'Will and Grace' star Sean Hayes opens up to 'The Advocate' about his sexuality

advocateTo fans of the sitcom Will & Grace, it always seemed like a given that Sean Hayes was gay. How could he not be? He was just too good at playing Jack McFarland, the flamboyant, out-and-proud neighbor who often stole the show from the series’ nominal leads. But off-screen, the Emmy winner — who’s about to start his run in a Broadway revival of Promises, Promises — bristled at the idea of being labeled gay or straight by Hollywood and always refused to comment on his personal life — until now.

In this month’s Advocate cover story (by erstwhile EWer Ari Karpel), Hayes finally opens up — a little. While he never quite gives a “Yep, I’m gay”-style soundbite, the actor does make a few terse comments about his sexuality. “I am who I am,” Hayes tells the mag. “I was never in, as they say. Never.”

He also has a few choice words for the gay media — including The Advocate itself — which has long criticized his decision to stay silent: “I feel like I’ve contributed monumentally to the success of the gay movement in America, and if anyone wants to argue that, I’m open to it,” he says. “What more do you want me to do? Do you want me to stand on a float? And then what? It’s never enough.”

Through it all, Hayes sounds like he’s still very much upset over Hollywood’s inability to see him as anything beside Jack. But as a loyal W&G fan, I have to ask: Is that really so bad? It’s sad that the industry is still too close-minded to cast actors in roles regardless of sexual orientation, but Hayes still ought to be awfully proud of his biggest pop culture accomplishment: creating one of the funniest, most memorable characters in TV history. For eight years, the series provided a showcase for his world-class comic talents — not to mention singing and dancing chops. He earned an Emmy and four Screen Actors’ Guild awards, along with legions of fans, and (we’re assuming) plenty of nice paychecks. It was an opportunity that most actors can only dream of. And while there’s no doubt that Hayes’ talents go beyond the limits of just that one character (his turn as Jerry Lewis in 2002’s Martin and Lewis showed off a neglected knack for drama), we’ll still always appreciate him for giving us Jack. Just Jack.

What do you think, PopWatchers? Was Hayes right to keep quiet about his personal life all these years? And would you like to see him in more mainstream parts in the future?


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  • Jim

    It doesn’t really sound like Sean is making any news or further statement on who he is, other than “I was never in.” Ultimately, it’s his decision about whether to talk about his private life. If he chooses not to, that’s exactly his choice.

    • Brian

      I think it’s fair to assume that when a well liked, prominent public figure comes out it has a beneficial effect on people who are having a hard time grappling with their own sexuality. When somone as well known as Sean Hayes plays a character as well liked as Jack and does it during a time when being gay in America was just starting to be socially acceptable to a degree until then unknown, that yeah, it might be good thing to come out, publically. I appreciate a person’s right to privacy, but I also appreciate the responsibility people take on when they become pubic figures, especially when they do so intentionally, as all actors do. I think one famous gay man remarking on his own sexuality helps make being gay all the more unremarkable for countless gay people who aren’t public figures.

      • Daniel

        My only critique of the “become public figures” comment is this. He’s doing a job he’s good at. This isn’t a first class ticket to public advocacy. It’s a paycheck, it’s his dream. Taking it to the level of becoming a public advocate is a decision only he can make.

    • Melissa

      Forget the gay stuff! I love Sean! I was doing “Just Jack” hands the other day with some friends!!

  • Josh M

    “But as a loyal W&G fan, I have to ask: Is that really so bad?”

    If he wants to continue having a prolific career, then yes.

    • Brie

      Exactly. I’m assuming he doesn’t want to play only gay roles for the rest of his career. He was impressive as Jerry Lewis and I would love to see more from Sean. Sounds like he’s suffering from the curse that afflicts a LOT of TV actors, though. Not all of them skyrocket to brilliant film careers like Clooney did.

      As for his sexuality, it really isn’t anyone’s business. I think people mix him up with his character of Jack. If Sean wants to keep his life private, then that’s his right.

