Listen: Nathan Lane Looks Back at 'The Birdcage,' Wishes He'd Come Out Then

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday March 3, 2021

Nathan Lane
Nathan Lane  (Source:AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Nathan Lane reflects on his breakout role in the Mike Nichols movie "The Birdcage" via "The Last Laugh" podcast; he now wishes that he'd come out twenty-five years ago, at the same time the movie did, The Daily Beast reports.

He recalls being terrified he might get outed on television when he and Robin Williams appeared on "Oprah" to promote the film, Lane told podcast host Mat Wilstein that instead of being anxious about the prospect, "I wish I had been brave enough" to come out then and there.

Lane imagined an alternate to what actually happened, an idealized moment: "Oprah said, 'Gee, you're awfully good at those girly things.... Why is that?,' " he might have responded with a bold declaration: " 'Well, I'd like to think it's because I'm a really good actor, but if you're asking me if I'm gay, the answer to that question is yes.' But I didn't say that," Lane told Wilstein. "I was very nervous just talking to Oprah."

Lane added that Williams was "was very protective of me," and when Oprah began to ask questions obliquely referring to Lane's sexuality, Williams "sort of quickly detoured her in another direction."

"I wasn't ready or emotionally mature enough to deal with it," Lane said. In reality, however, when the film was released in 1996, it became a hit and turned him into a movie star.

Lane also spilled a little tea about an experience on set when he objected to a homophobic slur appearing in the original stage play, retained in Elaine May's script.

" 'Listen, I'm a little uncomfortable with this character using the word 'fag.' " Lane recalled saying to Nichols. "I said, 'Can't we use something else?' " At one point in the conversation, Lane attempted to reclaim the word and use it in a joke that would underscore his opposition: 'Well, listen, as the only fag in the room, it makes me uncomfortable,' " he told the director.

Nichols' responded:" 'Just do one [take] as written.' The oldest trick in the book. And because of my need to please, I said, 'Yes, of course.' And that's what's in the movie."

After the film's release, Lane was accosted in public by a trucker who screamed the slur at him. "I wanted to say, I wish Mike was here, so he could hear this use of the word."

Elsewhere in the interview, Lane offered his thoughts on straight actors playing LGBTQ roles, and hinted at a "Birdcage" sequel. Listen to the podcast by following this link.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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