Ryan Phillippe said that he was shunned by his peers and feared his parents would “disown” him after playing a groundbreaking gay character in the ’90s.
Phillippe, 46, played Billy Douglas on ABC daytime soap One Life to Live between 1992 and 1993, a role that made history for being the first gay teen character featured in a television series.
After accepting the role of Sebastian Valmont in 1999 drama Cruel Intentions, Phillippe feared that the controversial film — described as “risqué” when he read for it — would lead to his parents rejecting him.
“I thought my parents were going to disown me,” he said. “I had grown up going to Baptist school and Christian school. When I was a senior in high school, I played the first gay character on a soap opera — first gay teenager ever — and so I was shunned at that point.”
He continued: “I mean this was 1992, and I was playing a gay teenager and I was in a Christian school. They weren’t happy about it.”
But despite his parents’ concerns about Cruel Intentions, Phillippe said he would play a character like Sebastian again.
“I remember walking out the trailer and finding [the producer],” he said. “I’m like, ‘Are you guys really going to make this?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ And I’ve still never played a character like that since.
“I want to get back to playing a character like Sebastian in Cruel Intentions,” he continued. “It was just so fun to be so flippant and sort of like, you know, the emotions are theatrical.”
Phillippe also noted the impact that the film — which co-starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, Reese Witherspoon and Selma Blair, and featured a kiss between Gellar and Blair — continues to have.
“It’s cool that it holds up, man, you know, a lot of times to take a movie from a specific point in time that’s supposed to connect with a younger crowd and it just stays,” he said. “This movie somehow finds new fans all the time.”
He added: “You know, they were going to do a series about Cruel Intentions, a TV series a year or so ago. There’s, like, a musical out there that’s really good actually, they put it back in theatres for its 20th anniversary — that only happens [to], like, The Godfather.”
While Phillippe made history in the ‘90s for his role in One Life to Live, his new series ABC is making its own LGBTQ history.
Big Sky star Jesse James Keitel became the first nonbinary actor to be cast as a series regular in a primetime network TV show.
Keitel, who uses she/they pronouns, revealed that their character Jerrie was altered to better reflect them, telling the Advocate last month that Jerrie was originally a “cis gay man who dressed in drag to turn tricks at the truck stop.”
“They have really shifted the role because of me,” Keitel said, with Jerrie now identifying as transfeminine nonbinary.
“Giving a queer person the agency to describe themselves and to advocate on their own behalf will resonate with the community,” Keitel added. “I know there’s only so much me as an actor can do. At the end of the day, I have to say the words I’m given.”
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