      • Andy Bluebear

        Hell, let him play gay roles, just make them different from Jack…

      • beth

        Why do an interview like that with a magazine like that without saying yeah I am gay…. especially after playing a gay man for 8 years. Just doesn’t make sense.

      • crispy

        What are you talking about? He talks extensively about being gay in the interview.

      • Brock

        NOT JACK???? What the hell are all you confused straight people talking about, anyhow? OF COURSE, Jack is Jack. DUH. Who’s Sean?

    • james

      And Megan Mulally will always be Karen too. And Eric McCormack will always be Will, and Debra Messing, while she’s had some successful roles (Starter Wife) is still going to always be Grace. That show was just THAT GOOD.

      • sascha

        That was so beautifully put.

      • Belle

        And as Seinfeld would say “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” There are more out of work actors who never will get a shot than working actors who have iconic roles.

      • WG

        Very true. I can see his problem – he’s seen so much as Jack that he’ll probably always be cast in “nutty sidekick” roles. But so many actors would KILL for the chance to be seen as a beloved comic character that forever has a place in pop culture.

      • sally1018

        James, I agree 100%.

    • Kieran

      This also happens to straight actors when they are identified with a successful role. It took Carrol O’Connor decades before he could be seen as anything other than Archie Bunker & have success with “In the Heat of the Night.” Sean Hayes is very talented. He just needs to be patient. Hopefully, he’ll be given the opportunity to play roles totally different from Jack. In the meantime, Jack is pretty awesome.

  • Cletus Seyfarth

    You know, I really don’t care what sexual orientation my waiter is. Just give me the specials, and don’t be rude.

    • Michael

      You know, that’s great and all, but the media has been up his bum for years. You might not care about his sexual orientation, but there are apparently many who do.

      • Anonymous

        Actually, I sometimes wonder how many people actually care, and how much of it is just a magazine needing grist for the mill.

      • sally1018

        I don’t know why they should care. Just leave the man alone. He was great as Jack and Will & Grace is and was one of the best comedies on TV.

    • Brock

      Dont be NUDE? Why not? I love nude waiters. Oh…..nevermind.

  • ger

    It’s not too hard to figure out that he’s gay. Just like Johnny Weir. Or Tom Cruise.

    • Brock

      TOM CRUISE IS NOT GAY, he’s a space alien. Interplanetaryintersexual and drug free. Maybe even a Thesbian.

  • TJ

    I just don’t understand why it matters to anyone that Sean Hayes confirms or denies anything. Are our own lives going to run smoother or are we all going to breathe a collective sigh of relief if he decides to ‘come out’? I’m a fan of his regardless:-)

    • Michael

      The gay community feels that, in keeping mum on his sexuality, he has done them a disservice.(I personally couldn’t care less. He can live his life as open or closed as he wants. It’s his business.) If he admitted that he was gay during the W and G years, Hollywood would have pulled the noose tighter and made it quite difficult for him to maintain a career. You can say what you want about the profession, but the bigwigs who run the industry are notoriously homophobic. We can judge him all that we want(on both sides) but none of us know what we would have done had we been in that situation. I think our first, most natural instinct(self-preservation) is a necessarily powerful thing.

      • TJ

        Being a straight, 32 year old female myself, I can only comment on what I know. I just don’t understand how some in the gay/lesbian community (or anyone for that matter) could put that kind of responsibility on someone just because they’re in the entertainment industry. I think it’s sad really:-(

      • djm

        Well, as a member of the gay community I could care less if Sean Hayes is gay or not. In fact, the only time someones sexual orientation becomes an issue to me is if I am about to start a relationship with them – sorry, I may have sex with someone in the closet or who claims to be “straight” but I wont get into a LTR with a closet case (sorry, it’s one of my deal breakers). So, while I loved him as “Jack” he’s not really my type so I could care less. That goes for Tom Cruise, Ricky Martin, or that dude from Prison Break as well (not that any of them would be interested in me anyhow). I do get why The Advocate would care – it sells magazines for some reason when a “celebrity” comes out. My question to the is this – where is the Meredit Baxter cover? Didn’t she just come out on her own terms? Why not run a cover article on her? Yes, for some people having a celebrity come out and say “I’m gay” helps them come to terms with their own coming out process. But to me that should only happen when the “celebrity” at hand wants to come out – it’s their decision to make – not the Advocates.

