In a certain sense, Zachary Quinto is something of a pioneer. Despite remarkable progress for LGBT people in the mainstream media, so many Hollywood actors cling to the inside of the closet even while people like Quinto prove that’s not especially necessary anymore. In fact, Quinto belongs to a still puzzlingly small group of young male American actors — Matt Bomer, Jonathan Groff, Jim Parsons and Neil Patrick Harris being the most obvious other examples – who have proven it can even be good for someone’s career to come out.
In 2011, Quinto star was very much on the rise thanks to a trio of big roles in the hit TV series Heroes, the summer blockbuster Star Trek and acclaimed indie film Margin Call. There had been rumors swirling that he was dating the aforementioned Jonathan Groff, but instead of dodging them like many of his fellow actors past and present, Quinto came out in honor of the suicide of gay teenager Jamey Rodemeyer. He told New York magazine at the time: “Living a gay life without publicly acknowledging it is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality.”
Calling Quinto’s proclamation anything other than simply doing the right thing simply feeds the suggestion that there’s anything professionally problematic about being an out actor these days. What’s happened in the half-decade since Quinto make that acknowledgement? More hit TV series (American Horror Story, which nabbed him an Emmy nomination), more summer blockbusters (Star Trek Into Darkness) and more acclaimed indies (he’s been a regular at Sundance the past few years). That old fear that when actors come out they become forced to only play gay roles hasn’t exactly proven to be the cast for Quinto. In fact, it’s not until this year that we’ll see his first two performances as gay characters hit the screen – and they are both real people.
In I Am Michael – which played the film festival circuit last year and hits theaters this winter –Quinto plays Bennett, a character based on the real-life ex-boyfriend of Michael Glatze. Glatze became infamous when a New York Times profile exposed that the once prominent gay rights activist had become a born again Christian who no longer believed. It’s a provocative and fascinating story, and one that Quinto and both his co-star James Franco and director Justin Kelly (making his feature film debut) work together to bring to the screen with a lot of authenticity and very little judgment. It’s ultimately a story about searching for oneself in an increasingly complicated world, and represents a unique example of a recent mini-surge in quality LGBT-themed indies (see also – please – Tangerine, Grandma, Nasty Baby and Carol). It also feature one of Quinto’s best performances as he humanizes the devastating outcome of what happens when half of a gay couple decides denounces being gay.
Michael will hit theaters just a few months before Quinto’s second straight (no pun intended) role as a real-life gay man on film. Oliver Stone’s Snowden is a depiction of the events surrounding computer whiz Edward Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the film) when he leaked of classified information from the NSA. Quinto will play lawyer, author and journalist Glenn Greenwald, who became widely known after he worked with Snowden to help get out the leaks, and just so happens to be gay. No one has seen the film yet (it comes out in May), but given its content it seems certain to a very different film than I Am Michael – though given Quinto’s resume over the past few years we’d expect nothing less.