30 7 / 2014
Writer and actor Mark Gatiss is gay – “famously so”, according to an interview with his friend David Tennant recently. But Gatiss himself says he’d like to be more visible because what surprises him the most is “that a lot of people don’t know that I’m gay. No matter how many interviews I do in which I mention that I’m gay, and that I have a partner, I’m confounded by people’s surprise when they find out. Maybe they’re not bothered.”
Gatiss is reluctant to confer role-model status on himself but he says “ I’m aware that, as a successful actor and writer, I have a certain visibility. For someone in that position to say ‘I’m a happy gay man’ would have made a huge difference to me as a kid because there wasn’t anyone. There was a series of comic grotesques and desexualised, tolerated personalities: in the Are You Being Served film, Mr Humphries is both a terribly predatory homosexual and totally neutered.”
Gatiss has written for and starred in Doctor Who, co-created Sherlock for BBC1, is one of The League of Gentlemen, and is currently making a follow-up to his wildly well-received BBC4 documentary series about the history of horror films. He’s also written novels, been on stage to rave reviews at the National Theatre and at the Donmar Warehouse. His Desert Island Discs was one of the most moving and funny of the last five years. Put simply, he’s ace. And if he won’t confer himself with role model status, let’s do it for him, shall we?
Gatiss says: “Compared to 20 years ago, this country is much more relaxed about everything from race to sexuality – but only in certain ways. This sounds ludicrously utopian but I was in a bus queue the other day and it was so incredibly multi-cultural, it made me think that I never grew up with a single black friend but for this generation, they are just each other’s mates. That will change attitudes, and I’d like to think that as well as for race, that will go for sexuality.” He pauses. “Of course, underneath, there may still a seething small-c conservatism and it’s always dangerous to assume that the battles have all been won. The ultimate triumph of Thatcherism may be to break up the idea of mass movements and any kind of solidarity. There isn’t a movement to out people who don’t want to be and people are making individual decisions about what works for them, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.”
In terms of work, being gay has never been an issue for Gatiss. “The sort of parts I play, my sexuality doesn’t make a difference and I’ve never been in a position where anyone has tried to mentor me not to be out. But maybe that’s because I was out before I was well-known or because if ever such a thing had happened, I would have laughed in the person’s face.”
But, Gatiss says, “If you’re a young actor with an eye on Hollywood, it’s something you have to think about. But then, you’re moving into an American sphere and what American agents might advise you to do. I’d be very interested to see what happens to [Star Trek’s] Zachary Quinto’s career now that he’s made that step of coming out.”"