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‘Mapplethorpe’: Matt Smith Defends Playing a Gay Man in Photographer Biopic

He compared the situation to playing a drug addict.

Matt Smith as Robert Mapplethorpe

Matt Smith as Robert Mapplethorpe

Tribeca Film Festival

As discussions of onscreen representation have become more common in recent years, actors have been forced to reckon with the implications of portraying members of groups to which they do not belong. Emma Stone made the Golden Globes highlight reel by yelling “I’m sorry!” for playing a woman of Chinese descent, Scarlett Johansson opted not to star in “Rub & Tug” following backlash over her playing a transgender man, and “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” star Darren Criss has vowed to no longer play gay men.

Now there’s Matt Smith, who stars as Robert Mapplethorpe in “Mapplethorpe.” The actor was joined by producer Eliza Dushku to discuss the biopic on Valentine’s Day, eventually addressing the question of whether the homosexual photographer should have been played by a gay man.

“I think your sexual orientation, or your sex and your choices outside of work, shouldn’t influence — in either way, positive or negative — what happens,” Smith responded. “So, to me, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight. That has no bearing on whether you should get the part.”

“Where does it stop?” he said. “Like, do we then say, do we apply that logic to going, ‘Okay, I’ve got a part, and it’s playing a brother, and he’s addicted to heroin.’ Do we then go to people that have only taken heroin?”

“It’s an important discussion,” Dushku said. Smith concurred, saying, “It’s good that it’s being had.”

Two straight Oscar nominees are up for playing LGBT characters this year: Rami Malek is the Best Actor frontrunner for his portrayal of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” while “The Favourite” star Olivia Colman will have to best Glenn Close if she’s to be crowned Best Actress at next Sunday’s ceremony.

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