      • Angie

        Actors like Edward Norton are not high profile about their private lives in any way, understanding that a highly public persona can hinder their abiity to really be seen as the character they are playing. It’s a shame that gay/lesbian actors aren’t allowed to make the same decisions, though I do understand the rationale behind wanting them to come out.

      • jim

        what a bunch of crap. I’m “straight”but don’t tell me it’s hard for gays to get jobs! All you see now are gays in every situation. They’re either the lead or the best friend. It doesn’t matter any more, it’s forced down our throats.

    • Brian

      I think it’s fair to assume that when a well liked, prominent public figure comes out it has a beneficial effect on people who are having a hard time grappling with their own sexuality. When somone as well known as Sean Hayes plays a character as well liked as Jack and does it during a time when being gay in America was just starting to be socially acceptable to a degree until then unknown, that yeah, it might be good thing to come out, publically. I appreciate a person’s right to privacy, but I also appreciate the responsibility people take on when they become pubic figures, especially when they do so intentionally, as all actors do. I think one famous gay man remarking on his own sexuality helps make beign gay all the more unremarkable for countless gay people who aren’t public figures.

      • TJ

        I can completely understand the point you’re making and I do agree with you to a point. But on the other hand, I don’t believe that gay men and women in the entertainment industry should feel the need to clarify their sexual orientation to the public if they are not 100% okay with it or ready to. They should be able to reveal it on their own terms (if ever) and not bullied by the media into doing it:-)

      • Kami

        I don’t agree. We don’t do this to any other group. We tell little girls not to look to hollywood and actresses but to teachers doctors lawyers, the office of President, etc for role models and to their parents. Implying gay teens should not look to doctors lawyers etc is telling all they can be is someone in the entertainment buz. That is wrong. And dangerous since there is no pressure placed on hollywood to hire gay actors for leading roles what these teens see is not success but failure they see actors outting themselves a term we use only for gay male actors and sex offenders in this society meaning outting is to out bad people. They see these men outted and then don’t see them on Oscar night up for lead actor. So how does that help. It is cheap cop out by society so as not to have to address the real issue and out the bigots and demand that gay actors get hired and instead make it the actor’s burden and not society’s.

      • MaryMW

        I would argue that Sean Hayes contributed to the cause, greatly advancing the social acceptability of gay characters on prime time television and in current culture as a whole, so he has done his part and if he chooses to remain mute on his personal preferences than his choice should be respected. As he said, “It’s never enough.” As a straight person I have never had to declare my sexuality publically but I don’t know that I would appreciate being expected to do so.

      • Brock

        YAH RIGHT, NOBODY thought David Hyde Pierce on Fraser was gay, NOBODY. And nobody IN THE WORLD believes Neil Patrick Harris’ character in “How I Met Your Mother.” Eventually the plot will have to include some plausible situation where they meet at a day spa or while shopping for “personal vibrating toys” at The Pleasure Chest (saw him there)(allegedly) and this isn’t always the case. Robert Preston in Music Man. I KNEW the first time I saw he he had the hots for Bobby the Band Boy, DUH. Same with Rock Hudson. Hell, I even knew Liberace was gay. Look how that destroyed HIS career playing “straight” music instead of the dance mixes you KNOW he preferred. Wake up.

  • crispy

    So that leaves Anderson Cooper, Kevin Spacey, and Ricky Martin?

    • Cletus Seyfarth

      Kevin Spacey is NOT G-A-Y.

