Tom Hanks Addresses His Role In Philadelphia And Whether He'd Play A Gay Lead Character Today

Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in Philadelphia
(Image credit: TriStar)

When you watch a certain movie that was made years ago, you may be think that there's no way a certain element in the movie or a casting decision would ever work today. For example, cisgender actress Hilary Swank won an Oscar for playing the role of young transgender man Brandon Teena and, in recent years, Scarlett Johansson faced backlash for taking a transgender role and ended up dropping out of the project. With all of that in mind, Tom Hanks recently spoke about his Oscar-winning role in Philadelphia , in which he played a gay man. He also revealed whether he'd play such a role today.

Tom Hanks has won Oscars for playing Andrew Beckett, a gay man with AIDS, in Philadelphia and for portraying the slow-witted but kind titular character in Forrest Gump. They're two roles that the 65-year-old actor says happened in “timely movies” that would not be made now. While promoting his role in the new Elvis biopic, the  star spoke to The New York Times  about the 1993 drama film and said that contemporary audiences would not find it authentic for a straight man to play a gay character:

Let’s address ‘could a straight man do what I did in ‘Philadelphia’ now?' No, and rightly so. The whole point of ‘Philadelphia’ was don’t be afraid. One of the reasons people weren’t afraid of that movie is that I was playing a gay man. We’re beyond that now, and I don’t think people would accept the inauthenticity of a straight guy playing a gay guy.

Tom Hanks may have a point in suggesting that audiences found his character more palatable because he was playing the role. The debate regarding whether straight actors can play gay characters has persisted for quite some time now. While members of the LGBTQ+ community are starting to be cast in said parts, there are still instances in which that's not the case. 

Straight actor Ewan McGregor recently won an Emmy for his performance as fashion designer Halston. And a few years ago, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer played lovers in Call Me By Your Name as well, with their performances earning them plenty of accolades. Jake Gyllenhaal was also nominated for an Oscar after playing a gay cowboy in the acclaimed Brokeback Mountain. The actor has also spoken about how straight actors at the time kept passing on the movie and has argued that LGBTQ+ roles should not be limited to a specific group of actors.

There are other actors who would agree with Tom Hanks’ statements like Eddie Redmayne, who regretted taking on a transgender role in The Danish Girl. He said that while he took the role with “the best intentions,” he felt that Lili Elbe should have been played by a transgender actor. It is true that there are a number of people in the LGBTQ+ community who want the opportunity to be seen in Hollywood - as discussed in Netflix’s documentary Disclosure, which centers on the trans visibility. While there's still work to be done in regard to representation, there is progress being made. For instance, later this year, Billy Eichner's Bros will make history for featuring an all-LGBTQ+ cast, with said actors also playing straight roles.

The topic of casting LGBTQ+ roles seems complex, to say the least. On the one hand, some would argue that such parts should go to someone who actually belongs to the community, especially as many are still working to land such roles. On the other hand, it should be noted that actors aim to portray different kinds of experiences regardless of their personal backgrounds because a character resonates with them and/or they want to challenge themselves. It's an interesting conservation and one that will likely persist in the entertainment industry.

But it's clear that Tom Hanks, like many other actors today, is of the thinking that there needs to be authenticity when it comes to casting. We'll surely continue to watch how Hollywood attempts to handle such casting decisions moving forward.

Those looking to see Tom Hanks in a new role can see him showing a side of him you’ve never seen before as The King's manager Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis. The movie hits theaters on June 24th and will be available to stream with your HBO Max subscription on August 8th.

Carly Levy
Entertainment Writer

Just your average South Floridian cinephile who believes the pen is mightier than the sword.