20 great roles: Our favorite straight actors who have played gay characters

Michael Douglas stars as Liberace and Matt Damon stars as Scott Thorson in "Behind the Candelabra."

Story highlights

  • HBO's "Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace" is being lauded by critics
  • Michael Douglas and Matt Damon play the famed pianist and his lover
  • Many actors who are not gay in reality have portrayed gay characters, real and fictional
  • Tom Hanks, Charlize Theron and Hilary Swank won Oscars for playing gay or transgender characters

Whether it's for television or a feature film, it's not easy to pull off a gay role as a straight actor. Many have tried, but it takes a great actor to make the role three dimensional and believable.

Steven Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace," which aired on HBO on Sunday, is being lauded by critics, especially for its touching, respectful, and well-rounded performances by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.

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Here are 20 examples of actors who successfully pulled off playing a different sexuality on screen.

1. Tom Hanks, "Philadelphia"

2. Robin Williams, "The Birdcage"

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3. Matt Damon, "The Talented Mr. Ripley"

4. Greg Kinnear, "As Good As It Gets"

5. Hilary Swank, "Boys Don't Cry" (while Swank's character Brandon Teena was transgender, not gay, the role was iconic for many gays and lesbians)

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6. Charlize Theron, "Monster"

7. Christina Ricci, "Monster"

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8. Jake Gyllenhaal, "Brokeback Mountain"

9. Heath Ledger, "Brokeback Mountain"

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10. Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Capote"

11. Nelsan Ellis, "True Blood"

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12. Sean Penn, "Milk"

13. James Franco, "Milk"

14. Eric Stonestreet, "Modern Family"

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15. Ewan McGregor, "I Love You Phillip Morris"

16. Jim Carrey, "I Love You Phillip Morris"

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17. Julianne Moore, "The Kids Are All Right"

18. Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"

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19. Matt Damon, "Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace"

20. Michael Douglas, "Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace"

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