This article contains allegations of and references to homophobia.
We all remember the cringeworthy "Extras" episode wherein Ricky Gervais’ hapless aspiring thespian, Andy Millman, refuses to kiss another man in Ian McKellen’s play. In an inexplicable effort to appease the macho high school pals he hadn’t seen in decades, Millman sabotaged an exasperated McKellen’s play, and, in turn, his own career by rebuffing his male co-star onstage. The plot may have seemed like an absurd work of fiction, but there are many actors IRL who have gone to Millman-esque heights to prevent themselves from having to kiss someone of the same sex.
As the notion of straight actors portraying LGBT+ characters becomes increasingly antiquated, we’re reminded of an era in which playing gay whilst straight was, rather inconceivably, deemed brave. There once was a time when kissing a person of the same sex on screen was a huge issue for many actors — and for men in particular. As the Los Angeles Times pointed out back in 2002, "American audiences by now have become used to gay male humor and gay domestic life, whether it’s depicted in movies (‘The Birdcage’) or on network television (‘Will & Grace’). But physically expressing gay love is something else again."
Accordingly, the perceived taboos around kissing someone of the same sex led numerous stars to demand that scripts be rewritten, or, in some instances, to quit the project entirely — and many of them likely thought they could simply kiss off criticism for their actions. Here’s the lowdown on actors who refuse to share a same-sex kiss on-screen.
The one thing Samuel L. Jackson won’t do on screen
Whether he’s portraying the menacing, Bible-quoting Jules for his breakthrough role in "Pulp Fiction" or the sympathetic dad seeking justice for his daughter in "A Time to Kill," there’s no denying that Samuel L. Jackson is a versatile actor. However, there is one role that the esteemed actor may never take on.
In an interview with Playboy in 2013, Jackson was asked whether there was any character he wouldn’t depict for frequent collaborator, Quentin Tarantino. "Probably never dress up as a woman and kiss another guy," he said. However, he suggested that his hesitancy to kiss another man onscreen was not due to latent homophobia, but rather, his desire to please his audience. "I don’t think people want to see me do that," he professed and added that if the role was approached well he might reconsider. That year, Jackson ended up getting cast as a gay character, in the sci-fi horror "Cell" — except he didn’t actually know the character was supposed to be gay, per Pink News.
Still, Jackson has shown solidarity with the LGBT+ community. Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, he notably called out Justice Clarence Thomas for vowing to have the Supreme Court reconsider laws on same-sex marriage, sodomy, and birth control, per People. "How’s Uncle Clarence feeling about Overturning Loving v Virginia??!!" Jackson tweeted in reference to the landmark ruling that decriminalized interracial marriages (Thomas himself is in an interracial marriage).
Ashlee Simpson feared hindering her career prospects
It’s been a hot minute since Ashlee Simpson generated headlines. But back in the ’00s, she was an undeniable pop idol, and subsequently sought to become the toast of Tinseltown. As she embarked on her acting career following her success as a singer — infamous "SNL" performance, aside – Simpson was cautious about the roles she took on. Accordingly, a same-sex kiss was out of the question for the up-and-coming star.
In 2004, Simpson’s career was being managed by her father, Joe, who made it resoundingly clear that he did not want his daughter playing gay roles. So, when Simpson was cast in the film "Wannabe" (later renamed "Undiscovered"), as a gay woman, Joe swiftly had the character rewritten. "I changed it. It doesn’t work for her to be gay the first thing out," Joe told the New York Post (via Digital Spy). "… She’s going to be a huge movie star. She’s like Meg Ryan or Cameron Diaz, with probably more depth. When we’re done, she’ll play it all." Unfortunately, that whirlwind movie career never quite manifested for the aspiring thesp.
Simpson later addressed her initial reluctance to take on LGBT+ roles in an interview with Brandon Voss for HX magazine. "It was a little too obvious," she said of her "Undiscovered" character’s scrapped sexuality, adding that she wasn’t averse to adopting such parts in the future. To date, Simpson has not played an LGBT+ character or had a same-sex kiss onscreen.