      • Cletus Seyfarth

        not that there’s anything wrong with that.

      • crispy

        Riiiiight. And neither is Sean Hayes.

      • Cletus Seyfarth

        Spacey has always denied that he is gay. Hayes is being coy for coy-sake.

      • crispy

        Sean Hayes was being coy for his career’s sake.

      • Cletus Seyfarth


      • Clara

        Kevin Spacey does not deny that he’s gay, and he oh, so obviously, is

      • crispy

        Are you sure, Clara? He’s like the president of the Cole Porter Memorial Closet. He used to bring female dates to award shows.

      • N. Ominous

        Yeah, he is. He dated my male friend years ago.

      • And I’m sure that Kevin Spacey

        appreciates you putting his stuff out on a message board for all to read.

      • e4ia

        There was a pic on the TMZ website a couple of years ago showing Spacey at a gay club by himself enjoying a private dance by a male stripper.

      • Celimene

        Why do you think Spacey moved to London? He doesn’t have to worry about people talking about him being in or out. Doesn’t even make a pretense of being in the closet over there.

      • ZRob

        “Kevin Spacey is NOT G-A-Y.”

        Yes, he is. But he’s in the closet still.

      • Alan

        Riiiiight. Kevin Spacey is not gay. Lather, rinse, repeat. Keep repeating until you believe it.

  • Booger

    He’s absolutely right. Just because he may or may not be gay does not mean he signed on to be the poster boy for someone’s cause.

    He’s entitled to his personal life and to work at his craft. I very much hope that he is able to secure a role on TV that showcases the fact he is a talented actor and has much more range than just Jack, an undeniably brilliant comedic turn for him.

  • John

    Dude was funny.. Who cares what kind of tail he prefers. Funny is funny. Hollywood needs to get over themselves, spoken from a straight man who reads EW!

  • harry

    hell yes! give the man a chance to prove himself!!!

  • RK

    “the industry is still too close-minded to cast actors in roles regardless of sexual orientation” I wonder what Neil Patrick Harris thinks about that.

    • BP

      And what about the title character Will? He is not gay in real life.

      • jk

        I think the author was referring to the industry’s (sometimes) inability to cast a gay man as straight, not the other way around. Because Eric McCormick (Will on W&G) is straight in real life, he hasn’t been typecast as gay. However, I think it’s safe to say that all four W&G actors played such indelible comedic roles that it’s been hard for any of them to distance themselves from those performances, regardless of sexuality.

        And as for NPH … he was still in the closet when he was cast as Barney Stinson, who is straight, so I don’t think it carries quite the same connotations.

      • hochelaga

        Eric McCo.played a cowboy( on Canadian TV) prior to playing Will. I doubt Sean would be given the same opportunity after portrying Jack ( never mind Brokeback Mountain. Has there been another gay themed movie equal to that yet? no.)

      • hochelaga


    • Mike

      RK — NPH probably thinks a lot about that. Since he’s come out, he’s gotten roles in that awful looking Vanessa Hudgens movie “Beastly” and was recently cast in the Smurfs movie. When he gets cast as a straight romantic lead, then we can get excited.

    • Neil Patrick Harris

      Probably thinks he’s one of the lucky ones.

      • Brock

        and still has so much money left over from the kiddie doc trust he can even pretend to be a song and dance man and EVERYBODY laughs despite the fact he’s SO not.

    • Anne

      THANK YOU!!! I was beginning to think I was the only one who remembered this little fact. Neil is playing a “straight” role quite successfully; it’s being accepted by a large audience.

    • Tessa

      NPH was in Dr. Horrible’s Sing a-long Blog as a straight character. And while it wasn’t the only storyline, a prominent one was his ‘unrequited’ crush on the laundromat girl Penny.

