Not unlike the press conferences sports fans have come to expect after the game, the press calls following the premiere of a film are rarely an exciting affair. But following the premiere of Brian Helgeland’s Legend, onlookers were treated to the rare event of a press question that actually demanded attention, as Daily Xtra reporter Graeme Coleman decided to use the sexuality of Legend’s protagonist as a means to grill star Tom Hardy on his sexual past.
“In the film, your character Ronnie is very open about his sexuality but given interviews you've done in the past, your own sexuality seems a bit more ambiguous. Do you find it hard for celebrities to talk to media about their sexuality?”
What on earth are you on about? a perturbed Hardy replied.
Hardy pushed Coleman to elaborate, Coleman alluded to an old interview of Hardy’s and asked his question again.
Seemingly amused, and staring the reporter right in the eyes, Hardy answered, “I don’t find it difficult for celebrities to talk about their sexuality. Are you asking me about my sexuality?”
“Um. Sure.” At this point Coleman laughs, clearly uncomfortable.
But by that point Coleman’s confidence had seemingly run out, and Hardy cut him off before he could finish responding. Hardy continued the press conference seemingly unbothered.
The allusion Coleman made was to an interview Hardy gave in 2008 with Attitude, a gay lifestyle magazine in Britain, which asked Hardy upfront about his sexual history. Hardy answered frankly, saying that while he had experimented—“I’m an artist. I’ve played with everything and everybody”—his primary interest was in women and that he’d not only never had gay sex, but that it had no appeal to him.
It’s a relatively cut-and-dry answer that feels juicy because there’s backstory that Hardy doesn’t elaborate upon, and maybe because we are unaccustomed to actors treating interviews as a time for frankness in the first place.
Back in 2011, when the Attitude interview initially resurfaced, The Daily Beast asked Hardy about it, and he did not take offense, saying, “I’m not gay, I’m very hetero. I’m not into men in a sexual way, but I’m a f--king artist and I was asked once, ‘Have you ever had relations with men?’ and I said, ‘I’m an artist—I’ve done everything and everyone,’ but like everything salacious, people run amok with that information.”
And Hardy, who’s married to the British actress Charlotte Riley and has a 2-year-old son with a former girlfriend, has had to field questions about that interview time and again (and again, and again) in the years since, and his answer is always the same, and every six months a new tabloid publication has dug up the quotes in order to service a clickbait piece on Hardy. Back in May, Gawker finally discovered the interview and, as is their wont, ran a salacious story with the inaccurate headline, “Remember When Tom Hardy Had Sex With Men?”
With campaigns like #AskHerMore pushing interviewers out of their comfort zone and regular think piece roundups for actors who speak before thinking, the celebrity interview has never been more political, even when they are not politicized. There is a satisfaction now to interviews that attempt to be frank, that attempt to push past the decorous tact that makes so many of the interactions between performers and press feel obligatory and unilluminating.
But what happened at Toronto was not just tactlessness, it’s a willful and self-righteous refusal to acknowledge boundaries. You know the answer to the question. You received your answer seven years ago, and every six months or so since. If you already know the answer, then “What is your sexuality?” is not so much a question as it is a McCarthyesque accusation. Even for an openly gay individual, it seems unlikely that a press conference would be the desired place to answer questions about one’s sexual history. Are you really arrogant enough to accuse Tom Hardy of living a lie in a press room, in front of a half-dozen of his coworkers and hundreds of journalists?
If it had been a straight interviewer for a straight publication asking the question, there would be no debate—it would be a simple invasion of privacy. But Coleman was writing on the behalf of a gay publication, and as gay rights have become more and more mainstream, it’s the gay press who have become the most militant pursuers of celebrity outings. It’s not so long since the days of Perez Hilton using his site as a means to push celebrities out of the closet, and the practice persists at more focused gay publications.
But pressing a man to confess his sexual history is inhumane and antiquated, especially in the present day—hopefully in 2015, we’re able to acknowledge that people’s identities change over time, or better still, that people might not have fixed sexual identities in the first place. Activists like to use Harvey Milk as the justification for insinuations and invasive questions like the ones Graeme Coleman asked, but this view comes from as limited a read of Milk’s words and actions as Kim Davis’s read is of the Bible.
Harvey Milk believed it was the responsibility of the queer community to come out, but not indiscriminately, and not on the behalf of other people:
“Come out to only the people you know, and who know you, not to anyone else.”
Even if Graeme Coleman believes he knows Tom Hardy, Tom Hardy sure as hell doesn’t know Graeme Coleman, and what is there in Coleman’s approach to inspire trust?
It’s not as if Coleman’s question gave Hardy room to answer with any kind of complexity. What was the outcome Coleman was hoping for when he asked his not-quite-question? That Hardy would sputter and confess and thank Coleman for forcing him to be honest—honest, keep in mind, about a sexual past that by his own admission, seems largely heterosexual?
But then again, if Hardy were less of a paragon of heterosexual masculinity, it doesn’t seem quite as likely that there would be people digging up seven-year-old interviews to shame him into a confession.
It’s a quirk of outing culture that it’s not the celebrities who read as queer who are pushed the hardest to confess their proclivities, but the men like Hardy who can pass as straight. The reasoning is that these men could offer an example to queer youth who pass and suffer the closet in silence, but if there is a gay, closeted teen somewhere whose life depends on Tom Hardy coming out, trust me: He’s already found that Attitude interview for himself. He knows what Tom Hardy is about, and he’s still waiting, because in the end, waiting to come out is about yourself and no one else.
No one—man or woman—needs Tom Hardy’s permission to find Tom Hardy sexy, not because Tom Hardy has an obligation to answer to the desires of his audience, but because desire is private. If the gay movement began with a need to come out of the bars and into the streets, now is the time to learn that the power of shouting need not betray the confidence of whispers.