Nathan Lane: Birdcage Co-Star Robin Williams Protected Me From Oprah Winfrey Gay Query

Nathan Lane says he wasn’t ready to publicly come out of the closet when The Birdcage opened in 1996, and co-star Robin Williams helped him dodge the issue during an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

“I was not prepared at all for that,” Lane said in an interview on NBC’s Sunday Today with Willie Geist yesterday, “and I certainly wasn’t ready to go from table-to-table and tell them all I was gay. I just wanted to talk about finally [getting] a big part in a movie, and I didn’t want to make it about my sexuality.”

Lane, who was out to his family and friends by age 21, and Williams famously played a gay couple in the Mike Nichols film adapted by Elaine May from the 1978 Franco-Italian film La Cage aux Folles. While promoting the film, the duo was invited to appear on Winfrey’s daytime talk show, and Lane says he feared the subject of his sexuality might come up.

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“I don’t think Oprah was trying to out me,” Lane recalled, “but I said to Robin beforehand, ‘I’m not prepared. I’m so scared of going out there and talking to Oprah. I’m not prepared to discuss that I’m gay on national television. I’m not ready.

“He said, ‘Oh, it’s alright, don’t worry about it. We don’t have to talk about it. We won’t talk about it.’”

As was common at the time, Winfrey did not directly ask the question but instead used coded language. Said Lane, “She was like, ‘How come you’re so good at that girlie stuff? Are you worried about being typecast?’”

At that point, Lane continued, Williams, who died by suicide in 2014, “sort of swoops in and diverts Oprah, goes off on a tangent and protects me because he was a saint.”

Watch another part of the Lane interview below.

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