Nathan Lane shares how Robin Williams protected him from being outed in 1996

While he expected that playing a gay character would lead to questions about his sexuality, Lane knew he wasn't ready to come out publicly.

Actors Nathan Lane and Robin Williams stand side-by-side in The Birdcage film made in 1996.
Image: Twitter @mrbrianrowe

Actor Nathan Lane has shared that his The Birdcage co-star, Robin Williams, was an incredible LGBTQ+ ally who played an essential role in protecting him from being outed during an interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1996.

Lane earned a Golden Globe nomination for his role as Albert in the film, a gay man and drag performer in a relationship with Robin Williams’ character, Armand.

While Lane predicted that playing a gay character in a major LGBTQ+ film would lead to questions about his sexuality during press interviews, in 1996, he knew he wasn’t ready to come out publicly.



During an appearance on TODAY’s Sunday Sitdown earlier this week, Lane recounted back to how he was feeling at the time, sharing,“…I just wanted to talk about I finally got a big part in a movie and I didn’t want to make it about my sexuality, although it was sort of unavoidable because of the nature of the film and the character.”

When remembering how he was feeling prior to the Oprah television show appearance alongside Williams, Lane shared,“…I said to Robin beforehand, ‘…I’m so scared of going out there and talking to Oprah. I’m not prepared to discuss that I’m gay on national television. I’m not ready’,” he recalled. “[Williams] said, ‘Oh, it’s alright, don’t worry about — we don’t have to talk about it. We won’t talk about it.’”

Lane didn’t think that Oprah would intentionally try to out him, but he was admittedly nervous about the interview. When he was asked the dreaded question that alluded to his sexuality, he remembers how Robin Williams “sort of swoops in and diverts Oprah, goes off on a tangent and protects me because he was a saint.”



By redirecting the conversation, Williams gave Lane a few moments to gather his thoughts and compose an answer while the spotlight was elsewhere. In response to her question, he said he wasn’t afraid of being typecast because he didn’t have an image to uphold.

In reflecting on how protected he felt during that vulnerable moment, Nathan Lane described Robin Williams as “…the greatest person, just such a beautiful, sensitive soul and so kind and generous to me.”

While there has been a lot of progress toward LGBTQ+ equality and acceptance since 1996, and actors generally feel more comfortable coming out, Nathan acknowledged that “…homophobia is alive and well, and there are plenty of gay people who are still hiding.”

Lane publicly came out as a gay man in 1999, three years after the Oprah interview. He went on to marry his longtime partner, playwright Devlin Elliott, in 2015.

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