  • Bill

    I’m a gay and I think it’s up to him to decide what he wishes to discuss or not. I felt the same way about George Michael before he came out. He’s not running around pretending to date women, he’s not making nasty statements about gays, he’s not advocating against gay rights or marriage..leave the man be. I don’t believe any individual owes “the movement” anything, despite what a handful of Advocate writers and GLAAD media hos have to say about it.

    • Tom

      But George Michael didn’t play a gay character on TV. A gay role put Sean Hayes on the map. It’s his right to stay private, but it’s also just lame. He shouldn’t have been lame; he should have just mentioned he was gay at some point during the W&G run.

      • Joy Behar

        So what, who cares?

      • beth

        I agree, it’s like not owning a TV when TV got you where you are….seems very disengenuous.

  • Bill

    I fail to see how being a closeted male celebrity for over 12 years translates as “monumental to the success of the gay movement in America.”

    Sean Hayes, dear boy, for 12 years you publicly lied about who you were so that you could reap MILLIONS of dollars in financial rewards. Then, once you secured your millions of dollars and never have to worry about working again, you become honest about who you are???

    And you consider yourself monumental to the LGTB movement??? In what way exactly, Sean? In what way were you MONUMENTAL???

    By showing young gay people that the only way to be successful is to lie about who you are or by ‘coming out’ only after you have secured yourself financially for life??

    • Jeffreymixed

      I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said Bill. Its ridiculous that this is even “news”. Let’s not forget he played the most stereotypical queen ever that did no favors to gay men everywhere who DON’T Act like that.

      Sean must have agreed to get paid for the article so he could get $ to pay for a new car or somethin

      • crispy

        Lemme guess, your Manhunt profile says “Straight Acting”

      • whatevs

        Will Truman’s gay character offset Jack’s flamboyant one, so if a person thinks that gay people are only flamboyant, well they’re just too ignorant to please anyway.

      • Bill

        I think the portrayal of Will as a sexless, self-centered wishy-washy shallow pompous ass was worse. I’ve had lots of friends like Jack and have studiously avoided the Wills I’ve met.

      • Danielle

        Oh…puleeze!! It was “comedy”. Nothing more. Nothing less. Brilliant comedy at that. “W&G” was never intended to be a true representation of straights and/or gays. Again..comedy. And…just because you become a celebrity does not mean you have to tell everyone all your secrets. He never lied. He doesn’t owe anyone an “I’m gay” statement. That may be the problem with media and entertainment today. Everyone feels the need to share everything. Sometimes I just “don’t care” to hear all the details of a celebrity’s personal life.

    • Sara

      MTE. Yeah, W&G was significant in terms of gay pop culture, I suppose, one of the few shows with out gay characters in the main cast. But other than portraying an extremely flamboyant (some might say stereotypical) gay character, what has Sean Hayes REALLY done for gay rights in this country?

      Yes, ultimately, it shouldn’t matter what your sexuality is. But c’mon people, let’s not be naive – there’s still a lot of homophobia in this country and in Hollywood, and closeted, coy gay actors like Sean Hayes aren’t helping anyone. No one should have to lie about who they are to succeed, and the more gay celebs who are willing to be open and honest about themselves the better things will be for everyone.

      • Brock

        SARA must be your DRAG name, sista. SOME say stereotypical??? ALL the characters on W&G were horrendously stereotypical. The entire POINT was to bitchslap everybody with the stereotypes in comedy until a few million people saw how much fun they’d been missing! COY? What part of “NEVER IN” did you MISS, Missy? I think Sean really showed a lotta class in his attempt at making it a non-issue. I’m SURE this will create a huge firestorm, but the same goes for Barry Manilow. Either you like his music or not; but you’re not going to hang any specified homophobia nor “gay community” support on his being OUT and proud. The man has PLENTY to be proud of that doesn’t include a single thing about his orientation.

    • Michael

      Thank you Bill. Brilliant.

