One of my favorite current TV shows is USA Network's "White Collar."
It's kind of like a TV version of what would happen after the ending of that Leonardo DiCaprio movie Catch Me If You Can, where a convicted con artist ends up helping the FBI catch other cons. The con in question, Neal Caffrey, is a smooth, debonair, expert at all trades played by Matt Bomer. His FBI handler, Peter Burke, is played by Tim DeKay.
Bomer is hunky enough to have been cast as one of the, um, performers in this summer's male stripper movie Magic Mike, and his character Caffrey is played as charming and irresistible to women, including a particular insurance investigator played by the somewhat anoxeric-looking Hilarie Burton.
I don't think it was a secret that Bomer is gay, but he did come out relatively recently in a very low-key way. A commenter on the TiVo Community Forum wrote in response:
We won't be watching. Matt Bomer's coming out pretty much shattered the sense of romance I had about the series.
Don't get me wrong... I think he should be able to live any way he wants to in his private life. It's just too much of a stretch for me to watch him playing a debonaire ladies' man.
Someone else then replied:
I know exactly what you mean.
I used to think I loved Firefly, but then I found out that Nathan Fillion was only faking being a spaceship captain, and I realized the show sucked.
Ha ha ha!
But assuming good faith on the part of the first commenter (i.e., that it wasn't an anti-gay rant), how much separation can a viewer draw between an actor and a character? There are a lot of factors that go into this, chief among them the thespian skills of the actor in question. Take Top Gun. I've always thought the flying scenes were fantastic, but that the ground scenes, especially the ones between Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis, were awful. Now that McGillis has come out as gay (in 2009), maybe part of the explanation is that she wasn't a good enough actress to generate chemistry with Cruise.
Of course, Top Gun is kind of the reverse situation from White Collar, since in 1986, I certainly didn't know that McGillis was gay; I just happened to pick up on the lame-o ground scenes. In White Collar, by contrast, I now know that Bomer is gay, but in fact, I have no trouble disassociating the actor Bomer from the character Caffrey.
Besides Bomer, there's a much bigger actor/character separation controversy going on right now. I speak, of course, of the Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson/Twilight scandal. I gather that some number of Twilight fans are heartbroken that Stewart cheated(?) on Pattinson, as if this would also mean that Bella cheated on Edward. I don't quite get it. They're actors!
I guess I have a relatively high threshold for disassociating actors from their characters. I mean, I find Tom Cruise to exhibit some very strange behavior, and I thought his public criticism of Brooke Shields following her admission of post-partum depression to be quite nasty. I thought the jumping on Oprah's couch to proclaim his love for Katie Holmes was very weird. Despite all that, I've enjoyed many of Cruise's movies, and when I watch them, I don't find myself thinking, What a weirdo. (I do wonder why he's playing 6'5" Jack Reacher in the forthcoming movie, but I'll probably give it a chance.)
However, I do have my limits. I don't think I can watch another Mel Gibson movie.