Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto: ‘Truman and Tennessee were lightning rods’
The Big Bang Theory and Star Trek actors lend their voices to Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams in a film about their friendship.
“It really was an intellectual friendship,” Truman Capote said of his 40-year relationship with the playwright Tennessee Williams. “Though people thought otherwise.”
The two aspiring writers met in 1940, when Capote was 16 and Williams was 29, still a few years off his first success with The Glass Menagerie. Both were southerners (Capote from Louisiana, Williams from Mississippi); had impossible relationships with their families; went from being what Williams called the “teased queer in the schoolyard” to out gay celebrities; created iconic female characters (Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire); and later became recognised as giants of 20th-century American literature.
Their lifelong friendship – and occasionally bitter rivalry – is the subject of Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s artful documentary Tennessee & Truman: An Intimate Conversation.
Zachary Quinto and Jim Parsons, the actors who lend their voices to Williams and Capote in the film, have plenty in common, too: they are gay men in Hollywood who have spent most of their careers in the gravitational pull of entertainment behemoths playing characters who are fluent in Klingon. Quinto is best known for his recurring role as Spock in three Star Trek movies, Parsons for his 12 seasons as Sheldon the uber-geek in the much-loved sitcom The Big Bang Theory. While they had known each other socially for years, it was a revival of Mart Crowley’s play The Boys in the Band, a seminal work of LGBT+ theatre, that cemented their friendship – first in the 50th anniversary Broadway production in 2018 and then in the 2020 movie adaptation for Netflix.
Tennessee & Truman is an unexpected pleasure. This is partly because it conjures a world of literary glamour far from the reality in which we are all confined: high art, high bitchery and delightful archive photographs of a fifty-something Capote cavorting in Studio 54.
Capote appears vicious, bitchy, highly curated; Williams is large, loose, almost oozing out of the screen. “It’s like comparing an elf to an ape,” as Parsons puts it. Capote was frequently unkind about Williams – he observes that it is possible to be a writer of genius and yet lack intelligence: “Tennessee is not intelligent.”
As astute as Quinto and Parsons’ performances are, the real delight lies in the archive interviews – the astonishing intimacy of the questions asked, the artfulness with which they are answered.
“If we want to get right to it, it was a very different thing to be a homosexual back then,” says Parsons. “They were so unapologetic about it. There’s a beautiful, brutal honesty about them. And they are game-players at the same time. In those interviews, their answers are both very revealing and also cat-and-mouse. It feels like you get some deep truths from them, but it’s so playfully done.”
The careers of Quinto and Parsons appear not to have been harmed by being out gay men in Hollywood – indeed, Parsons was until recently the highest-earning TV star in the world (between 2014 and 2019, he was paid more than $25m a season for The Big Bang Theory). Now, having spent the past few years concentrating on LGBT+ stories, both are hoping to diversify as production cranks up again.
Quinto hopes that the film will bring renewed respect to Williams and Capote as “trailblazers” at a time when there were few out gay public figures. “I think, back then, identity was less tied to social progress, representation, political advancement. There was a fascination with these people who were unapologetic. They were lightning rods. It wasn’t the same as what it means today, when it’s about equality, social integration, progressing an agenda for the community. But it was the foundation that all the stuff that came after it was built upon. All of the things that we’re able to advocate for today wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for these outliers.”
Pride in Ageing’s Virtual Rainbow Death Café is back on Monday 24 May at 4.00pm.
This event is a chance to talk openly about death and dying in a relaxed, LGBT-friendly group space. More information and free tickets can be booked here.
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LGBT Foundation’s Pride in Practice LGBT Patient Experience Survey is open from 17 May until 31 July 2021. This annual survey is an opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people to share their experiences of accessing GPs, dentists, pharmacists and optometrists.
In 2018, 13% of LGBT people said that they had received some form of unequal treatment from healthcare staff because they were LGBT. This figure rose to 19% for LGBT people of colour.
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This survey asks about your experiences of accessing healthcare services from your GP, dentist, pharmacist and optometrist. It aims to build a picture of current healthcare provision by primary care services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people. The findings of this research will be turned into a report which will be used to make sure that primary care services are better able to recognise and meet the needs of their LGBT patients.
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