Friday, May 29, 2009

Do you have to act so gay? One More Reason to Love Otalia

The soap world has been buzzing with news of Chris Engen's sudden departure from The Young and the Restless, where he's been doing such a bang-up job as Victor Newman's son, Adam. According to the rumor mill, Engen stormed off the set after refusing to play a scene which featured Adam kissing another male character, as part of a burgeoning same-sex attraction story line.

Let me stress one thing: I don't claim to have any inside information on this, and a rumor is a rumor. What is a fact, though, is that Engen has released a statement about his departure from Y&R. In his statement, he doesn't directly address how much the same-sex issue impacted his sudden departure. Instead, he talks about not having felt comfortable about being asked to do certain things as an actor:

We are what we are, but we are also NOT what we are not....I believe that as an actor, and as a human being, I deserve better than to be forced to do something that I don't feel is right on many levels, and that should have nothing to do with the choices that other people make. My visage and my craft were being utilized to tell a story that I wasn't inspired to tell.

Duh. It's called Acting.

Am I crazy, or is making believe that one is something he or she is not is the very nature of acting? For an actor - any actor- to refuse to act on the basis of a character not being like him, or not doing the right thing is unprofessional, plain and simple. While Engen may not have spelled out his reasons for leaving, it seems clear to me that the rumors are probably true: he left because the very idea of having to kiss a man was so repulsive to him, he'd prefer to leave a prime role on the #1 rated daytime drama.

Whatever good feelings I had about Engen in the past - and make no mistake, I was a fan - have disappeared. I don't expect anyone to love the idea of same-sex attraction, but I do feel it's reasonable and fair to expect a certain level of openness from an actor. And think on this: Chris Engen didn't storm off the set when his character was actively framing his own father for murder. He didn't storm off the set when Adam was plotting to discredit his sister. More recently, he didn't storm off the set and quit when he faked blindness and set about to gaslight Ashley in an attempt to make her lose her baby and ruin Victor's life. All of these things were seemingly ok with Engen. I guess it's ok if we see him as an scoundrel, a fraudster, a man who would send his innocent father to prison for life, a possible baby killer, a coward who would feign blindness...but heaven forbid we see him as a man who would kiss another man!

Actors act. Case closed. If this weren't true, it'd be slim pickings, in terms of possible plot lines in movies, on television and on the stage. Central casting doesn't look for someone of royal lineage when casting the role of a king, and they shouldn't have to look for a homosexual or bisexual when casting the role of a character in a same-sex relationship. They look for actors.

The Flip Side - Otalia

While Chris Engen is busy nailing shut the coffin on his career in daytime television, Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia are acting their asses off. Not that it's any of our business, but neither of these actors is homosexual. In fact, they're both happily married to men. Somehow, they both manage to show up to work every day, take on the personas of Olivia and Natalia, and act the parts of two women who have fallen in love with one another. They do this with warmth and tenderness. They bring great dignity to this actually very old-fashioned, sweet love story. And we shouldn't be surprised. They're actors. Good actors.

Don't Let This Get Around, But...

Over the years, Crystal Chappell has been required to take Olivia down many paths, and she's always done an incredible job. Jessica Leccia is a relative newcomer, but she's proven that she's more than able to hold her own among seasoned vets. I challenge anyone to watch the heart transplant story arc, which focused on Olivia and Natalia, and not become totally invested. Between you and me? Crystal Chappell wasn't really dying of a failing heart when she filmed those scenes. And Jessica Leccia? She hadn't really lost her young husband and donated his heart to her worst enemy. Weird, huh? It's almost as if they showed up on the set of Guiding Light, and pretended to be other people, in situations that had nothing to do with their real lives!

What's More...
If Chris Engen has alienated a whole segment of the daytime fan base - you and I both know that lots of gay men watch soaps, and some of the most respected people writing about television and popular culture are gay men - Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia have done the opposite. The women of Otalia have embraced a wider fan base, welcomed the attention from the LGBT media, and been vocal about their feelings regarding Otalia: it's a story that may not reflect their own experiences, but one which they feel honored to be a part of, because it's a story worth telling. In stark contrast to Chris Engen's rationalization for abandoning his role, Crystal Chappell writes:

I consider the Otalia story to be one of my proudest accomplishments. If, in any way, I've touched a life, a thought, or at least served as some kind of distraction for those who need to look away for a moment from a hardship they're dealing with, I am grateful. It truly has been my privilege.

