The summer of 2007 I worked what felt like 12 freelance jobs. One of the most steady and mind-numbing was as an events reporter for Us Weekly.
It was a powerful lesson in the economy of fame, the massive marketing and money that is invested in every film or TV show, the true meaning of "A-list." On my end of the red carpet, crammed down there with People and InStyle and Entertainment Tonight, it was about getting a celebrity -- in the midst of photographers calling their names and flashes going off and fans screaming from across the street -- to reveal something about themselves that they'd never told anyone else, or at least not a reporter.
That sounds ridiculous, right? There's an inherent barter at these events: we asked dumb questions, they promoted something by giving us dumb answers. But even so, sometimes, reality would bleed through a little. Someone would say something true, even if it immediately became clear they hadn't meant to.
That's what happened with Zachary Quinto.
Here's what I wrote (privately) about it at the time:
June 10, 2007
I had this weird experience this afternoon while covering an event.
I was talking to Zachary Quinto from Heroes, who was not only stunningly hot in person but incredibly sweet and friendly. We had a good rapport going. We talked about what he'd done on his break and what he doesn't know about the next season of Heroes, and then because I'm sort of professionally obligated to and was genuinely curious at that point, I asked him if he was seeing anyone.
He said, "I'm seeing you, aren't I?" and I realized, oh my god, I am now about 95 percent sure you are gay.
And then he kept talking, literally flailing one of his arms around in a big arc: "I'm seeing my friends right now. I just got done seeing all my friends in New York and my family and certainly I see my animals every day. I certainly see a lot of people."
I smiled and asked him a throwaway about his pets and ended the interview, because I was suddenly seized with an intense and overwhelmingly unprofessional urge: I wanted to give him a hug.
I wanted to say, Hey, I hope this is going to be OK for you, that whatever people are telling you right now about how not to fuck up your big chance isn't going to make you miserable, because you seem like a really great guy. You seem really comfortable with yourself and your life and it'd be awful if you wound up miserable. Don't end up miserable, OK? Do what you have to, but don't let it come to that.
What I wish I'd actually said right away was, "Sorry, buddy, I've got a girlfriend!" which would have been less awkward and probably made him laugh and anyway would have made my point, I hope. Anyway that's my plan for next time.
I didn't say any of that. I interviewed him a couple more times that summer, and he always remembered me, or claimed to, and we always talked about nothing important. The most hard-hitting question I ever asked was whether he was worried about his Heroes co-star Hayden Panettiere becoming too much of a Hollywood party girl. (He wasn't.)
It was all too much -- too real, too much responsibility. It was awkward, and it wasn't my life. He wasn't the only secretly queer star I interviewed that year, but he was the only one I got upset about -- with myself for the collusion, with him for the prevarication, with the whole world of entertainment "news" that only seemed interested in the same straight stories.
Since then, I've seen him around Los Angeles a lot but never spoken to him again. I heard he was ready to give a big coming-out interview, but then he never did. He landed the role of Spock in Star Trek and became one half of a major box office franchise, which generally is not when someone decides to say, "I'm gay." I heard he'd talk about it after the movie wrapped. He didn't.
Heroes ended and he took on one of the most iconic and important gay characters in theater, Louis in Angels in America, a play that is unquestionably about why it's a matter of life and death to stand up and say, "I'm gay." He didn't, not publicly. I sort of gave up thinking he might. I got, frankly, a little annoyed. How could someone perform in that astounding play every night for months and think it was OK to keep dodging the question? Was anyone even still asking?
But then I'd never really asked him myself, and I'd never quite let myself off the hook for it. Not because I'd missed some big scoop -- because I lied as much in that moment as he did, both of us ignoring the obvious.
I interviewed a lot of celebrities in the years since our awkward red carpet moment, and I became a lot more aggressive about bringing up persistent rumors, more pointedly asking if someone had a girlfriend or a boyfriend. At Out, I developed a complicated kind of beat where I became known for getting mostly-straight guys to talk in shameless detail about the gayest things they'd ever done.
And I stopped interviewing the ones we knew to be gay who wouldn't talk about it on the record. I didn't want to ask them questions they wouldn't answer, and I didn't want to ask the kind of questions I knew they would answer because those really didn't mean anything. I didn't want any part of that bullshit cycle, because every time I even came close, all I could think about was Zachary Quinto, painfully trying to avoid a flat-out lie but failing so hard at hiding the truth.
Celebrity dodgeball is a stupid game, and I applaud Quinto for not allowing the years he spent playing to stop him from now being more blunt. There's only one way to get out of the corners we paint ourselves into when we don't tell the whole truth: jump.