The movie, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and hits cinemas in the U.K. this week, follows John (Mortensen), a middle-aged gay man who invites his homophobic father Willis (Lance Henriksen) to live with him and his husband, Eric (Terry Chen), when Willis starts to show early signs of dementia.
Mortensen, who has only publicly been in relationships with women, has faced media scrutiny over his decision to take on the role. He acknowledged the criticisms in an interview with The Times published last weekend, but said he wouldn’t have cast himself if he didn’t think it was a good idea.
“Look, these are the times we’re living in, and I think it’s healthy that those issues are brought up,” the “Lord of the Rings” and “Green Book” actor said. “The short answer is that I didn’t think it was a problem. And people then ask me, ‘Well what about Terry Chen, who plays my husband in the film, is he a homosexual?’”
“And the answer is I don’t know, and I would never have the temerity to ask someone if they were, during the casting process,” he continued. “And how do you know what my life is? You’re assuming that I’m completely straight. Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. And it’s frankly none of your business.”
At least from an artistic standpoint, Mortensen’s choice appears to have paid off. Early reviews of “Falling” have been positive, with The Guardian calling the actor’s performance “commanding” and “a very substantial achievement.”
Still, his remarks come as the debate over whether or not heterosexual, cisgender actors should be cast in LGBTQ roles ― especially when opportunities for LGBTQ actors to tell queer stories in Hollywood remain slim ― is heating up once again.
The 2020 movie season has presented cases on both sides of the argument. “Uncle Frank,” starring Paul Bettany as a gay Southern man grappling with the unexpected death of his father, was released on Amazon Prime last week to positive reviews. Meanwhile, actors Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci are garnering early Oscars buzz for “Supernova,” a British romantic drama in which they play a same-sex couple on the brink of a personal crisis.
On the flip side, James Corden’s portrayal of a gay Broadway star in the forthcoming Netflix musical “The Prom” has been widely panned. Quipped Vanity Fair, “No more straight actors playing gay men until the sins of ‘The Prom’ are properly atoned for.”