Birthday Suit Bailey
Bridgerton star Jonathan Bailey has revealed that he was advised not to come out as gay by other queer men working in the television and film industry. He plays Anthony Bridgerton in the raunchy period romp set in a racially integrated Regency era London where people of color are members of the ton, some with titles granted by the Queen.
Speaking to Attitude magazine, the British actor explained that gay men who work in publicity as well as casting directors told him not to state his sexuality publicly. Bailey came out as gay in 2018.
“The most conservative conversations I’ve had about me being honest about my sexuality in this day and age have come from gay men in the industry,” he said, “‘Oh, no, you can’t come out. You shouldn’t really do that’.
“They’re either people who work in publicity, or there’s also been casting directors who have put the call into my agent to say: ‘Just so that you know, the way that this is going to be sold is that it’s a gay story written by gay writers for gay actors. So, by just taking the role’.
“This was at a stage where perhaps I was coming to terms with my own sexuality, I hadn’t necessarily hidden it.
“But I’ve never been not honest about it. It’s just there had never been a need to talk about it.”
Bailey, 32, who won an Olivier Award for his work in the West End musical Company, described how coming out in acting today is a double-edged sword, noting how the industry is both embracing and “commodifying” queer actors.
“So, in my generation, the out gay actors are now being poached,” he said.
“And you get a script sent through and they’ll say, ‘Must be comfortable with talking about sexuality’. So that is in one way a brilliant thing because it’s saying we’re not encouraging anyone not to talk about sexuality, but it’s also showing that sexuality is becoming a commodity.
“That actually there needs to be this sense that studios are hiring gay actors to play either gay actors or straight,” he said, before adding: “There’s also this heteronormative, heterosexual understanding of sexuality.
“They want you to be gay, but not too gay.”
Nevertheless, Bailey said, coming out was a major relief and in fact made him a better actor.
“[There is] this sense of suspension and light that you feel,” he explained, “I got to a point in my life, in my twenties, where I couldn’t explain how I was feeling. I couldn’t put any word on it, but it was like a Tupperware box that had been locked down.
“It was affecting relationships, friendships, romantic relationships, because I felt like I was withdrawing.
“That was something that I felt intrinsically, and also as an actor. Playing Othello at The National Theatre, I remember was the first time I spoke about my sexuality in a rehearsal room, which felt to me [like] a huge step, making that decision before you go in.
He continued: “But slowly and surely, over the past few years, I’ve managed to find that, although I’m still struggling with it.
“It takes work, but to be able to identify emotion seems to me completely parallel to being honest and authentic.”