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Ben Whishaw weighs in on gay actors playing gay roles debate

"Why shouldn’t a role like that be given to someone who knows, inside, what the character is?"

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James

James Bond actor, Ben Whishaw, says he’s “all for” LGBTQ actors playing LGBTQ roles in TV and film and questioned why actors who have lived experiences shouldn’t be able to bring such characters to life.

Ben, who is gay, was speaking ahead of the release of his new BBC show, This Is Going to Hurt, where he plays a gay doctor. He recently starred in the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, as Q, where one scene has the character make a brief, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to a male love interest.

Whishaw has previously spoken to Attitude about how great it would be to see an openly gay British actor take on the role of Bond after Daniel Craig stepped down following No Time to Die.

“I’m all for that”

In an interview with The Guardian on This Is Going To Hurt, Ben is asked about Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of trans-pioneer Lili Elbe in 2015’s The Danish Girl, which Redmayne recognised at the end of last year was a “mistake” for him to play. 

Ben, who starred as one of Elbe’s lovers, thinks Redmayne “did a beautiful job.” He also says that “it’s done” and that “Going forward, there will be other films in which the role is given to someone who lived that experience.

“Why shouldn’t a role like that be given to someone who knows, inside, what the character is? I’m all for that. I feel the same, sometimes, about straight actors playing gay parts. I’m critical if I don’t think the performance is, from my subjective experience, accurate.”

He goes on to say that “even a small moment of hesitation or inauthenticity will block my engagement with the whole story. So I understand these questions.”

Elsewhere, the actor, 41, also discusses his coming out, which he reveals he didn’t feel comfortable doing until he was 26 or 27. But he says sexuality weighed on him before then and he doesn’t know why it took him so long.

He publicly recognised his sexuality after confirming his marriage to the Australian composer, Mark Bradshaw in 2013. They married in a civil ceremony in 2012.

Speaking of his This Is Going to Hurt character’s coming out Ben says, “I think it’s really interesting what happens to you if you grow up thinking there’s something wrong with you because you’re attracted to a certain thing.

“That takes a lot of time and understanding to get over. And understanding doesn’t just arrive because you’ve been explicit and open to other people.

“The equating of homosexuality with weakness – it’s taken a long time for me to understand there’s no reason why it should be anything of the sort. Honestly? I feel like I’m only starting to conquer that now.”

On the brief reference of Q having a male partner in No Time To Die, Ben recalls getting one message about the fleeting scene from Queer as Folk creator, Russell T Davies, who claimed he thought it was cool that Q had a boyfriend.

He goes on to say, he thinks the idea “came from a good place,” and was discussed with him in person by Bond producer Barbara Broccoli. But he does remember thinking: “Are we doing this, and then doing nothing with it?’ I remember, perhaps, feeling that was unsatisfying.”

Ben wonders if he should have questioned it more and if he would have on another production and that now “it is what it is.”

This Is Going to Hurt will be on BBC One and Player from 8 February at 9 pm.

The Attitude February issue is out now. Get your copy here