special. It's funny and charming, but also truthful and touching. I don't know if you agree with me, but queer stories have kind of come of age, in a way. We're still proud to tell them. We're still anxious to see them and hungry for different aspects of gay experience and gay life, but there's a confidence and a swagger about it that I find divine.