Eddie Murphy has made his kissing stance clear
From playing seven different characters in "The Nutty Professor" remake (including the majority of the Klump family) to exhibiting his acting chops as blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore in "Dolemite Is My Name," Eddie Murphy is nothing if not a chameleon. Despite the diverse roles he has adopted throughout his career, Murphy has made it pretty clear that he would never play an LGBT+ character or, indeed, kiss another man.
In a 1990 interview with Playboy, the comedian firmly stated his opinion on the matter. "Would I play a homosexual? Why? I’m a comedian … I don’t think I could do some movie where I was kissing some guy and s*** like that." To make matters worse, he also inexplicably compared kissing a man to eating insects. "I read something about a sequence in ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ where they had to eat roaches," he said. "I ain’t eating no bug and I ain’t kissing no man … If you want to go to the movies and see me eat a bug and kiss a man, you have a problem, not me." Thereafter, the star proceeded to make crude jokes about gay sex.
At the time, the comments came as little surprise considering that the actor’s stand-up routine was notorious for its homophobic jibes. However, speaking with CBS News in 2019, Murphy expressed some regret for his past remarks, admitting that his homophobic jokes now make him cringe.
Mark Wahlberg said no to Brokeback Mountain
Although its gay romance may appear muted and straight-washed now, "Brokeback Mountain" was a landmark LGBT+ film when it premiered in 2005. While it’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as the lovestruck ranchers, it was none other than Mark Wahlberg who was originally considered for the flick.
However, in an interview with WENN (via Advocate), Wahlberg made it clear that he had no intention of ever kissing another man on screen, uttering some rather contentious remarks in the process. "I met with Ang Lee on that movie, I read 15 pages of the script and got a little creeped out," he recalled. "It was very graphic, descriptive … I told Ang Lee, I like you, you’re a talented guy, if you want to talk about it more. Thankfully, he didn’t. I didn’t rush to see Brokeback, it’s just not my deal." Speaking with The National Enquirer, a source close to Wahlberg claimed that his Catholic priest advised him against taking the role. "He passed because of the gay subject matter, which clashes with Catholic doctrine," the insider suggested
Thankfully, the film’s Oscar-nominated leads had no issue with expressing same-sex love in the film. As Gyllenhall told Another Man magazine, Ledger even refused to perform a comedy bit at the 2007 Oscars about the film’s gay romance. "Heath said, ‘It’s not a joke to me — I don’t want to make any jokes about it,’" the actor recalled.
Tom Hanks’ surprising aversion to a gay kiss
Tom Hanks won praise, including his first Academy Award, for his depiction of a gay man dying of AIDS in "Philadelphia." However, his onscreen boyfriend, Antonio Banderas, has said that Hanks refused to kiss him.
Banderas is no stranger to appearing in gay-friendly films. Several years earlier, he starred in Pedro Almodóvar’s "Law of Desire" which features intense same-sex love scenes. On "Inside the Actor’s Studio" (via Los Angeles Times), Banderas revealed that he was more than happy to kiss his "Philadelphia" screen partner and even suggested that the pair lock lips. Hanks, however, didn’t want to. Indeed, as Time points out, Banderas kisses Hanks’ hands in the film, but there isn’t a single smooch on the lips.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, the film’s director, Jonathan Demme, confirmed that the actor was uncomfortable with a same-sex kiss. Responding to a remark Denzel Washington made, in which he advised Will Smith to never kiss a man even if he’s playing a gay character, Demme said, "That’s Denzel responding to the same concern that Ron, Tom, Antonio, and I had. It’s a real concern. When we see two men kissing, we’re the products of our brainwashing — it knocks us back 20 feet … it’s just shocking imagery."
In 2022, Hanks reflected on having depicted a gay character. "Let’s address ‘could a straight man do what I did in ‘Philadelphia’ now?’ No, and rightly so," he told The New York Times.
Al Pacino wasn’t happy with kissing another man
"Dog Day Afternoon" remains one of Al Pacino’s most iconic films. As a fictionalized version of bank robber John Wojtowicz, renamed Sonny Wortzik in the film, Pacino puts all his gusto into the role of a man desperate to help his transgender lover (Chris Sarandon) fund her gender-affirming surgery. Although the film was groundbreaking for its time, it features a distinct lack of intimacy between Pacino and Sarandon. But that wasn’t always the case.
