Sean Penn says he wouldn’t be cast for famed gay role today because Hollywood is ‘timid and artless’

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Sean Penn says he wouldn’t be cast for famed gay role today because Hollywood is ‘timid and artless’

Actor Sean Penn, who famously portrayed gay activist Harvey Milk in a 2008 film, lamented that he would not be chosen for the role today due to Hollywood’s “timid and artless” policy that does not cast straight actors to play gay characters.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New York Times, Penn reflected on his role as the lead character in the acclaimed film, “Milk,” which detailed the life of the first openly gay man elected as a public official in California. 

Penn, who is straight, said his casting for the role, which earned him his second Oscar, would never have happened in today’s social climate.

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(Photo by Tara Zorovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images))

“No. It could not happen in a time like this,” he told the Times. “It’s a time of tremendous overreach. It’s a timid and artless policy toward the human imagination.”

Since “Milk,” Penn said he “went 15 years miserable on sets.” 

“‘Milk’ was the last time I had a good time,” he remarked.

The debate over whether a heterosexual actor should be cast for gay roles has divided Hollywood stars. 

In an interview with The New York Times Magazine in 2022, Tom Hanks admitted that he would not have taken his Oscar-winning role as Andrew Beckett in “Philadelphia” due to the character being gay if he was cast today.

“Could a straight man do what I did in ‘Philadelphia’ now? No, and rightly so,” Hanks said at the time. “The whole point of ‘Philadelphia’ was, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ One of the reasons people weren’t afraid of that movie is that I was playing a gay man. We’re beyond that now, and I don’t think people would accept the inauthenticity of a straight guy playing a gay guy.” 

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Sean Penn

Sean Penn attends “Daddio” international premiere party hosted by Johnnie Walker Black at Pink Sky during the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario. (Sonia Recchia/Getty Images for World Class Canada)

“Star Trek” actor Zachary Quinto remarked in a 2018 Sirius XM interview that it is often rare to see openly out gay actors playing straight roles compared to the reverse.

“You look at how many straight actors play gay roles, and how that door doesn’t swing the other way as much,” Quinto said. “There are fewer gay actors playing straight roles. And there is something about that. You look at a movie like ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ which is an incredible film. The work by those straight actors was really great, but what would it have been like if there were gay actors in those roles? I don’t know! Are those characters gay or just exploring something?”

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“The Devil Wears Prada” actor Stanley Tucci, who portrayed a gay man in the movie, defended straight actors taking on gay roles in an interview last year.

“I really do believe that an actor is an actor is an actor. You’re supposed to play different people. You just are,” he said. “That’s the whole point of it.” 

Fox News’ Lindsay Kornick contributed to this report.

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