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Zachary Quinto on playing gay trailblazer Gore Vidal and defending trans rights

Simon Button chats to Star Trek actor Zachary Quinto about his West End debut, politics in 2022, and American Horror Story.

By Simon Button

Zachary Quinto
Zachary Quinto (Image: Chiun Kai Shih)

Making his West End debut in Best of Enemies, Zachary Quinto stars as ahead-of-his-time queer trailblazer Gore Vidal opposite David Harewood as his political rival William F. Buckley.

The actor, 45, is best known for playing Spock in the Star Trek films as well as for American Horror Story on TV and Angels in America on stage. He is also a staunch advocate for LGBT+ rights.

Ahead of his stint on the London stage, he talks to Attitude about what made Vidal a gay icon, working with Russell Tovey in AHS: NYC, and why we need to be more vigilant than ever about advancement and integration…

Best of Enemies by James Graham, starring David Harewood and Zachary Quinto
Best of Enemies by James Graham, starring David Harewood and Zachary Quinto, directed by Jeremy Herrin (Image: Provided)

What hooked you about Best of Enemies?

The character of Gore Vidal is really exciting. He was not only an intellectual titan, but he was also a gay icon in the sense of how open he was about his authentic self and how unapologetic he was about his gay identity. I find his position on sexuality, in general, to be incredibly fascinating, so he as a character was really appealing to me. Then what the play represents in terms of how resonant it is to our political landscape today means there’s something incredibly vital about it. It was a real no-brainer for me. There were lots of incentives to say yes to this project.

For people who don’t know the story, what is James Graham’s script about?

It charts the rivalry between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal. In 1968 they were hired to be live on-air commentators at the Republican and Democratic national conventions in the United States, at a time when it was almost unheard of to have anybody but the newscasters of the day reporting the news. In many ways, it was the beginning of pundits and commentators expressing personal opinions on the news.

From doing your research, were there things you were interested or surprised to learn about Vidal?

I knew a little bit about him but there’s a tremendous amount that I’ve come to know and appreciate more deeply – such as just how absolutely ahead of his time he was. He never backed down from acknowledging and accepting his identity as a gay man. I knew that a little bit but to see the way he talked about it, to read the many things he said about sex and sexuality, then to have those same perspectives be articulated in the play and to be able to bring that to life on stage is something that I feel frankly pretty honoured to be able to do.

David Harewood and Zachary Quinto in Best of Enemies
David Harewood and Zachary Quinto in Best of Enemies (Image: Johan Persson)

When you’re playing a real person, how important is it for you to get the mannerisms right?

Since the play is a recreation of the debates which took place over the course of ten separate nights, we want to try and capture a certain degree of verisimilitude in our portrayal of these characters. But then there’s a whole section of the play that’s not verbatim debates but is more supposition about who these men were in their private lives. It’s a balance. I don’t want to be completely beholden to some kind of mechanical recreation of who Gore was in these debates, so it’s about finding a middle ground that honours who he was and then also imagining who he might have been.

Do you have anything in common with him?

I’m still figuring that out to a degree. There’s a beautiful passage in the play that talks about the difference between how the Left, as represented by Gore, looks at the Right and at people who live their lives traditionally. I think of myself as a relatively liberal thinker, certainly politically, and there’s something really interesting about the convergence of these two men at this particular time that does encourage me, and maybe even our audience, to question or explore our own political and social outlooks and beliefs. It’s easy to say ‘Buckley is really Right and conservative and Vidal is really Left and liberal’ but I think there’s more nuance in the arguments. Not only do I find that I have common ground with Vidal, but I also find Buckley’s point of view and his passionately-held beliefs are something I have to be able to respect.

Vidal famously said, “We are all bisexual to begin with”. What are your thoughts on that?

He even more famously said ‘It’s as natural to be homosexual as it is to be heterosexual’. I find that belief really empowering. I think he did believe in a spectrum of sexuality but I wonder how much of that was actually a reflection of the social time he lived in. His beliefs contracted and expanded and changed over time, as all our beliefs do over the course of our lives, but he had this fundamental acceptance of who he was. He knew very clearly what his place was in the world and it was pretty amazing in 1968 to have somebody so uncompromising. He said ‘I don’t care if America is ready, I’m ready’.

Zachary Quinto in Best of Enemies
Zachary Quinto in Best of Enemies (Image: Johan Persson)

Do you feel a special responsibility when portraying queer characters?

With playing a historical figure like this and someone who represented a position at a time when these debates were watched by tens of millions of people, there’s a big part of me that wants to get it right. I’m also grateful to be able to tell these stories so a contemporary audience understands the contribution that Gore Vidal made to the social discourse around politics certainly but also around sexual politics, sexual identity, and sexual orientation. He was a real button-pusher and someone who really moved the conversation forward. To be able to infuse our contemporary discourse with that kind of historical perspective is something I feel a responsibility to do well but to do it at all is its own kind of a gift.

We haven’t seen American Horror Story: NYC over here yet. Can you tell us who you play in it?

It’s set in New York City in the 80s and I play a character called Sam, who is a very wealthy art dealer and who is in a relationship with a very provocative and successful photographer called Theo Graves [Isaac Powell]. Things go crazy from there, as they always do in American Horror Story. We’ve got a lot of great feedback about it in the States and hopefully, it will be the same when it airs over here.

Britain’s own Russell Tovey is also in the show. Did you get to work with him?

Oh yeah. I worked with Russell quite a bit and we got on great. I’m excited to reconnect with him over here and spend some time hanging out with him in London. I love London and could easily live here. It’s one of my favourite cities. This is my first time performing in the West End but it’s always been on my wishlist. I’ve always wanted to work in London and have seen so much incredible theatre in the West End, so to now be a part of making theatre over here is a real honour for me. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the history of theatre in London and the integrity of it.

Zachary Quinto
Zachary Quinto (Image: Chiun Kai Shih)

You’ve long been a supporter of LGBT+ rights. Are there any hot-button topics for you at the moment?

Especially in the United States, we’re living in a time when there’s a lot of social and political conflict, and a lot of the gains that have been made – not only in terms of LGBT+ rights but also fundamental women’s rights – are under threat from a rolling back of protections of minority groups of many different kinds. We have to be incredibly vigilant and the anti-trans movement, especially when it has to do with young people in schools, is something that I’m hyper-aware of and interested in fighting against. We have to make sure we protect those young kids. That’s always the thing I have my mind on the most because I think the most vulnerable group in our community is the one that needs the most attention and the most advocacy. I’m always interested in keeping an eye on those battles. I think everywhere we turn right now we have to be on guard, pushing and fighting for advancement and integration as much as we possibly can.

What do you hope people will take away from seeing Best of Enemies?

I hope that they recognise that even though Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley were incredibly opposed in their political and ideological views, they did respect each other as adversaries. They respected each other’s intellect and abilities as debaters and thinkers, and they managed to have meaningful conversations. I hope in some small way that our doing this play will encourage people to have similar conversations, discussions, and debates where maybe we can have some middle ground without immediately going to a place of hatred and dismissal. 

Zachary Quinto is appearing in Best of Enemies at the Noel Coward Theatre from 14 November – 18 February. For more information visit