The sexual orientation of cinema characters isnt always what it first seems some leading humen have reinterpreted their proportions as they move from page to screen
Gus van Sants feel-good drama Finding Forrester, which arrives on Blu-ray and DVD this month, has been forgotten with good reason. It recycles from his earlier film Good Will Hunting the story of a wayward teenage genius nurtured by an older mentor, merely this time the boys talents are literary , not mathematical. But it does have some curiosity value thanks to its title character.
The reclusive novelist William Forrester, played by Sean Connery, has a secret that is never mentioned on screen. I discovered it by collision when I satisfied Van Sant in 2008 while he was editing Milk, his cinema about the openly lesbian legislator Harvey Milk. It was odd, I suggested, that despite being out himself, Van Sant hadnt made a picture with homosexual characters since My Own Private Idaho 15 years earlier. He looked mildly startled. Wow uh I guess youre right. Then he set me straight: Well, there was Detecting Forrester. I wracked my brains. Who was gay in that? Sean, he said, matter-of-factly. It wasnt in the script. The studio didnt want us to advertise it. But Sean wanted to play that proportion as gay.
Performers routinely give their characters histories to which audiences are oblivious. But this feels particularly intriguing in the case of Connery, who has never knowingly deviated on screen from staunch heterosexuality. Interviews he devoted to promote the movie dont provide much lucidity. I suppose there could be undercurrents that my character is closeted, he said. Either he is playing extremely hard-to-get, or his decision to make the character lesbian was so secret that even he forgot about it. There are clues in the film itself, which seems to present Forrester initially as a lesbian voyeur. When we first meet him, he is standing in his apartment, squinting through his binoculars. What we have here is an adult male, he purrs. Quite fairly. But the joke is on us: its merely a Connecticut warbler. Forrester is a watcher of birds , not men.
When 16 -year-old Jamal( Rob Brown) breaks into Forresters apartment as a dare, he accidentally leaves behind his rucksack, and the novelist afterwards hangs the purse in his window as a taunt to the invader. You might say its the first of their primitive courtship rites. The youngster comes to retrieve his suitcase and discovers the notebooks inside daubed with encouragements. Submitting an essay to Forrester, he places it tentatively on the writers doorstep like raw meat to coax a bear out of hiding.
If Connery genuinely did play the part as secretly lesbian, he wouldnt be the first performer to maintain a character in the closet. Early in his career, Harrison Ford was the mildly sinister corporate PA in Francis Ford Coppolas thriller The Conversation. I played a character who was gay so nobody would recognise me from American Graffiti, he said, referring to the George Lucas comedy in which he had appeared the previous year. There was no role there until I decided to stimulate him a homosexual.
Whatever stories Ford told himself in order to bring the role to life were patently successful. Its a brief but effective performance, though one in which sexual orientation remains a private matter between actor and character. Unless, that is, you count the home-baked Christmas cookies he has brought into the office, which may be as much of a giveaway cliche as that incriminating bottle of Perrier in the black comedy Heathers.
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