My name is Haydn James, I am a 34-year-old London based actor, and I’m gay.
Being an actor; whether you’re an aspiring, emerging, working, or even a famous actor, is one of the most difficult careers in existence. Combine that with being gay, and the toughest of professions suddenly becomes that little bit harder.
Far too often in my life I have heard people comment how ‘easy’ it must be, being a gay actor. This comes from some false notion that the performing arts are saturated with gay people. Newsflash! Gay people work in every industry imaginable, whether they are out or not. Just because my industry is creative does not mean it is dominated by an elite of powerful gay people who only employ other gay people. If only!
When I was a child, and well into my teenage years, I endured a lot of bullying because I was ‘feminine’. It still baffles me why people use that, and other words such as camp or gay, as insults. The only place I ever felt completely at ease, and sadly, this includes training at drama school as a mature student, was in my school drama class. Comments such as these played a huge part in my feeling vastly less masculine than every other man in the world, and to a degree has warped my perception of who I am and how others perceive me.
Part of my daily routine now, is reading casting breakdowns for various projects. I am 6’4″ and have to be careful which roles I apply for as height is quite often a vital piece of the criteria in a casting, especially for film and TV. Casting directors can be very specific and my sexuality plays a massive part in my casting opportunities.
I can honestly say that I have never faced any form of homophobia during or after a casting, as far as I’m aware. However, my sexuality is something I am painfully aware of when I apply for, and am at, auditions. This is foolish and a complete waste of my attention and focus, but I cannot help it. There have been many times when I have not put myself forward for a role because I am worried that I might come across as camp or too gay and the casting director wouldn’t see beyond that. I dare not think of the amount of opportunities I have missed out on because of my insecurities and fears.
One area of the industry which can be quite lucrative for actors, is voiceover work. Voiceover work is extremely exposing, as the only tool you have to use is your voice, and this can be one hell of a daunting task for some actors. It has taken me many years to learn to accept my voice and realise that it’s the only one I have and that I cannot change it.
I recently attended a workshop designed for actors considering a career in voiceover work and it confirmed my worst fears of just how exposing it is. I spent an afternoon in a small recording studio with a vocal coach, a studio engineer and six other actors. The thought of delivering scripted dialogue into a microphone and then having a room full of people listen to it in front of me was daunting. Not only is there no viable way of hiding your natural voice, the recording just highlights things you’ve never even noticed before.
Russell Tovey, also a gay actor, recently commented about being happy or ‘relieved’ that he wasn’t camp. Naturally, this caused some bad feeling in the gay community. However, I know exactly what he means. If you are naturally camp it can be very hard to hide. Camp actors are quite often typecast and it can be hard to escape that casting, as the allure of regular work is far too tempting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being camp or flamboyant, I am a firm believer that people should always be true to who they are and free to express themselves, but for a gay actor such as Russell Tovey, casting possibilities are much wider than a naturally camp actor. All I have ever wanted is to be a successful actor, not a successful gay actor, but that is something I will never be able to escape.
Unless you are a high-profile actor, in demand and able to pick and choose your roles, it is advantageous to stick with your natural casting and go where the work is. It has taken me a long time and a lot of rejection to come to terms with the fact that I will never play the ‘alpha male’ character or lead in an action film. I have accepted that, and now focus on what is available to me.