Note to Chris Engen: That sting? It's the door hitting your ass on your way out.

© 2009 Lana M. NievesLimited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves


D28IF said...

Beautiful piece. Even Jon Lovitz got it - "acting!" Reading Chris Engen's statement v. Crystal Chappell's, it's like Goofus & Gallant. Another great column!

Dani said...

Well done! It should also be mentioned that Clementine Ford (lesbian) has been perfectly fine with kissing men on Y&R. As you've said, it's called acting.

WannaB said...

perfectly stated!!! the audacity of Y&R asking him to "act"! real actors actually welcome roles that are different from their real lives. if that wasn't the case - we ALL could be actors and "talent" would mean nothing.

Angela M said...

The way I read it - he has a problem with homosexuality in general. Yep, he's a homophobe, he doesn't think homosexuality is "right", and he's probably one of those rightnutjobs who think that showing same-sex kissing is promoting a gay agenda.
That being said, I don't think an actor is obligated to take on any role just because that's their job. I don't know him personally, so I can't speak for him, nor am I an actor, so I can't speak for all actors - but if I were an actor, I'd think there are certain roles I wouldn't do if it violates my values. It's different playing a murderer/rapist on screen because the character and/or the deed IS portrayed as bad. However, I'd imagine someone would have issues playing a character who does something they don't approve of and that something is not presented as problematic.
Not saying Engen is a noble hero or anything - he's still an ass. But it's his opinion (as wrong as it might be) and he's going to suffer the consequences of it. This whole media drama of "you're an actor, so suck it up" is only making Hollywood look like some Gay Big Brother, and ends up making a Conservative martyr out of him. I think homophobia in society can be addressed without going into continual attacks toward one person's views.

Snapper said...

With all due respect, Angela, I highly doubt anyone would defend Engen's actions if he'd refused to kiss a black woman or a Chinese woman, based on racist beliefs.

If someone is unwilling to challenge himself and play completely against his or her own character? Acting is not the profession to choose. And, certainly, acting on soap opera is not something to sign up for if one is not brave enough to do the really over-the-top. (As if kissing a guy is over the top, anyhow!)

Something I didn't address is this: he broke his contract. The guy walked away from a contract because of this. No one can argue that there's anything professional about that. It's pretty much the *definition* of unprofessional.

Brenda said...

brilliantly stated! I am so tired of gay relationships being made to seem as being beneath an actor's dignity but making love to multiple partners out and inside of wedlock, rape, murder, incest, drug use, alcoholism etc are just fun acting challenges!! I am sure their were actors who didn't like their het co-stars but were able to chew a little garlic and still manage to do their job!!

Thank you for contrasting the *supposed* reaction of Chris to the handling of the Otalia story line by Crystal and Jessica!! Truer words have never been spoken, that not only are Crystal and Jessica knocking their performances out of the park, but have revealed themselves to be the most gracious of women by encouraging, embracing and wholeheartedly supporting Otalia! Both in the press and to their fans!! Their reactions are so refreshing and I thank them so much for wanting to tell this story, and tell it right!!

With spokeswoman such as them, Otalia is truly getting the attention it deserves! thanks to them and to Jill Lorie Hurst for Otalia!!

Rikita said...

I knew a man in college who, while not a homophobe, was not really keen on his gay brethren in the acting community. Yet he relished all roles that were different from his own persona because it let him ACT. He could show how good he was as an actor because he wasn't playing anything like himself. He played gay at least once and didn't have any issue with it. He just wanted good material and an acting role.

I'm not sure what this guy's real beef was with playing a prime part on a top soap, but his actions reek of prima donna attitude. His apology doesn't pass the sniff test either. I doubt we'll hear much from him again. And I hope he gets sued by CBS and the Bells.

Anonymous said...

Just because someone is 'married' doesn't make them 100% straight. Just sayin for a think about it/reality check.

Just like Olivia & Natalia...IT HAPPENS in real life when you least expect an actor or not.

Robin said...

Ooooh, your good. That was really good.....(sorry I'm not as articulate, could only think of an Otalia quote) Thanx!

Anonymous said...

I find this facinating give the number of gay people in all aspects of show business both in front of and behind the camera.

