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‘All about the dollar signs’

TORONTO - Ian McKellen made headlines two years ago when the openly gay British actor spouted off on what seemed an unspoken truth: it's impossible for homosexual Hollywood actors to have successful careers.


TORONTO - Ian McKellen made headlines two years ago when the openly gay British actor spouted off on what seemed an unspoken truth: it's impossible for homosexual Hollywood actors to have successful careers.

"It's very, very, very difficult for an American actor who wants a film career to be open about his sexuality," McKellen said.

From celebrities of yesteryear like Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift to current-day A-listers, gay actors have long concealed their sexuality, due in large part to studios who fear millions of movie-goers will stay away from films featuring homosexual stars playing straight characters.

But some say the tide might slowly be turning as young actors begin coming out amid an atmosphere of unfiltered news and photos on Internet blogs and websites.

"You have bloggers like Perez Hilton basically outing people constantly," John Webster, who writes a pop culture blog for Xtra.ca, said Tuesday.

"Everybody's being photographed doing everything, and there's no privacy. So you're going to get caught, no matter what you're doing. Somebody's going to take a picture, somebody's going to get information to a blog that your publicist might not want out there - you can't hide anymore."

Gossip blogger Perez Hilton forced Neil Patrick Harris, star of "How I Met Your Mother," to come out after reporting details of his dating life. Other actors who have revealed their sexuality include T.R. Knight of "Grey's Anatomy" fame, Luke Macfarlane, a Canadian actor who appears on "Brothers and Sisters," and Adamo Ruggiero, who plays Marco on "Degrassi: The Next Generation."

Ruggiero says coming out was a relatively easy thing to do in Canada, but added he seriously feels for his Hollywood counterparts.

"My heart goes out to a lot of the young people in Hollywood because they really do have a whole different set of pressures than I have here in Toronto," said Ruggiero, 21.

"I had newspapers that were cheering me on and congratulating me and at the same time respecting my privacy. And I wondered to myself: Would it have been the same situation in America? I don't think so."

There is simply too much money at stake in the United States, says Ruggiero, who's headed to L.A. this weekend to represent "Degrassi" at the annual GLAAD Awards. The show is nominated for best drama series.

"The biggest young actors in Hollywood have multimillion deals and all this stuff, and there's such a huge publicity engine there that we don't have," Ruggiero says.

"I'd like to think as time goes by, people might be a little more open about their sexuality, but I think the reality as it stands right now in Hollywood is that people really do fear what's going to happen to their careers if they come out. It's all about the dollar signs."

Webster notes that most of the actors coming out recently are TV stars - no major movie stars have taken the brave step, even though there are many well-known actors in Tinseltown whose homosexuality is an open secret despite the presence of spouses and children.

"They're all basically TV actors, people who are probably under contract for multiple seasons, so maybe they feel safe," he said.

"But the major movie studios seem to feel that audiences simply will not buy a gay actor in a heterosexual role, so no leading men or women are coming out. And personally, I would love to see a star on the level of George Clooney come out. That's when you would really see things change."

But Elaine Lui, a correspondent on CTV's ETalk, doesn't think that day is coming any time soon.

"I don't think it's going to change for a long time, if ever," said Lui, who also blogs about celebrity gossip on her website, Lainey's Entertainment Update (www.laineygossip.com).

"Family movies are the ones that are making the most money, like 'Wild Hogs,' for example - that made tons of money. The top-grossing movies are very family-oriented, and nobody wants to imagine that the stars of those movies are gay or to take their kids to those movies and have to explain that to them," she says.

"People seem to get more conservative once they have kids, and they like to believe in illusions just as much as the older generation of movie-goers. The people who go see family movies are very conservative, and it's those movies that are making the studios so much money."

 
 
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