In this series of posts leading up to this year’s Emmy Awards (going down on August 25th), we’re highlighting the 13 LGBT actors who were nominated for playing LGBT characters in years past, in honor of the fact that a whopping 7 new additions to that list have been nominated this year (Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Laverne Cox, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Nathan Lane, Joe Mantello and Kate McKinnon).
Nominated For: In 1994, McKellen received his first of 5 Emmy nominations (in the best supporting actor in a TV movie or miniseries category) for playing real life gay activist Bill Kraus in the HBO movie "And The Band Played On." And then 12 years later, he received one for playing another gay man — himself — as a guest actor on Ricky Gervais’ HBO series "Extras." These were in addition to non-LGBT roles in the likes of "The Prisoner," "Rasputin," and "Great Performances – King Lear."
Did He Win?: No. In 1994 he lost to Michael Goorjian for "David’s Mother," and then in 2006 he lost to Stanley Tucci for "Monk" (he lost those other three too, sadly).
Significance: McKellen’s "And The Band Played On" nomination was the second Emmy nod to go to a LGBT performance by an LGBT actor — and also the second to be a white male character who dies of AIDS. Which starts to feel like depressing representation given by that point only 2 such nominations had every come, though given it was 1994 a hardly surprising one. That aside, McKellen does offer a very powerful performance in the film, an adaptation of the 1987 non-fiction book of the same name by Randy Shilts. The film itself is problematic at times as it tries to cram the entire history of AIDS at that point into a two and a half hour film (making it feel cliched and choppy), but Emmy voters — as they’ve done quite a few times in their history when it comes to AIDS dramas — sure went for it, giving the film 14 nominations and 3 prizes, including best TV movie. McKellen was one of six actors nominated, with Matthew Modine, Alan Alda, Richard Gere, Swoosie Kurtz and Lily Tomlin the others. None of them won, but oddly enough it’s the same amount of acting nods that "The Normal Heart" received this year.
As for McKellen’s second nomination for "Extras," it thankfully came after quite a few more LGBT actors had been nominated for LGBT roles (that we’ll get to in future posts) — including women and people not playing people dying of AIDS. Playing himself, McKellen was part of a slew of nominees from actors doing the same thanks to likes of shows like "Extras," "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." He also was absolutely hilarious, as you can be reminded of in the below clip (you can also watch a clip of McKellen in "And The Band Played On" here).
Check back tomorrow for the next nominee… and check out the previous posts below: