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Matt Smith Defends His Right to Play a Gay Man in “Mapplethorpe” Biopic

“Where does it stop?”

Matt Smith (Doctor Who, The Crown) headlines the upcoming biopic Mapplethorpe as influential photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who died in 1989 from AIDS-related complications.

Mapplethorpe notoriously challenged the art world in the ’70s and ’80s, scandalizing political conservatives with his striking images of the naked male body and S&M scenes.

Joined by Mapplethorpe producer Eliza Dushku last week during a Q&A at New York's 92nd Street Y, Smith addressed the question of whether the provocative gay photographer should have been played by a gay actor, IndieWire reports.

“I think your sexual orientation, or your sex and your choices outside of work, shouldn’t influence—in either way, positive or negative—what happens,” Smith replied. “So, to me, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight. That has no bearing on whether you should get the part.”

“Where does it stop?” the 36-year-old British actor continued. “Like, do we then say, do we apply that logic to going, ‘Okay, I’ve got a part, and it’s playing a brother, and he’s addicted to heroin.’ Do we then go to people that have only taken heroin?”

“It’s an important discussion,” Dushku added. Smith agreed, saying, “It’s good that it’s being had.”

These arguments about whether actors should only play roles aligning with their own gender or sexual identity have become more heated following the controversial casting of straight cisgender actors such as Scarlett Johansson as a trans man in the film Rub & Tug and Jack Whitehall as a campy gay character in Disney’s live-action Jungle Cruise.

Meanwhile, Rami Malek, Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, and Olivia Colman are among the straight actors nominated for Oscars this year for playing LGBTQ roles.

Mapplethorpe/Samuel Goldwyn

Guy Pearce, who played a drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, recently said “it’s dangerous” to cast actors based on sexuality or gender. Out Looking actor Russell Tovey similarly argued, “If you’re an actor, you’re an actor.”

Darren Criss of The Assassination of Gianni Versace and Glee fame, on the other hand, announced in December that he "won’t be another straight boy taking a gay man’s role."

Mapplethorpe, directed by Ondi Timoner, debuted earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival.

"The film explores Mapplethorpe’s life from moments before he and Patti Smith moved into the famed Chelsea hotel, home to a world of bohemian chic," according to an official synopsis from Samuel Goldwyn. "Mapplethorpe’s work displayed eroticism in a way that had never been examined nor displayed before to the public. The film explores the intersection of his art and his sexuality along with his struggle for mainstream recognition."

"In church I found God," Smith's Mapplethorpe says in the trailer, which shows him in bed with out co-star John Benjamin Hickey. "And then Polaroid led me straight to the devil."

"Just investigating that moment in time, it certainly made me reflect on being a homosexual in the ’70s in New York and the way they were treated for a disease that was completely misunderstood," Smith told EW. "He died so young and if he were around now, then he’d live out the whole of his life and still be a brilliant, prolific artist I’m sure."

The film also stars Marianne Rendón, Mark Moses, Carolyn McCormick, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Brandon Sklenar, McKinley Belcher III, and Kerry Butler.

Mapplethorpe is in theaters March 1.