      And, nevermind his personal life. He’s contributed? to the gay movement by portraying one of the most abrasive, selfish, self-absorbed, shallow and hateful sissy-boys that’s ever been on TV. Yeah, that’s groundbreaking. Jack McFarland might have put gays on the television landscape but in the minds of the audience he was nothing but a walking-talking stereotype or a representation of all gays(god forbid). He actually might have set the movement back a few decades.

      • crispy

        Oh, joy. Michael Bedwell has found EW.com. I bet you’re just googling away for any mention of Sean Hayes today so you can post your ridiculous “gay minstrel” accusation. The fact is you are a far worse stereotype than Jack McFarland ever was.

      • ger

        Preach, Crispy.

      • Danielle

        Again..it was a SITCOM. Comedy. Ugh. It was supposed to play up stereotypes. You really shouldn’t take things so seriously. And..let’s face it..any gay man will tell you they know someone a little like Jack. And if they don’t, they’re either lying or don’t live in Manhattan (or another gay-centric city).

      • Brett

        Danielle…I don’t think that genre should determine anything. there are plenty of sitcoms that don’t deal with such blatant stereotyping. And, let’s face it, most gay men might know someone like Jack, but I doubt that they like him. He made me laugh but he was, as that poster indicated, completely self-absorbed and occasionally cruel. One could give a little more credit to the viewing audience than did Michael but his post isn’t completely off base.

    • Sarah S

      I think the monumental thing about that character was the fact that he was comfortable in his own skin. Jack never apologized for his behavior, his feelings, etc, because ultimately, he shouldn’t have to. He saw being gay as the rule, rather than the exception. Obviously, the character was played for laughs – it was a sitcom. But Sean Hayes is a tremedous actor and made Jack more than just a caricature. There are all types of gay people just like there are all types of straight people. I think the sadder situation is that in 2010, actors still feel the need to HAVE to be less open. There must be a reason. We need to get beyond that and recognize that a great actor could play a variety of roles regardless of their personal experience.

    • james

      Um, you’re clearly delusional if you don’t think W&G was epic in the terms of brings gay into the mainstream in America. So who the hell cares what he did w/ his personal life. It was the millions of Americans that tuned in for 8 years to watch W&G with its front and center gay characters that changed the collective consciousness on homosexuality in America. Before W&G there were no popular gay characters on tv. So yes, he’s made a huge impact through his work, regardless of his own personal orientation. The same can be said for the other cast members of W&G too.

    • teresa

      Sean never lied about not being gay. He just chose not to talk about it. Much like the actor who played Niles on Frasier (sorry, I’ve forgotten his name). It’s an American right to keep your sexual orientation to yourself, Don’t ask, don’t tell.

      • Lala

        David Hyde Pierce. When he did come out, it was embedded in the middle of a CNN interview that he had a boyfriend. That’s it. Not a shock to anyone, but not a big glaring headline either.
        I think it’s their choice whether they want to come out publicly or not. I don’t care either way, but I’m sure a lot of people differ from my opinion, including the casting directors in Hollywood. They’re public figures, so it’s different from many other professions in that in some respects, their private life isn’t deemed off limits to public knowledge. If Sean Hayes was an accountant or a lawyer or any other private profession, no one would give a crap. I can’t judge celebrities for choosing either option.

    • JayNYC

      Bill, I think you’re being unfair accusing him of lying to reap the financial rewards. Why shouldn’t he be entitled to those rewards based solely on his TALENT? You’re implying that a gay man shouldn’t be able to make millions of dollars, or at least giving tacit approval to the way Hollywood seems to work, which is a shame.

  • Brandon

    His isn’t the only character that was so great, it haunted the actor for years. Megan Mullally hasn’t been able to move on either.

  • Janice

    Well Bill – I think Sean did an excellent job of playing Jack on W&G who was one of the first openly gay characters on TV. If that’s not contributing to the movement – I’m not sure what is? I work in the private sector and if anyone asked me a direct question about my sexuality I could sue the crap out of them. I still don’t understand why acting is different.

  • FRED

    Think everyone knew he was gay….silly boy!

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