LOS ANGELES – When Luke Grimes started on HBO’s “True Blood” last season his character James Kent was wooing a female vampire. But Grimes reportedly quit in December when he found out Kent was bisexual and starting a romantic relationship with a gay character in the seventh and final season.
Now Nelsan Ellis, the actor who plays Kent’s gay lover on the show, is speaking up -- and he’s not happy.
“You quit your job because you don’t want to play a gay part? You make a big statement when you go, ‘I don’t want to play this part because it’s gay,” Ellis told New York Magazine following the airing this week of his character’s sex scene with the new actor playing Kent. “You just made a statement, and it has ripple effects.”
Back in December Grimes’ rep said his departure was due to a scheduling conflict with the filming of forthcoming movies “American Sniper” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” and had nothing to do with storylines. However, HBO announced that he would be replaced by Nathan Parsons in the final season due to differences in the “creative direction of the character.”
So how hard is it for an actor to get out of a contract if they don’t feel comfortable with what their character is doing?
“Usually the production company agrees to let them out of the contract, rather than have a risk of a no-show or someone who performs badly. But the network or production company does not need to let them out of the contract,” L.A-based entertainment lawyer Julian Chan told FOX411. “They were being nice.”
Chan said that typically production companies have the freedom to tailor television scripts in whatever direction they desire, and it is only when nudity is involved that it must be written into a performer’s contract. Hollywood agent Alec Shankman says that while the specifics of each and every contract vary, “the creative direction is typically left to the directors, producers and distributors” and the “work-for-hire talent” is not usually involved in the creative consultation unless its built into their agreement.
Born and raised in a devout Christian family in Dayton, Ohio, Grimes’s father is a Pentecostal pastor and the actor attended a Christian High School. In an interview with Filler Magazine, Grimes said that while he still values the religious teachings he learned as a child, his is undecided the “modern Christian religion.”
Yet critics argue that Grimes should have known what he was getting into when he initially signed the dotted line, given that the supernatural drama – created by the openly gay Alan Ball and produced by his company in conjunction with HBO – routinely pushes the envelope when it comes to relationships.
“It’s unfortunate that an actor today would feel uncomfortable playing gay, especially on a program that has always put LGBT characters front and center,” Stacy Lambe, Associate Editor for the gay and lesbian-focused OUT Magazine said. “But Nelsan Ellis and Nathan Parsons are proof that Luke Grimes is not the norm. Grimes is the exception.”
According to some media and entertainment industry experts, being an exception not willing to have a same-sex escapades on the screen may have career consequences. Larry Gross, a professor specializing in LGBT and TV issues at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism said that in today’s climate “refusing to play a bisexual role is not a good career move.”
“It’s pretty clear Luke will suffer as a result. Hollywood will either say he was unprofessional or a phobe of some sort,” added Dan Gainor, VP of Business and Culture at the Media Research Center. “It is his prerogative, but he will suffer for it.”
HBO declined to comment, and reps for Grimes did not respond to requests for comment.
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