Last week, The Chicago Tribune caused a bit of a stir as they asked the question, “Is it time to retire the phrase ‘openly gay’?” The thought is that the term has been imposed on us by the straight community and that it alludes to some underlying shame in being gay so that someone being “openly gay” must be a superhero. During our recent boom of LGBTQ Hollywood celebrities coming out, we have seen the articles with headlines identifying actors as gay, trans, bi, and lesbian, when discussing their latest projects. Are we always to be identified by our sexuality? Even as an actor, does acting take a backseat to our sexuality?
In actor Shaun Melady’s latest project, the Amazon Prime short film The Disturbance Call, he plays a cop who gets wrapped up in the mysterious and horrifying events of an evening on the beat. This is not just light horror film fare. In the subtext, there is a whole discussion on the power that fear has on our lives, and what we should be most fearful of – each other. It’s an intriguing piece, especially given the fears that we have all been living through during COVID, and our political and social climate. And, gasp! Guess what? Shaun plays a straight cop. Not to fanfare, not to attention-grabbing headlines, he’s doing his job – he’s acting.
Shaun is relatively new to the acting scene and made his transition to the industry straight from the modeling world as a print and runway model. He has already been seen in Off-Broadway productions, the award-winning short film “Abysmo”, and two popular web series with millions of views. He also works as a journalist and has been assigned every subject under the sun, from cocktails to health. It was his op-ed piece, “I’m a Gay Guy at Christian College”, that ended any conversations as to is or isn’t he? Yes, he is. His piece explored the pressures and judgments that were placed upon him by “loving” Christians. He would be in the closet no more. But instead of being the poster boy for gay actors, he focused on his career. He is an actor, a journalist, a model, a son, who is also gay.
We chatted with Shaun about the pressures of being a gay actor, playing straight, and coming out.
I have to be honest; it wasn’t immediately apparent that you were an openly gay actor. After some google searching and stalking your IG, I noticed a few posts about your relationship, but it wasn’t overt. Much different than other gay actors on social media I come across. You don’t seem to lead with your sexuality. Is that a fair statement?
That is a fair statement. I do not lead with my sexuality, as there is so much more to me and my career to offer. My sexuality is a very important part of me but not the only part.
Do you feel the pressure as an openly gay actor to be an activist or use your platform to promote the LGBTQ cause?
I do not necessarily feel pressure, per se; but I think there are certain parts of the community and certain causes that social media is very good for to shed light on.
Do you think leading with our labels (i.e., gay man) limits us in any way?
I think society has come a far way to eliminate stereotypes, which is incredible. There is much more acceptance out there nowadays than when I first came out. On a different side of things, there are, unfortunately, still limits as to views on labels. Whether someone is Gay, Straight, Trans, Black, White, Latino, Asian, etc. there can be stigmas that come with each label. I think we are heading in the right direction to change this, but there definitely is still work to be done.
I enjoyed your performance as a straight cop. Knowing your sexuality had no effect on me appreciating your performance. I am in the minority that I don’t think a gay man needs to play a gay man, I think all actors should be given the same opportunity. I mean it is called acting. LOL. What is your opinion on the popular opinion that gay men should be playing gay men?
Thank you so much for the kind words! Also, it is so funny that you ask … I just recently did an interview and, shortly after, I had a chat with some friends about this same subject. I think every actor, no matter what they identify as, should have the chance to play a character. I know I would want the same opportunity to be cast as a straight character, and I think it is only fair that a straight actor has the chance to convey the role of a gay character.
I’m going to be honest yet again. I see some gay actors play straight more convincingly than others. Is that about acting or do you think it’s because that they have been such a face of LGBTQ activism that we can’t separate it in our minds?
That’s a tricky but good question. I think actors can give great performances but most of the time, it’s up to the audience to either accept that character as a character, or they can be stuck on the preconceived idea of the actor outside of the character they are portraying. Either way, if an actor is portraying a specific character, they are not portraying themselves. That is a significant part of acting, which is a fantastic thing.
You are new to acting. Do you feel the need to butch it up for a straight role? What was your approach to playing this cop?
I think getting into the mind of the character and bringing that character to life is important. Just like any actor would do. I do not necessarily think about “butching it up” for a straight role because that is not the point. The point is becoming that character and feeling what they feel. That approach also went into playing Officer Phil Eriscon in The Disturbance Call.
How did you get into modeling?
I was working in PR and Communications at the time and saw there was an open casting call for a New York Fashion Week show. I had to go and at least try because I live in NYC, so why not give it a shot, right?! I ended up going, met my first manager there, and the rest kind of is history. I went on to walk in multiple NYFW shows for various couture designers and have also worked with Fortune 500 companies on print and commercial campaigns. I am extremely grateful for all of it.
What was doing your first runway like backstage?
