Martin Sheen talked with The Dallas Voice recently and discussed his history of supporting gay rights and his breakthrough gay role. Sheen played gay in the landmark 1972 telefilm, That Certain Summer, a film about a young man who realizes his divorced father is gay. Personally, I have stronger memories of Sheen as the dad from another gay-themed movie of the week that aired on ABC, Consenting Adult with Marlo Thomas, where he played a man whose son comes out.
When asked to reflect on the That Certain Summer Sheen remarked:
I thought it was wonderful. There was a great deal of freedom in it because it wasn’t about advocating a lifestyle or a sexuality. It was about two people who adored each other, and they weren’t allowed to have a relationship that involved their sexuality.
When asked if he had worried back then about what a gay role might do to his future prospects Sheen makes a point long put forth by the gay community:
I’d robbed banks and kidnapped children and raped women and murdered people, you know, in any number of shows. Now I was going to play a gay guy and that was like considered a career ender. Oh, for Christ’s sake! What kind of culture do we live in?
That's a pretty familiar sentiment -- I think I've heard a good number actors who've played gay say something similar. (I remember Patrick Stewart bragging about shaming a reporter with a similar comment when he was promoting Jeffrey.) Too bad that question still gets asked when actors take on gay roles.
When asked about what's necessary for LGBT rights to progress Sheen responds that being out is the most important step to take:
I think you just have to keep living your life honestly and lovingly, and just keep being who you are and tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, all the time by your lives, and that is your message.
Hmm, looking at what he says about That Certain Summer, I think that film made the most important message it could have made.
Sheen will be speaking at the Dallas Black Tie Dinner, an event raising funds for LGBT groups in North Texas, on November 17. There's plenty more at the link, so check out the whole thing. You can also catch video of the full interview with Sheen at the Dallas Voice's site.