Metro Weekly

6 Straight Actors Have Won Oscars for Playing Gay Men

From William Hurt and Tom Hanks to The Whale's Brendan Fraser, here are six straight actors who won an Oscar for playing gay.

Rami Malik accepting the Best Actor Oscar at the 2019 Academy Awards.
Rami Malek accepting the Best Actor Oscar at the 2019 Academy Awards – Screenshot

The Oscars are getting better when it comes to honoring talents across a wide variety of identities, but LGBTQ actors are still not being nominated – and especially not winning – as often as some believe they should.

It’s been decades since an openly gay man was nominated for Best Actor, but since then, half a dozen straight men have won that coveted trophy for portraying people – either real or made up – who identify as gay.

At the 2023 Oscars, Brendan Fraser joined this group with his win for The Whale in something of a mixed bag for representation and storytelling.

Here’s a look at the six straight men who have won Best Actor for playing gay men.

William Hurt

Hollywood heartthrob William Hurt made history when he won the Best Actor Oscar in 1986 for portraying “effeminate” gay man Luis Molina, who forges a relationship with his cellmate in a Brazilian prison.

The film focuses on much more than just Molina’s sexuality, but it is certainly a big part of his character, and Hurt’s performance was groundbreaking at the time.

Hurt would claim the prize on his first attempt, and though he was nominated three more times throughout his career, he didn’t snag a second trophy.

​​Tom Hanks

Just a few years later, Tom Hanks became the second person to win the Best Actor Oscar for playing a gay male character.

In 1994, the star – who was still just beginning what would go on to become one of the most celebrated careers in Hollywood – took home his first Academy Award for his role in Philadelphia, which tells the story of a lawyer dying of AIDS who sues his employer for wrongful termination and wins.

In his speech, Hanks thanked people from his past who clearly helped make him the actor–and the person–he was when he won.

“I would not be standing here if it weren’t for two very important men in my life, so… two that I haven’t spoken with in awhile, but I had the pleasure of just the other evening,” the star began. “Mr. Rawley Farnsworth, who was my high school drama teacher, who taught me to act well the part, there all the glory lies.

“And one of my classmates under Mr. Farnsworth, Mr. John Gilkerson. I mention their names because they are two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with, to fall under their inspiration at such a young age.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman

The late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman won his only Academy Award in 2006 for his take on the beloved and controversial author Truman Capote.

The literary figure was respected in his time, even though he was known to be a homosexual, which was taboo back in the 1960s. Hoffman’s turn as the writer is astounding, and he captures the legend’s mannerisms and voice perfectly.

Sadly, Hoffman would pass away less than a decade later, but not before landing another three Oscar nominations.

Sean Penn

Just three years after Hoffman won Best Actor for playing a gay man, Sean Penn did the same.

Penn collected his second trophy in that category for portraying politician and civil rights activist Harvey Milk in the biopic Milk.

That year, the film was up for a number of honors, and following a Best Original Screenplay win for Dustin Lance Black, Penn took to the stage for the second time in less than a decade to deliver one of the more memorable speeches in recent times.

He started things off on a comical note, saying, “Thank you, you commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns,” which elicited laughter from the audience.

He drove home a serious point before the end of his moment in the spotlight, stating, “I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support.” More applause followed, and Penn continued, adding, “We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.”

Rami Malek

Before this year, the most recent straight man to win Best Actor for playing a gay person was Rami Malek. He earned his Oscar for his work on Bohemian Rhapsody, in which he portrayed the iconic Freddie Mercury.

During his acceptance speech, Malek largely focused on thanking his collaborators and family, but he did make mention of Mercury’s sexuality identity, saying, “We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself,” the actor started. “The fact that I’m celebrating him and this story with you tonight is proof that we’re longing for stories like this.”

Brendan Fraser

As of Sunday night, Brendan Fraser is now the sixth straight male star to win an Oscar for a role that saw him become a gay man. In The Whale, the actor, who Hollywood had all but written off until recently, plays Charlie, a morbidly obese gay man who doesn’t leave his apartment.

Much of the film focuses on how he’s still coping with the suicide of the same-sex love of his life, who had passed some time ago. Charlie also makes mention of the fact that he doesn’t have a real relationship with his family any longer, as they abandoned him after he came out.

Fraser’s performance was beloved by some – clearly enough for voters to choose him as the Best Actor – while others, especially some larger people in the LGBTQ community, found it offensive for a number of reasons.

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