Ever wonder why there doesn't seem to be a lot of genuine stars in pop culture anymore?
Well, John Nolte comes up with a pretty sharp zinger of an explanation.
Any actor who chooses to make something — anything, including their sexuality – a part of their identity, limits how the public will perceive them up on the screen. This is true for straight actors as well, especially those who have made their sexuality a big part of who they are. Beneath all that Barbie doll there might be a genuine actress, but Pam Anderson’s very public sex kitten persona limits her roles. And just to be fair and non-partisan… In his later years, it simply wouldn’t have been possible for Charlton Heston to play an anti-gun ACLU type without harming the audience’s ability to suspend their disbelief. The whole idea would’ve come off as some kind of in-joke, and if that joke wasn’t meant to be part of the overall story you have something of a disaster on your hands.
Read the whole thing. Nolte takes a few whiney gay actors down a peg or two in his piece. Heads up, Richard Chamberlain. "The Thorn Birds" really wasn't all that great.
Nolte touches on something very basic, but something that a lot of entertainers forget nowadays. It's the mystery that keeps people interested in media personalities long after the person has reached their creative zenith. Nothing sustains a career in pop culture more than some strategic obfuscation to keep the audience guessing.
For instance, the private lives of the members of Led Zeppelin were anything but common knowledge back in the 70's. Beyond the fact that three members were married and that they all lived in England, the public didn't have much access to Zep. The band consciously cultivated a nearly impenetrable mystique, which kept people wondering about them. This aura of mystery--along with the undeniable songwriting talent--helped to make Led Zeppelin a massively successful band.
Consider this little nugget about Zep: In 1975 the band released Physical Graffiti, their sixth studio album. Members of the band gave very few interviews to support the release of their album. There were no cameras following Jimmy Page around to document his every move. Robert Plant didn't discuss his political affiliation or his partisan ideology. John Paul Jones and John Bonham were likely to jokingly sneer or angrily snarl at any reporter who asked them who they voted for in the last election. The group didn't mention the causes or charities they support. Led Zeppelin simply let the music speak for themselves.
The results? Physical Grafitti immediately became a massive seller. Not only that, the group's entire back catalogue re-entered the Top 200 as well. The tour that supported the album was incredibly lucrative as well. Led Zeppelin had become the biggest band of the 1970's.
Distance between the musicians and their audience was critical to Led Zeppelin's success. For actors, that sense of mystery is even more important. A rock vocalist is basically playing himself...or at least some facet of his personality...when he writes, records or performs music. An actor is playing a different person everytime he takes on a new role. That means that the actor's real personality can't be so well-known that it smothers the part he's trying to play.
This is not to say that successful actors don't create personas. However, there's a big difference between a 'type' and 'My actual self and my movie self are pretty much the same'. Sean Penn may have been a talented actor back in the Yuri Andropov era, but any role he takes nowadays is overpowered by his off-screen leftwing douchebaggery. The only movie persona Penn has left is the one he plays in the real world--Thumbsucking Liberal Hack/Commie Dictator Apologist/Smug Peace Creep.
To see how a real star should operate, look at Kurt Russell. Russell is a member of the Libertarian Party, but he doesn't make a huge deal about it. Surely the man has causes that he champions, but you don't hear him talk about them all that much. It's common knowledge that he's in a long term relationship with Goldie Hawn, but Russell hasn't put the intimate details of his sexual history into the public record. Consequently, there is no outsized real-world Kurt Russell that fights against the roles he takes.
Look at Russell's performance in the flawed sci-fi action flick "Soldier". Compare that to his work in the more successful comedy "Overboard". Both movies call for very different kinds of acting, but because Russell doesn't have a lot of off-camera drama going on, he's entirely believable as both a near mute futuristic warrior or as a charming modern day rogue. Viewers might not connect with everything Russell does--homeboy is just as prone to the occasional cinematic dud as anybody else in show biz--but his private life never interferes with movie goers' suspension of disbelief.
The modern entertainment business can't seem to grasp the absolutely vital necessity for mystery. Instead, the stars blab about their politics, their personal lives and their STD's at the drop of a hat. As a result, the lack of separation between the performer and the audience has made the art small and the artists even smaller.