Nathan Lane on the Prolific Use of That Particular F-Word in ‘Dicks: The Musical’

The actor says it hit different than it did in The Birdcage, the movie the launched him into stardom.

Nathan Lane on the Prolific Use of That Particular F-Word in ‘Dicks: The Musical’
Photo:Monica Schipper/WireImage (Getty Images)

During Jezebel’s interview with actor Nathan Lane on Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson’s outrageous new movie, Dicks: The Musical, the conversation turned to the word “faggot,” as it sometimes does when gay men talk gay culture. But it was relevant, swear! For the uninitiated, the movie’s final number, “All Love Is Love,” prominently features the slur-slash-reclaimed term of endearment. (For Sharp it’s the latter, as he told Jezebel the word was used in Dicks as a “celebratory statement.”) “All love is love/All love is love/God is a faggot/And all love is love,” goes the refrain.

In Dicks, Lane acknowledged that within the population of gay men, where the word remains divisive, there could be some who “have issues with using that particular F-word.” But he didn’t—at least, not in the context of how it’s used by Sharp and Jackson, which he said he sensed was a sort of reclamation. “I don’t know if that’s the case or not, or they just think it’s a funny word,” he said.

Then he brought up his contrasting feelings about being directed to use the word in The Birdcage, the 1996 comedy he memorably starred in alongside Robin Williams that gave him his breakout role. He told a good story about The Birdcage that seems worth sharing.

“I had to deal with [Birdcage director] Mike Nichols and [Birdcage screenwriter] Elaine May,” he said. “It was a punchline in The Birdcage. I remember sitting down with Mike Nichols and saying, ‘I love you, Mike, and I’m very happy to be invited to this party. I’m lucky to be here. But, you know, as the only fag in the room, I’m going to tell you, I don’t enjoy having to say that.’”

“The line was literally a line from the original French play [La Cage aux Folles]: ‘Alexander the Great was a fag.’ And I said, ‘Why do we need it? I don’t mind saying Alexander the Great was gay, but there’s many different ways,’” Lane continued. He was 40 when The Birdcage was released. “Even at that age I was naive,” he said. Nichols told him, “We’ll try different things. But for me, would you just do me a favor and do one as written?”

“It’s like he saw me coming. And so that’s what’s in the movie. And now, of course, when it’s on network television, they have to bleep it,” said Lane.

“Robin and I both fought for certain things,” he continued. “He didn’t want to refer to me as his wife. But they didn’t want to change any of that. Whether it was because Mike wanted a commercial success and wanted it to work for all audiences… but it was weird. It was a weird thing. It was the only weird thing in what was a joyous experience. And you know, I’ve been at the plays of Terrence McNally, where I had a character who in anger would call someone that.”

A real-life verbal bashing he experienced after filming The Birdcage underscored Lane’s wariness of the term. He explained, “This thing happened to me after The Birdcage came out. It was sort of the beginning of being recognized in a big way. I was stuck in traffic. I was in the back of a cab and there was a guy in a truck sitting next to me and we were just stuck there. And he looked down and he seemed to recognize me. And I thought, oh, it’s because of this movie. And he said, ‘Hey, faggot. Hey faggot.’ And he kept yelling that at me. And I was like, I can’t believe this is happening. This is the other side of fame. And I thought, I wish this could be recorded and sent to Mike Nichols. He might understand what I’m talking about.”

“But there is something about this ‘faggot’ [in Dicks] that I seem to be okay with,” he concluded. “Because it’s coming from them. It’s coming from gay people.”

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