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When Opportunity Meets Talent

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When opportunity meets talent, we can soar. This is what the SAG LGBT Committee is all about. Our committee's mission is to equal the playing field for openly gay actors by giving them opportunities to be considered for all sorts of roles, not simply ones defined by their gender or sexual preference. I created it 6 years ago as a support system for my fellow actors, because I cannot tell you how many times I have been told that I am not right to play this or that kind of role.

I have had 35 years of people telling me the limits of casting me because I am gay, when really the limits are in their own vision.

I recently went to a movie screening of Pariah, the story of a young black women coming out to her family as a lesbian. Kim Wayans gives a wonderfully deep performance as the mother of a young girl coming out as a lesbian, who uses religion to justify her prejudice against gays. She is getting terrific reviews, and although people are surprised, it is not a surprise to me at all that she is wonderful in this role. When we first met on the set of My Wife and Kids, I noticed what class and style she had -- so different from many of the characters she did in her comedy. Although she is known for playing sketch characters on the iconic TV series In Living Color, and was laugh out loud funny on the show, she is talented enough to play dramatics parts too, when given the chance, as she has shown with Pariah. Kim was quick to give a supportive remark when I was shooting my scenes, and I am here to do the same for her.

Decades ago, I went to the Beverly Center cineplex to see the movie Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean. It starred Cher. Because Cher was then a very big variety TV performer and Vegas regular, I figured that as an actress she would give a camp version of her TV persona and that I'd have a good laugh. But when Cher's character Sissy said, "Juanita, I just wanted to get me some orange crush... it's so hot out there", I was entranced. She began to use a napkin to dry her underarms and I thought to myself, I will never prejudge another actor on his or her abilities. The Cher I thought I knew disappeared for those 90 minutes. Her career broadened after that, as people saw her as a bona fide actress. But they never would have known had not Robert Altman been willing to open his mind and look beyond her singing-diva-wearing-outrageous-outfits persona.

Earlier this year, I was filmed the prison drama K11 about gay people in the Los Angeles prison system. The part of the mean laundry trustee was offered to me by the casting director who gave me my very first professional interview, Pam Dixon. As I read the script, I assumed that my character was gay, since that is what is usually offered to me. Pam told me that it was a straight character, and that he was actually homophobic! I got a bit choked up as I thanked her for giving me the chance to play other types of characters.

Don't keep people in boxes. Let them soar.

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