Acting is a JOB like any other. sometimes you have to do things yo don't like. If you truly have a problem you go to your boss and express your concerns. If you can't take it you leave, but be ready to deal withe the consequences of leaving. Engen has tantrumed himself out of a career, not just in Daytime. He broke a contract, you just don't do that and expect to work again unless you are a super star.

Oh and by the way all those gay casting directors and producers are not going to be so willing to cast a homophobe when they have the choice of so many other talented actors. So Chris Engen, as you sow so shall you reap.

R said...

Wow.Thought exactly the same thing. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Very well said. I don't follow any other soaps besides GL, and I never followed any soaps before that until someone roped me in with a clip of CC and JL "acting their asses off". It's sad that nonsense like the stunt Mr. Engen pulled still exists, but Otalia makes me happy.

JCF said...

Not that it's any of our business, but neither of these actors is homosexual.

That's the flip-side of this equation: our side, as fans.

It really bothers me, when fans start projecting onto actors, positing that they MUST be "into" each other (or into same-sex attraction), just because what they're so (gloriously! :-D) putting on screen.

Case in point: I heard that at Xena convention a few years ago, there were gasps and cries of "No!", when a then-pregnant Renee O'Connor (pregnant w/ her daughter Iris) spoke about her boyfriend. It seems that some fanatics had believed their own fantasies, that ROC had come around to the "turkey-baster" side of things. That's just RUDE. (I feel the same way about fan-fic: if an author mentions actors/other RL people---as play-toys for their fic---I'm OUTTA there. Rude!)

Needless to say, this goes for projecting onto actors, regardless of sexuality (theirs, or their characters). As you say so well, Snapper, it's their job to portray characters they're not. It's our privilege to enjoy their work, understanding that they're portraying characters they're not. Cheer their work, and leave their private lives ALONE.

Snapper said...

I couldn't agree more, JCF. I was an at Ani DiFranco concert several years ago, and a whole group of fans started to boo and hiss when she introduced her husband. I understand a lot of lesbians like her, but they need to realize that they don't really know her, and certainly don't own her. The same holds true for popular actors, such as CC and JL. The fact that they've become icons doesn't mean any of us own them, or that they owe us anything. And it's plain creepy when over-the-top fans start in with the whole business of projecting their own fantasies on to an actor. I've read a few posts where people talk about "how obvious" it is that CC and JL would be with women if they weren't married. HUH?!?!?! Projection like that is just spooky and yucky, and borders on stalking.

Anonymous said...

Such a great blog! Thank you for writing!

Robert said...

Great piece! I want to say that, as far as Engen's press release goes, I would also question his motives and intentions as an actor. If you're in a storyline you don't like, then it's up to you as an actor to bring more nuance to the role that's on the written page. I'm reminded of a story Linda Gray told that early "Dallas" scripts had nothing concerning her character's real feelings about J.R. It's when she started giving him dirty looks and bitter line readings that the writers started thinking about Sue Ellen as a fully-rounded character rather than just an alcoholic former beauty queen.

If Chris Engen felt his character was going too far, then it was up to him to give his performance shading and nuance, perhaps by showing regret, bitterness, uncertainty, anger, etc. in scenes where his reaction isn't necessarily spelled out in the script.

How often have we seen great soap actors pull off scenes that are beneath them through the sheer power of acting?

Snapper said...

So true, Robert! And how many times haven't we sat through awful or muddled story lines, just because the acting was so good, and the performers so interesting? Anyone who hasn't read the ownderful Patrick Erwin's great piece about this - using GL's Sonny/Solita story line as an example - they should.

Robert said...

The Sonni/Solita story was exactly the one I was thinking of when I referred to actors pulling off scenes that are beneath them. In actuality, the Sonni/Solita story wasn't bad, but it [I]was[/I] confusing, and the thing that held the story together was the phenomenal acting, especially that of Michelle Forbes. I'm sure there were times that all four principal actors rolled their eyes and wondered where the story could possibly go, but they all were professional and brought a lot of intensity and talent to a storyline that would have fallen apart in lesser hands.

ljbaker said...

Very well said and brilliant.
Thanks for the great article.
And Crystal Chappell and Jessica
Leccia are really the best
actresses on daytime with their
storyline. Kudos to the ladies
and to Guiding Light for such
a beautiful story told with
great care.

ramcduff said...

Really great commentary on your blog. Thanks