He’s Out, In a Hit Show


CLASS OF ’90 | One of Robert Gonzalez’s C’90 best memories of performing in Pennsylvania Six-5000, an all-male a-capella group, is of putting on a quick show called “Sperm” at the annual Freshman Performing Arts Night. The singers were a “slightly outlandish, artistically driven group,” he laughs, and describes their costumes: plastic bags with long white tails dotted with Xs and Os. Between the outfits and the risqué lyrics, he says, “Freshmen loved it!”

Today Gonzalez is better known as Robert Gant, and he has long graduated out of a-capella and into the dramatic role of Ben Bruckner on Showtime’s hit series Queer as Folk. His performances on screen—as well as his real-life experiences—still have his audiences talking about sexuality. Gant, who plays a gay literature professor on Queer, publicly came out as a gay man himself not long after joining the cast. But in Hollywood, where coming out has meant being featured on the front pages of The Advocate and Out magazines, revealing one’s sexuality still can be a “scary” ordeal.

“I was most afraid of what it would mean work-wise,” says Gant, explaining the fear that being known as a gay actor might “hinder me as a lead man”—especially for roles in which he might be romantically paired with a woman. Gant points out that there are no Tom Cruise or Ben Affleck types who have come out as gay and maintained their status: “There is no one to look to and say, ‘Hey, they’ve done it and it’s been OK.’”

Gant has no regrets about his decision, though. “It takes a lot of energy to perpetuate a lie,” he says, and now “a lot of that energy is freed up.” Coming out has also “given me the great gift of being able to help people,” he adds, mentioning his elation at receiving mail from fans who have drawn encouragement from his story.

Gant’s career as an actor kicked off in the fifth grade, when he starred in his first television commercial; he joined the Screen Actors’ Guild at 11. At Penn, he played such roles as the sadistic dentist in Little Shop of Horrors with the acting group Quadramics and went on to form the Washington singing group Metrognomes with fellow Penn Six-5000 member Vincent P. Cousineau Jr. C’90. When asked whether a career as a professional actor ever crossed his mind during his days at Penn, he says, “Yes, absolutely,” adding that he “just didn’t think it was a reality.”

“I had an intense fear of waiting tables,” he says, which partly explains his decision to attend Georgetown Law Center after graduation. Though he enjoyed law school, Gant was not so excited about life as an attorney. He decided to jump into show business professionally when the firm Baker & McKenzie, his employer
of only a few months, closed its Los Angeles office. After acing his first audition for a spot in a Michelob Light commercial, Gant’s fears of waiting tables began to vanish.

Gant moved on to a nine-episode role as Trevor on Caroline in the City while also enjoying stints on Friends, Veronica’s Closet, Becker, Melrose Place, and Ellen. On the “zany” show Popular, Gant recurred as the eccentric, “Kennedy-esque” vice-principal, Calvin Krupps. He has also appeared in the independent films The Contract and Marie and Bruce.

Before his role as Ben Bruckner, Gant was not a regular viewer of Queer as Folk. “Once I stopped to take a look at the show before the audition, I was kind of blown away by it,” he says, admiring its innovative characters and taboo-breaking plot. “The unapologetic show of affection between guys was extraordinary.”

Gant readily admits that he enjoys playing a gay and highly educated character like himself. “I do love him,” he says. “I throw a lot of myself into Ben,” he adds, noting the fun of referencing authors he studied at Penn on the show. “But of course, [some of Ben’s teaching scenes] are cut short by his collapse and the rush to the hospital” when the character has a reaction to HIV.

He is also excited about what the appearance of characters like Ben means for the entertainment industry in general. “Showtime alone is targeting three minority groups this season with Soul Food, Resurrection Boulevard, and Queer as Folk,” he says. “There is no question that diversity is happening.”

—Sarah Blackman C’03

2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 09/02/03

ALUMNI : Profiles : Events : Notes : Obituaries

Mosaics master Jonathan Mandell

Sports broadcaster Scott Graham

Award winner Elsie Sterling Howard

“Out” actor Robert Gant

“Fairy Godmother” Helen Rosenau

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