Do you have to act so gay? One More Reason to Love OtaliaThe soap world has been buzzing with news of Chris Engen's sudden departure from The Young and the Restless, where he's been doing such a bang-up job as Victor Newman's son, Adam. According to the rumor mill, Engen stormed off the set after refusing to play a scene which featured Adam kissing another male character, as part of a burgeoning same-sex attraction story line.
Let me stress one thing: I don't claim to have any inside information on this, and a rumor is a rumor. What is a fact, though, is that Engen has released a statement about his departure from Y&R. In his statement, he doesn't directly address how much the same-sex issue impacted his sudden departure. Instead, he talks about not having felt comfortable about being asked to do certain things as an actor:
We are what we are, but we are also NOT what we are not....I believe that as an actor, and as a human being, I deserve better than to be forced to do something that I don't feel is right on many levels, and that should have nothing to do with the choices that other people make. My visage and my craft were being utilized to tell a story that I wasn't inspired to tell.
Duh. It's called Acting.
Am I crazy, or is making believe that one is something he or she is not is the very nature of acting? For an actor - any actor- to refuse to act on the basis of a character not being like him, or not doing the right thing is unprofessional, plain and simple. While Engen may not have spelled out his reasons for leaving, it seems clear to me that the rumors are probably true: he left because the very idea of having to kiss a man was so repulsive to him, he'd prefer to leave a prime role on the #1 rated daytime drama.
Whatever good feelings I had about Engen in the past - and make no mistake, I was a fan - have disappeared. I don't expect anyone to love the idea of same-sex attraction, but I do feel it's reasonable and fair to expect a certain level of openness from an actor. And think on this: Chris Engen didn't storm off the set when his character was actively framing his own father for murder. He didn't storm off the set when Adam was plotting to discredit his sister. More recently, he didn't storm off the set and quit when he faked blindness and set about to gaslight Ashley in an attempt to make her lose her baby and ruin Victor's life. All of these things were seemingly ok with Engen. I guess it's ok if we see him as an scoundrel, a fraudster, a man who would send his innocent father to prison for life, a possible baby killer, a coward who would feign blindness...but heaven forbid we see him as a man who would kiss another man!
Actors act. Case closed. If this weren't true, it'd be slim pickings, in terms of possible plot lines in movies, on television and on the stage. Central casting doesn't look for someone of royal lineage when casting the role of a king, and they shouldn't have to look for a homosexual or bisexual when casting the role of a character in a same-sex relationship. They look for actors.
The Flip Side - Guiding Light's Otalia
While Chris Engen is busy nailing shut the coffin on his career in daytime television, Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia are acting their asses off. Not that it's any of our business, but neither of these actors is homosexual. In fact, they're both happily married to men. Somehow, they both manage to show up to work every day, take on the personas of Olivia and Natalia, and act the parts of two women who have fallen in love with one another. They do this with warmth and tenderness. They bring great dignity to what is actually very old-fashioned, sweet love story. And we shouldn't be surprised. They're actors. Good actors.
Don't Let This Get Around, But...
Over the years, Crystal Chappell has been required to take Olivia down many paths, and she's always done an incredible job. Jessica Leccia is a relative newcomer, but she's proven that she's more than able to hold her own among seasoned vets. I challenge anyone to watch the heart transplant story arc, which focused on Olivia and Natalia, and not become totally invested. Between you and me?Crystal Chappell wasn't really dying of a failing heart when she filmed those scenes. And Jessica Leccia? She hadn't really lost her young husband and donated his heart to her worst enemy. Weird, huh? It's almost as if they showed up on the set of Guiding Light, and pretended to be other people, in situations that had nothing to do with their real lives!
If Chris Engen has alienated a whole segment of the daytime fan base - you and I both know that lots of gay men watch soaps, and some of the most respected people writing about television and popular culture are gay men - Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia have done the opposite. The women of Otalia have embraced a wider fan base, welcomed the attention from the LGBT media, and been vocal about their feelings regarding Otalia: it's a story that may not reflect their own experiences, but one which they feel honored to be a part of, because it's a story worth telling. In stark contrast to Chris Engen's rationalization for abandoning his role, Crystal Chappell writes:
I consider the Otalia story to be one of my proudest accomplishments. If, in any way, I've touched a life, a thought, or at least served as some kind of distraction for those who need to look away for a moment from a hardship they're dealing with, I am grateful. It truly has been my privilege.
Note to Chris Engen: That sting? It's the door hitting your ass on your way out.
© 2009 Lana M. NievesLimited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves