This TV star refused to talk about his sexuality. Now he’s leading a queer love story

With big-name releases like Joel Kim Booster’s Fire Island and Billy Eichner’s Bros, 2022 was widely celebrated as “the year of the gay rom com”. But after watching the latter film just two months before the release of his own gay love story Spoiler Alert, English actor Ben Aldridge admits he had “a knot in [his] stomach.”

“I enjoyed it,” he says. “I laughed a lot. But Bros was really scrutinised by the industry and a lot of the [LGBTQ] community too. I sat there and just felt like… ‘we’re next out of the gate’.”

Jim Parsons (left) and Ben Aldridge (right) star in Spoiler Alert, a new romantic drama based on a true story.Credit:Giovanni Rufino/Focus Features via AP

Spoiler Alert, which has just hit Australian cinemas, is a very different film to Bros.

Instead of eliciting big laughs about Grindr and group sex, it’s more likely to make you cry. Eichner’s film had an aggressive marketing campaign as “the first gay romcom by a major film studio” – a sell that some queer audiences felt erased previous titles, and ultimately didn’t drive ticket sales, despite good reviews. Spoiler Alert is instead eager to position itself as a universal story.

“This is a love story first,” says Aldridge’s co-star Jim Parsons. “And then it’s a gay love story … There was no effort to explain gay life to people in this. It’s just an accepted fact.”

The film, adapted from the 2017 memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies and co-scripted by love and sex columnist Dan Savage, tells the true story of TV journalist Michael Ausiello’s relationship with his husband Kit Cowan (played by Aldridge) – and Kit’s eventual death from cancer.

“They go through a similar thing to the characters of Terms of Endearment,” Parsons (who plays Michael) says. “A journey through cancer allows them to cut through the bullshit. They realise how much time can get wasted on these little things that make you angry or jealous or whatever.”

Though very sweet, it’s also a traumatic story – and Aldridge had flickers of fear about how the film would be received by queer audiences who are “quite policing of our stories at the moment”. This includes a broad aversion to tragedies after decades of limited representation in cinema that usually revolved around HIV, discrimination, and pain.

“But what I want to do is reflect real life and reflect us as a community in a real way,” he says. “We’re not immune to tragedy. We’re not immune to cancer. That’s part of our life – just like we’re not immune to love.”

This is a particularly exciting endeavour for Aldridge, after publicly coming out as gay in 2020. Though he was previously best known for playing straight alpha males – most notably the “arsehole guy” in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag – he’s spent the past few years almost exclusively exploring queer characters.

Aldridge also plays a gay dad alongside Broadway star Jonathan Groff in M. Night Shyamalan’s new film Knock at the Cabin.

“I think I came out publicly partly because of a certain idea I had of the way I was being perceived [through my earlier roles] … I did it despite the impact it might have. Because at the time I felt that it could negatively impact my career.

“Rupert Everett famously said coming out completely sabotaged his career. I had a lot of fear around it. And I think there’s still fear for some actors who are playing ‘alpha’ roles in Hollywood – people who still worry or are still very private about it.”

Best known as neurotic physicist Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, which ended in 2019 as the longest-running multi-camera sitcom in US history, Parsons is also exploring new terrain in this film.

“It really felt like a relief. It felt like a part of me was able to breathe in a way that hadn’t for a while.”

“I played 12 years of a character who had trouble connecting to people at an emotional level,” he says. “And I don’t know how much I was conscious of this at the time, but I was so eager and excited to be a part of this [story because of the] intensely deep connection that these two men have to each other.”

“In some ways, it really felt like a relief. It felt like a part of me was able to breathe in a way that hadn’t for a while.”

“The most common response from the community has been a sense of joy at seeing a gay couple portrayed in such a realistic way,” Parsons says.Credit:Focus Features

Though Parsons isn’t actively seeking out queer characters, he says he does “undeniably see the rewards from having done [a role like this] and from seeing people’s reaction to it”.

“I feel like the most common response from the community has been a sense of joy at seeing a gay couple portrayed in such a realistic way – both in the complications of their relationship, and going through the machinations of what it is to be alive for anybody.”

Sally Field stars as Kit’s mum in Spoiler Alert, alongside Jim Parsons.Credit:Focus Features via AP

This is something we wouldn’t have seen in the industry even 10 years ago, he says.

And it’s something Parsons wouldn’t have been talking about either. Though it became public knowledge he was gay in 2012, when he made an offhand comment to The New York Times, the actor has since spoken about how he “made it [his] mission not to talk about it”.

“I wasn’t scared to the point of denying my sexuality,” he recently told The Hollywood Reporter. “[But] I was scared that it might cause trouble, quote unquote, for our big television show.”

“I can’t believe how much [the industry has] changed in 10 years,” Aldridge adds.

“I would have never spoken about my sexuality in an audition room or with a director. I would have completely hidden that – and I was told that would be a helpful thing.”

“I think what’s changed most is that there is room for us. We can exist. There’s representation, where there wasn’t any when I grew up.”

And while there are ongoing questions about the commercial viability of rom coms and romantic dramas on the big screen – queer or otherwise – Aldridge would like to see as much “diverse and truthful” representation as possible.

“I had these feelings that I was very uncomfortable with because I had nowhere to turn to see a positive example of what that might be.

“I hope it’s very different for people growing up now.”

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