Per IGN, the script initially called for a kiss between the two actors at the end of the film, but Pacino refused. In the "Dog Day Afternoon" DVD commentary (via Cinematic Visions), the A-lister discussed his unease with the original script. "When a relationship comes to an end, how often does sex come into it?" he argued. The actor added that he believed the audience didn’t need to see homosexual gestures to tell the story (despite the LGBT+ nature of the narrative). Subsequently, Pacino reasoned that he sought to depict "the human conflict and the human cry for connection, and a kiss seemed to be exploitative." Moreover, as The National Review points out, in real life Wojtowicz kissed a male lover during the bank robbery, something that the filmmakers also omitted.
Pacino may have declined to kiss a man romantically on screen, but he was happy to give his "Dog Day Afternoon" co-star John Cazale the kiss of death in "The Godfather Part II."
Chris Engen quit his job over a same sex kiss
With many soap operas featuring LGBT+ characters, it seems absurd that it was once considered scandalous for a soap to showcase a same-sex kiss. Even more befuddling is that said scandal occurred in 2009 — thanks to one actor’s aversion to locking lips with his co-star.
Chris Engen starred on "The Young and the Restless" as Adam Newman, but when he discovered that the show called for his character to kiss another man, he stepped away. Per Pride, the actor allegedly began calling in sick and having talks with the show’s execs when he realized that Adam wasn’t as straight as he thought. According to Advocate, Engen was set to kiss co-star Yani Gellman but vehemently declined. Insiders dished to the outlet that the actor was uncomfortable with the storyline, believing the proposed kiss to be further proof of his character taking an ominous turn. Subsequently, he left the series and the decidedly more gay-friendly Michael Muhney was cast in the role instead.
As speculated by Soap Central, Engen’s Catholic beliefs may have been at the center of his opposition to kissing another man. The actor was heavily criticized for his actions online prompting him to issue a statement on ’00s social media staple MySpace. Denying rumors about his behavior, Engen also insisted that he was not homophobic. "I was not comfortable with many of the challenges they presented before me, but I put my head down and did my job," he confessed.
Michael Jai White’s reasoning for refusing same sex kisses
Michael Jai White is celebrated as a pioneer, having portrayed the first ever Black superhero in a mainstream movie with 1997’s "Spawn." But there are some roles that are off limits for White.
In an interview with VladTV, he stated that he would never kiss another man for a film. White discussed his role as the eponymous heavyweight champion in the 1995 biopic "Tyson," which originally called for him to kiss co-star Clark Gregg, who played Tyson’s trainer Kevin Rooney (the boxer apparently used to kiss Rooney after bouts). But White refused to lock lips with his co-star. "I remember when that scene came up I was like, here we go," he recalled. "I’m not doing that, bro … Here’s the biggest role of my life. We’re gonna go head to head with [the] ‘I gotta kiss a man’ thing … Deep inside me I just didn’t want to do that." He agreed to a hug instead.
However, the actor insisted that he was not homophobic and would turn down a kiss with a woman too. "If somebody wants to call me a limited actor, so be it… I’m just being true to who I am," he added. "Guess what? I don’t want to kiss women in movies either … I don’t like the image of my kids seeing me kiss another woman other than their mother." He claimed that he has scripts edited so that he doesn’t have to kiss anyone, male or female.
Did Luke Grimes quit True Blood over gay storylines?
Long before he starred as "Yellowstone"s knight in shining armor, Kayce Dutton, Luke Grimes depicted sensitive vampire, James Kent, in "True Blood." However, as reported by BuzzFeed, the actor quit the notoriously LGBT+ friendly supernatural show due to his discomfort with depicting same-sex love scenes, leaving the series before his character could consummate his relationship with Lafayette, played by the late Nelsan Ellis.
The script called for the pair to begin a steamy relationship with Grimes allegedly declining to do any kissing or sex scenes with his co-star. He apparently asked the writers to change the scripts, but they refused — the show’s stars and writers were reportedly incensed by his unusual decision. In an email to Buzzfeed, the actor’s publicist insisted that Grimes left due to scheduling conflicts. A few months later, he started production on Clint Eastwood’s "American Sniper."
