In 1999, Daniel Brocklebank won the Screen Actor’s Guild award for his performance in Shakespeare In Love. However, in spite of a beckoning Hollywood career, he believes his decision to come out ruined any chance for him to be successful in LA. He is currently starring as Jack in the critically acclaimed production of The Importance of Being Earnest at Kingston’s Rose Theatre alongside Jane Asher, and has been talking to So So Gay about his career and the difficulties for out gay actors.
SSG: What’s it like working alongside Jane Asher – did she bring in any cakes?
Daniel Brocklebank: Yes, she did bring in a cake actually; we had one last week and I tweeted about it because I was so excited about the Jane Asher cake. She’s been lovely to work with. We’ve been blessed on this job that everybody – it’s a small cast so there’s just eight of us – has gotten on very well and it’s been lovely doing it.
You’re in probably Oscar Wilde’s most well-known play. How did you feel approaching a piece of work that so many people will recognise?
It was quite daunting. I think it’s the sort of play – any play that’s so well-known – where you can be lured into a false sense of security that it’s going to be easy to do, and I think it would be fairly easy to do badly.
A lot of our readers will have known you from Emmerdale. Did you enjoy the soap environment?
It’s a totally different experience. I’d obviously done a lot of films and some TV work but not anything which was constantly evolving. Usually you get your breakdown and that lets you know exactly what your character’s back-story is, who they are and why they are there.
With something like Emmerdale it keeps evolving all the time. You’ll be getting new scripts every other week and thinking, ‘Oh Christ, I didn’t know that about the character – if I’d known that maybe I’d played that three weeks ago slightly differently’.
Your character was quite a love interest…
Well he had quite a few interests – he slept his way around the village. It was good fun, and I gained a new found respect for the genre once I’d been in it because I realised how bloody hard these people have to work. On Emmerdale we were shooting an episode each day, which is a huge amount to put down – especially if you’re carrying a storyline for six or seven episodes back to back. It’s such hard work to remember all of the dialogue, only to un-remember it just as quickly in order to remember the next episode of dialogue.
Did you find you had a connection with the audience, and did you receive many letters?
Yeah, it had a huge effect – I found the whole bisexual storyline with my character really interesting. As far as I’m aware I don’t think bisexuality had really been tackled in soaps before.
I did get a lot of letters from young lesbian or gay teens thanking me for making it easier to come out to their parents because they’ve got someone to relate to, which was lovely.
On the flip side, I also got a lot of letters from Christian groups saying ‘you’re going to hell’, and that it was disgusting that a man should be kissing another man on primetime before the watershed
I got a lot of contact from both ends of the spectrum, but thankfully the majority was very positive. It’s nice to know that even in a weird disconnected way you’re helping people to come to terms with their sexuality.
Did you worry about playing a gay role, as a gay actor?
When I first started the role he wasn’t gay, he was straight – in fact he was married. The bisexuality didn’t come into it until eight or nine months after I started in the show.
I don’t worry about it. To a degree you do run the risk of being marginalised and stereotyped because you’re a gay actor playing a bisexual character. Because soaps do a very funny thing to you as an actor, in that they turn you into a celebrity.
I don’t like to be pigeonholed just because I’m an out actor – that doesn’t mean from my perspective that I can’t play straight roles.
I also don’t want to spend the rest of my career playing gay roles just because I’ve decided to come out publicly.
You had a lead role in Shakespeare in Love. Do you think coming out closed doors for you in Hollywood?
Absolutely, yes. I lived in LA for a few years, worked over there. I was advised by people that were then managing me that my career would be more successful if I remained in the closet. However it’s not just about work for me, it’s about personal happiness as well.
From my perspective I pretend to be other people for a living – essentially I bullshit for a living. I didn’t want to spend my private life bullshitting as well, and pretend to be someone that I wasn’t.
Do you think it’s the producers, or the public, who won’t accept a gay actor playing a straight lead?
You can’t blame anybody or anything entirely. I think producers are concerned that the general public won’t believe a gay or lesbian actor playing a romantic lead opposite somebody of the opposite sex. For example if you take someone like Anne Heche, whose career has disintegrated since coming out publicly – and she is by no means an obvious lesbian.
By coming out publicly she’s probably not considered for romantic lead roles anymore.
Do you think it’s improving?
I’d say there has been a slight improvement with people having the balls to come out. There’s still a massive stigma about the subject and it’s still a very daunting prospect for the younger generation of lesbian and gay actors.
I’m sure they will feel a pressure to not come out and to stay in the closet, and I’m absolutely convinced that I would have been far more successful if I hadn’t have come out.
Not that I’m bothered about that. I’m very happy with my life now, but I think that I’ve probably been overlooked for roles because of it.
The Importance of Being Earnest runs at Kingston’s Rose Theatre until 30 October 2011. Tickets range from £8 to £30 and are available from the theatre box office.