Jim Parsons on Why Being a Gay, Aspiring Actor When Ellen DeGeneres Came Out Was ‘F—ing Scary’

Jim Parsons cried a lot while reading “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Other Four-Letter Words,” entertainment journalist Michael Ausiello’s 2017 book about his late husband Kit Cowan’s battle with cancer.

“My husband watched me read it, which means he watched me sob through it. And he said, ‘Do you think it would make a good movie?’ I said, ‘I don’t know,’” Parsons tells me on this week’s “Just for Variety” podcast. “And he read it, and he said, ‘I think it would.’”

Fast forward to today: Focus Features’ “Spoiler Alert,” directed by Michael Showalter and in theaters on Dec. 2, stars Parsons as Ausiello (whom I’ve known for a couple of decades and is editor-in-chief of Variety’s sibling outlet TVLine) and fellow queer actor Ben Aldridge (“Fleabag”) as Kit. Rounding out the cast are Sally Field and Bill Irwin as Cowan’s parents.

“I just saw it as this soul that suddenly gets thrust into this jungle and it’s like, you’re going to have to find a way and that was exciting,” Parson says of portraying Ausiello. “The other thing that was really thrilling to me was that it was such a full view of a gay relationship. It was such a full view of two people who really love each other, two souls that come together and go on this journey together, the ups and downs of that, the coming apart and coming back together and, ultimately, being able to really get about as clear a view of another human being as you can possibly get.”

You’ve worked with some incredible legends and icons in this business. When Sally Field walks on set, what is going through your mind?

It is frightening to have one of our most legendary actresses step on the set. It’s like, the first few times you’re looking her in the eye during a take, part of what I’m thinking is like, “Are you buying this? Is this working for you?” For as long as I’ve watched movies, I’ve admired Sally Field. The nice thing I have to tell you was that it quickly becomes apparent she’s just an actor. She sits there on set with you, with her dog, and talks about whatever, and that feels really great to meet her, and feel that she’s part of your group, and that you’re part of her group.

I moderated a Q&A the other night with Michael and Ben and I said to Ben, “You are now Julia Roberts. You have Sally Field as your mother.”

I told him, “I wish she’d throw some juice in your face and call you ‘Shelby.’” That’s what I want see.

Tell me about your chemistry read with Ben. Was it over Zoom?

I talked for about an hour with him and Showalter on Zoom. I thought he was the right person to work with, as a pair for me and filling out the balance of this couple and balancing me, within the first couple of minutes. I couldn’t tell you specifically what it was. It was just a way of talking and hearing. There was no stutter step. It was just an immediate understanding, spoke the same language. I thought, “Well, I guess that’s my top candidate.” And then Showalter called me and said, “I think he’s the one.” And I said, “Well, so do I, but I didn’t know, are you allowed to pull the trigger that fast?” He’s like, “Yes.” I was like, “Oh, okay, I’m new here.” And that was it. Ben always tells the story, and I love it. He thought he’d have to audition after that. And at some level I did, too. But once again, Showalter was like, “No, we don’t need to do that.”

I imagine it’s often, but I could be wrong, that a lot of LGBTQ content is coming your way. Are you constantly being thrown scripts with, “Hey Jim, you’re an out actor in Hollywood?”

I wouldn’t necessarily call it a lot of LGBTQ+ content, but there are a lot of gay characters that I get offered. The majority, I would say, that I get offered are gay. I think that a decade ago, if you’d have told me I’d be an out actor, and that I would therefore get offered tons and tons of gay roles, I’d have been like, “Well, that seems like an easy, tired thing to have happen.” But the gay characters I have played, especially in the past five or so years — between [HBO’s 2014 adaptation of] ‘The Normal Heart,’ ‘The Boys in the Band,’ and the agent Henry Willson in Ryan Murphy’s ‘Hollywood,’ and now this — they have been such rich characters and in such interesting storylines that I have had an awakening of how much I love as an actor — and, if I may say, artist — bringing myself to the work.

I remember back in the day when I was going to interview you for something, it was very clear, do not touch his private life.

I grew up in a time where the first thing I think of every time on this topic is when Ellen [DeGeneres] came out. It was so exciting. As much as it helped ultimately, it was also fucking scary as a gay person who wanted…a career for themselves, in the same road, in the same industry. So, it’s been a long time coming.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. You can hear the full conversation above or find “Just for Variety” wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

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