You might know Kevin Zegers from the Air Bud movie series or the TV series Gossip Girl. He can currently be seen in the Canadian sci-fi thriller The Colony, which opens Friday (April 26). But when he played a bisexual hustler who finds out he's the son of a transgender parent in Transamerica, he received some of the best critical praise of his career.
He joins a list of actors who similarly have hit career highs while playing LGBT roles, including Sean Penn, Colin Firth, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hillary Swank, Charlize Theron, Tom Hanks, Felicity Huffman, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Julianne Moore, William Hurt, Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Leslie Cheung, and James Franco.
What's more, Zegers is adding another gay role to his resume: Alec Lightwood, a Shadowhunter, in the forthcoming Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the film adaptation of the young adult fantasy novel series. (In the book, Alec develops a relationship with the warlock Magnus Bane.)
While at one point in time, taking on gay roles was heavily discouraged by agents and even considered career suicide, Zegers, on the line with the Georgia Straight from Toronto, talked about how things have changed considerably over time.
"It's not as taboo as it used to be," the Canadian star originally from Woodstock, Ontario, says. "It's much more of a generational thing that that is even something that people consider….It used to be like the gay character and they didn't even have to define him any further. They were just like, 'Oh, he's the gay guy'. I think everyone now has much more experience with gay family members and whatever the case may be. Certainly for my generation, it's just not something that's that big a deal anymore."
He sees the social shifts not just at the creative level but at the commercial level as well.
"Mortal Instruments is a pretty big movie and the fact that the studio feels comfortable with one of their lead characters being gay is pretty indicative of peoples' opinion towards that sort of thing, which is that you don't really have to make a big deal out of it. It's just sort of is what it is. It's just one of the layers of the characters that I get to play."
In fact, he feels that the fact that Alec Lightwood is gay actually added more complexity to the role.
"For me, it makes the character more dynamic. There's a lot more to work with and his behaviour and what he does in the film is not defined at all by his sexual preference. In fact, he's probably one of the more bad-ass characters in the movies so it's certainly not something that we played or…it's not something that we needed to focus on. It's just one of the many traits he has."
Ultimately, Zegers says the bottom line is always about the story and character, regardless of identities.
"To me, it's boring to play a one-note character. I think maybe 'cause I was so young when I started working and was on set for the first time, I think the novelty of being on set has worn off in a way that I wanna do something that's hard. I wanna do something that's challenging and difficult and uncomfortable. And to me, that's what I look for more than anything. So when I read the Mortal Instruments, it was the character that I immediately resonated with because there were so many layers to this guy….I just try to find the character or the film or the director who I think will challenge me the most."