"I think the perception at the time was that anybody who could play gay must be gay."
Harry Hamlin took a chance on a risky role for 1982 when he agreed to portray a gay writer in the film "Making Love." 40 years later, Hamlin says that role effectively "ended [his] film career."
At first, he didn't make the connection, but after realizing he wasn't getting calls anymore for years afterward, something clicked. "[I] finally realized that was the last time I ever did a movie for a studio," he told People in a new interview.
"I've done independent films but never a studio film," he explained. "I had been doing nothing but studio films and basically going out on all the castings for all the movies. That stopped completely."
Hamlin said that there was some hesitation about taking the film role because it was portraying a gay man. In particular, he said that some of his friends worried that it might hurt his career. He wasn't as worried.
"I was looking for something serious and something meaningful, rather than doing a movie about vampire bats invading a small town in in the Midwest, which is the type of fare I was being offered at the time," he said.
When his agent supported the decision, Hamlin was fully on board. As his agent saw it, Hamlin had just had a child with Ursula Andress that had hit the press, so there should be no question about his sexuality no matter what happens in the film.
"He said, 'Everyone knows you're straight so you're going to be okay,'" Hamlin said.
For him, though, he wasn't even really paying attention to the potential backlash or confusion, even though he said, "I think it had been offered to pretty much everybody in town and everyone had turned it down because they thought it might be damaging to their careers."
Instead, he was just intrigued by the character and the role. The film was the first from a major studio to feature a same-sex love affair and it proved controversial upon release. "In many cities audience members walked out when, for the first time, they saw two men kissing," Hamlin said.
But more importantly, that representation mattered to LGBTQ people in the early '80s who'd never seen anything familiar on the big screen. "Many more people saw themselves… or that falling in love with somebody of the same sex did not signal the end of the world," said Hamlin. "It helped many forge new lives for themselves."
Hamlin is proud of the impact of the film, and says he's had people come up to him and tell him how it positively helped them in their lives, be that coming out or just having a tough conversation about their sexuality with the people who matter in their lives.
Unfortunately, for all its positive impact on an underrepresented segment of American society, critics trashed the film, and Hamlin's performance. "The movie was panned and my performance was ignored," he said. "The reviews were all negative, pretty much."
Further, Hamlin said that it pretty much torpedoed his studio career, speculating that studio heads were nervous about casting him now for fear that there might be confusion from audiences about his sexuality.
"If they were contemplating having me be a love interest to a young female star, the thought was, 'How is the audience going to react?'" he said. "Even though I was straight, I think the perception at the time was that anybody who could play gay must be gay."
The role didn't sabotage Hamlin's career entirely, though, as he went on to tremendous success on the small screen including his main role in "L.A. Law," for which he was thrice nominated for a Golden Globe, and his Emmy-nominated recurring role on "Mad Men."