Nathan Lane, left, with Hank Azaris, middle, and Robin Williams in "The Birdcage" Source: Getty Images

Nathan Lane Recalls Support from Robin Williams, Bette Midler

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 3 MIN.

Nathan Lane was in attendance at the first-ever LGBTQ+ Celebration of Cinema & Television on June 7. The out actor reflected on the time he spent in the closet and the support he got from friends, The Hollywood Reporter relayed.

Lane joined a legion of other out LGBTQ+ Hollywood creatives for the occasion, accepting an award in recognition of his long and varied career. In his acceptance remarks, Lane looked back at his earlier years in the business.

"I certainly wish I had been braver at the time," THR quoted Lane as saying. "Like when Oprah Winfrey on her show asked me why I was so good at all that girly stuff in 'The Birdcage.' If I could go back in time, the answer I wish I had given is: The reason I'm good at all that stuff is because I'm a wonderful actor but if you're asking me if I'm gay, the answer is 'yes' and proud of it."

Lane has spoken about that occasion before, telling Sunday Today last year the story of how he feared Oprah Winfrey was going to turn the conversation toward his real-life sexual orientation during a 1996 interview about "The Birdcage." The film is the American adaptation of "La Cage aux Folles," in which Lane stars as the gay spouse of a character played by Robin Williams. Lane was terrified that Winfrey would end up outing him.

It didn't take long for Lane's fears to manifest: Oprah wondered whether Lane worried about being typecast as gay (a common worry at the time for actors who played LGBTQ+ characters), and imitated audience members who might be apt to speculate on whether Lane was gay.

That's when Williams, also a guest on the show, intervened, skillfully taking the conversation in a different direction and sparing Lane.

The actor gave another shout-out to the comic genius as he accepted the award. "I had expressed my fears beforehand to the late, great Robin Williams, who kindly said to me, 'Don't worry, Nathan. You don't have to discuss it if you're not ready,'" Lane recalled. "And he went on to protect me whenever he could, throughout the awkward moments."

Another friend who proved to be a reliable ally was Bette Midler. "One of the first lessons I learned about being a public figure was to try to ignore what people write about you," THR quoted Lane telling the audience. "As Bette Midler once said to me, angrily, 'Don't read that shit. You can go on the internet right now and find The Society to Assassinate Bette Midler. What are you going to do? Fuck 'em!'"

"She has a way of getting to the heart of things," Lane noted.

Lane "came out of the closet to his mother and two brothers at age 21, and says he marched in Pride parades as far back as the late 1970s," THR recalled. "But it wasn't until he started playing gay roles and saw his career explode... that he experienced rampant speculation about his sexuality."

Lane "eventually took the step to come out publicly after the murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten and left to die near Laramie on Oct. 6, 1998," THR detailed.

"I'd already come out on a personal level," Lane reflected; "why not come out publicly now that I was the so-called public figure, if it might be meaningful to others in the struggle?"

"I did," Lane added, "and I'm glad I did."

The event was presented by the Critics Choice Association. The CCA's website noted that presenters included "Alan Yang & Ron Funches ('Loot'), Bamby Salcedo (President & CEO, TransLatin@ Coalition), Charlie Plummer ('National Anthem'), Charlize Theron (Producer/Actor), George Cheeks (Co-CEO, Paramount Global and President & CEO of CBS), Greg Berlanti ('Fly Me to the Moon' & 'Love, Simon'), Jeremy Podeswa ('3 Body Problem'), Jessica Collins ('Acapulco'), Karamo Brown ('Queer Eye'), Mark Indelicato ('Hacks'), Mason Alexander Park ('Quantum Leap' & 'National Anthem'), Ricky Martin ('Palm Royale'), Ronan Farrow (Author/Journalist), Sean Hayes (Producer/Actor), Sheryl Lee Ralph ('Abbott Elementary') and more."

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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