Nathan Lane revealed on “Sunday Today” that Robin Williams once protected him from coming out as gay against his will on national television. The year was 1996 and Lane and Williams were on their press tour for Mike Nichols’ “The Birdcage,” in which they play a gay couple trying to marry off their son to a conservative couple’s daughter. Lane was nervous about doing an interview on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” as “The Birdcage” was one of his first major film roles, and he did not want to come out publicly as gay at the time.
“I was not prepared at all for that,” Lane said about openly discussing his sexuality at the time. “And I certainly wasn’t ready to go from table-to-table and tell them all I was gay. I just wanted to talk about finally [getting] a big part in a movie, and I didn’t want to make it about my sexuality.”
Of course, Lane knew that playing a gay character in the film would make discussing his sexuality in real life “sort of unavoidable,” but he still wasn’t ready to do so.
“I don’t think Oprah was trying to out me, but I said to Robin beforehand, ‘I’m not prepared. 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,’” Lane said. “He said, ‘Oh, it’s alright, don’t worry about — we don’t have to talk about it. We won’t talk about it.’”
Winfrey did end up asking questions that left the door open for Lane to come out. “She was like, ‘How come you’re so good at that girlie stuff? Are you worried about being typecast?’” the actor remembered.
According to Lane, Williams “sort of swoops in and diverts Oprah, goes off on a tangent and protects me because he was a saint.” Lane called Williams a “beautiful, sensitive soul.”
“I just wasn’t ready to do that,” Lane added. “Now you have to make a public statement about it — I was terrified… It’s great that everyone now feels comfortable but homophobia is alive and well and there are plenty of gay people who are still hiding.”
Watch part of Lane’s interview on “Sunday Today” in the video below.