When Scotty Wandell, the character played by Luke Macfarlane (B.F.A. ’03, drama) on the ABC hit series Brothers and Sisters, married his partner, Kevin Walker (played by Matthew Rhys), in the program’s season finale last spring, it was an especially meaningful moment for millions of viewers. But for Macfarlane, the moment had particular personal resonance. The 28-year-old native of Canada, who, before becoming a regular on Brothers and Sisters appeared in several Off-Broadway plays, the 2004 film Kinsey, and the 2005 TV series Over There, had recently come out publicly as a gay man in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail. “I don’t know what will happen professionally … but I guess I can’t really be concerned about what will happen, because it’s my truth,” he said in that interview. In honor of Coming Out Month, The Juilliard Journal asked Macfarlane about his decision to make public this private part of his life.
Did playing the role of Scotty on Brothers and Sisters influence your decision to come out publicly?
As actors, I think that our roles always inform us and the choices we make. But I had been thinking about the kind of actor I wanted to be, and the kind of life I wanted to have, for a long time—someone who’s guided by the principle that who they are as an individual is their most valuable resource. And it seemed like I was using the opportunity that Scotty and the show gave me to come out in a way that matched up with the kind of person I wanted to be. It’s a sort of lucky synergy when there’s such congruency between my own life and the life of my character.
Were you concerned about it having a negative effect on your career?
I think anytime as an actor you step out and choose to engage with the media in any sort of way that reveals your personal life, it can be frightening. However, I feel strongly that there is a distinction between revealing my sexual preference and my most private thoughts. My sexual preference is one irrefutable aspect of me, like the color of my skin. I’ve never been interested in revealing intimate details about my life. The concern with engaging with the media has to do with trying to make sure they will understand this difference.
The feedback from everybody has been supportive and positive. I was frankly overwhelmed that so many people took note of it, which I think speaks to a lack of role models in general.
Scotty, your TV character, is in a relationship with Kevin Walker, played by Matthew Rhys, who is not gay. Is it more challenging to portray one half of a gay relationship when the other actor is straight?
No. I’ve always been fortunate enough to be in companies where the work is the reason we’re all in the room together. As actors it’s our job to look for a way into our characters, regardless of our personal attitudes.
How much like Scotty are you personally?
It’s a complex question, because to many people the actor and the character are the same person; we share the same body and same voice for the most part. But the few times where some brave fan of the show has come up to me and asked, “Hey, are you Scotty?” there is this inevitable moment where we both get a bit nervous when they realize that I am not Scotty and they have no idea who I am. My experience in television has been different in that regard than my experience in theater, where the character kind of moves to a quiet place in your mind once the curtain is down. In television you live with your character all day—we both exchange ideas and ways of being. Scotty helps draw me out a bit and I help Scotty relax a bit. Gosh, that sounds nutty, I know! “The schizophrenia of acting,” I once heard it called by [Juilliard drama faculty member] Becky Guy.
In the past, many actors stayed in the closet because of Hollywood’s perceived homophobia. Is the industry becoming less homophobic?
I don’t know. My reasons for coming out had less to do with whether the time was right for the industry, and more about whether the time was right for me. It can be a very destructive force professionally and personally to get caught in the habit of making moves in alignment with Hollywood standards, which frankly have always been pretty unpredictable.
What advice would you give to Juilliard acting students who are struggling with the question of whether to be out professionally?
While I think it’s important for any group to have a place where they can feel comfortable, Juilliard always felt like an open place for me and set me on the path that valued and encouraged self-knowledge. I wouldn’t presume to offer advice to anyone else, and I know from personal experience that it’s not everyone’s path to step out.