Grimes was called out by his would-be onscreen love interest Ellis, who accused him of homophobia. "We’re all sitting there going, ‘You quit your job because [you don’t want to play a gay part?] … really?’… I’m over him." an incredulous Ellis remarked to Vulture. He argued that by refusing to play a gay character, Grimes was making an inherently homophobic decision. "You make… a big statement, when you go, ‘I don’t want to play this part because it’s gay,’" he explained. "If you have a child, if you have a son, and he comes out as gay, what are you going to do?"
Will Smith was criticized for his kiss decision
Once ridiculed for being a clean-cut rapper, Will Smith instead found himself generating headlines for all the wrong reasons when his palm met Chris Rock’s cheek at the 2022 Oscars. Although the brutal slap seemed like an anomaly in the star’s otherwise pristine reputation, he’d actually caused controversy decades earlier for another act of apparent machismo.
In 1993, Smith starred in "Six Degrees of Separation." Based on the life of con artist David Hampton, who claimed to be the son of Sidney Poitier, the big screen adaptation of John Guare’s titular play called for a same-sex kiss. Per Entertainment Weekly, the scene required Smith to smooch "The Breakfast Club" alum Anthony Michael Hall, but the rapper-turned-actor flat out refused. The filmmakers subsequently had no choice but to use a body double for the film. As his "Six Degrees of Separation" co-star, Ian McKellen, told Time Out, "He was a charmer and a good actor. But he did one silly thing: he refused to kiss another boy on-screen, even though it was there in the script."
Smith later regretted turning down the kissing scene, telling Entertainment Weekly that he was young and immature. "I was thinking, ‘How are my friends in Philly going to think about this?’" he said. "I wasn’t emotionally stable enough to artistically commit to that aspect of the film … This was a valuable lesson for me. Either you do it or you don’t."
Seyi Omooba refused a lesbian kiss — then sued
In 2019, British actor Seyi Omooba was set to star in an adaptation of "The Color Purple" for London’s West End stage when she was fired for having made apparent homophobic remarks years earlier, per the BBC. A staunch Christian, the actor claimed that homosexuality was against God and that being LGBT+ was a choice.
To make matters more bizarre, the seemingly anti-LGBT actor had been cast as the lesbian character, Celie, a role that required a same-sex kiss. However, she claimed that she would never have taken on the role had she known that Celie was gay, per Pink News. Indeed, Omooba told her agent that she would never play a gay character. As noted by The Stage, the actor had previously played Celie’s sister Nettie in a concert production based on Alice Walker’s classic novel. So presumably, she would have known the role required a same-sex kiss. Omooba stated that she wasn’t on stage during the kiss scene between Celie and another woman but later changed her testimony, claiming that she wasn’t looking at the stage when the kiss occurred.
The actor sued, telling Christian Concern that her career was ruined after she was fired, having been dropped by her agent. She lost her case and the tribunal concluded that she clearly hadn’t researched the role or paid attention to its requirements prior to accepting it. Accordingly, Omooba was ordered to pay £300,000 (around $345,000) in legal fees, per Independent.
Kevin Hart admitted he’s too insecure to kiss another man
In 2015, Kevin Hart opened up about his decision to turn down a role in "Tropic Thunder" as a gay rapper — the character ultimately went to Brandon T. Jackson. Speaking with the Breakfast Club (via TMZ), the comedian admitted that he would never play a gay character or perform in scenes of same-sex intimacy. Noting that the original script called for gay sex scenes, he said, "The dude, he was doing a lot of stuff, in the draft that I read … It was real flagrant. It was a lot of stuff. And I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’"
While Hart said he regretted not taking on the role, he was forthcoming when discussing why he won’t play gay characters. "Not because I have any ill-will or disrespect … I feel like I can’t do that because I don’t think I’m going to dive into that role 100%, because of the insecurities about myself," he explained.
The Guardian heavily criticized Hart for the remarks, arguing that they contribute to the actor’s long history of perceived homophobia. For instance, he once told a joke about fearing his son being gay and was famously fired as Oscars host in 2018 for past tweets he had written about the gay community, for which he failed to apologize. In an appearance on "The Shop" (via ET Canada) Hart attempted to make amends for these past controversies, explaining that he had grown as a human being.