It was so nerve-racking. Everyone is in a rush and then, once you are done with hair, makeup and are in your outfit, you sit and wait. The waiting was like torture! The excitement, nerves, and anticipation just make you antsy. It was great!
Models are in the business of selling their body image; we know that body issues exist in the LGBTQ community – how have you dealt with body image as both a gay man and a model?
Body issues are a very real thing and something that people should not take lightly. It is a major struggle not to give into inner thoughts of doubt or negativity about body image. As a model and a part of the LGBTQ community, I think there is a stereotype to have a “perfect body” or a “perfect face;” but in reality, everyone has their own terms of beauty. Do I go to the gym and work on my physique and fitness? Absolutely! But that is my own personal journey. Everyone has their own path and people shouldn’t judge others for that. Nor should they be so hard on themselves.
How did you make the leap from the runway to a film set?
I have had a passion and drive for both of them. I currently still do both. They are different in various ways but there is also a sense of cohesion. I have acted previously as I was growing up and in college, so that has helped with a career in entertainment. Being on-stage acting also brings a sense of confidence on the runway.
In your writing, what are the most important components to writing a good article?
What was the first published piece you wrote about?
If I remember correctly, the first piece I wrote about was for Adidas Skateboarding. It was about a new shoe product launch. I received a pair of shoes and posted it for USA Today Action Sports.
You have been involved in many different mediums of entertainment – modeling, writing, and now acting. Which one is easiest for you? Which one is your favorite?
They all are so great and different in various respects. I enjoy doing all of them. If I had to choose, I would say acting is my favorite because I can bring characters to life and be on-camera. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and have truly loved since I was a kid.
An op-ed of yours was published about your experience coming out at a Christian college. What was the reaction from your family and friends from your hometown?
That was such an interesting time. My family was very supportive when that article came out. I came out to them previously, so it wasn’t a complete shock. People that went to that college who I grew up with weren’t the most receptive. A good handful told me I should think about what I’m doing because they “don’t want to see me go to hell.” It was a hurtful time but it ultimately made me stronger.
When did you first start to realize you weren’t like the other boys?
For as long as I can remember. I always tried to hide it because I grew up in the church and it wasn’t acceptable in that environment. So, I can’t pinpoint a day that I remember feeling that. I guess maybe on September 5, 1991 (the day I was born). Lol.
What sparked your coming out?
I was tired of hiding and realized that I did not want to be like these other “Christians” that were so judgmental. I couldn’t help but think that if God is love and Christianity is supposed to be based on love, then how could this part of me not be accepted or how could it be so condemning. It didn’t make sense to me and it drove me to be my true self, which I am happy to be.
Raised as an avid Catholic, I can understand the oppressive nature that religion can have on someone in terms of sexuality. BUT – I want to know what positive aspects, if any, have had on your life and the man you are today?
There are positive aspects for sure. I have learned that everyone comes from a different walk of life and the true way to live and be a, you know, human, is to love and accept everyone.
What were your best classes at your Christian college? Your worst classes?
My best classes would have been my Communications classes. There was something so welcoming and creative in those subjects. My worst classes … I really don’t remember. I would probably say science and math because I was never the best at those subjects.
What is your relationship with religion and spirituality today?
I am not really into religion except for the religion of love. I still believe in God, but it is a very different relationship than when I was growing up.
Being an openly gay actor must have some effect on your career – do you ever regret coming out? Do you wish you would have waited farther along in your acting career?
I don’t regret coming out. I came out before I was acting professionally and have embraced myself. There are moments when I think that maybe it would affect my career, but then I snap out of that thought and know that this industry understands that people come from very different walks of life. And then I let my work speak for itself.
Ok, be honest…did you want to wear the cop uniform home?
My dad used to work for the sheriff’s office back in my home county, so I’m used to seeing cop uniforms. It was a different feeling being in one of the uniforms though!
There is a part of the film when the statement is made that people are scarier than anything else – jealousy, hate, war, racism – all more damaging to our planet than climate change or natural disaster. In your opinion, what aspect of people are the scariest?
I think the capability of hatred is the scariest part. If there is hatred in people, then the rest of those aspects follow. Jealousy, war, racism, sexism, etc. all stem from that internal hatred toward either an individual or group of people. I think there needs to be communication and understanding in the world, so we can eliminate hatred.
Should we reach across the aisles and forgive “the other side” to move on?
I think that people should truly listen to each side to form their own opinion. I think we have gotten to a point where it is a herd mentality and if your “group” thinks this way, then you have to think this way also. It goes along with communication and dialogue between one another. It is important and, in my opinion, the only way things can truly get done.
The Disturbance Call deals with the fear of the unknown. What scares you the most?
I love sharks and think they are such cool creatures; however, when I am in the ocean in the middle of open water, I have this irrational fear that a shark is going to come from below and attack. Kind of like a Jaws scenario. But I think the ocean and sharks are so amazing. It doesn’t stop me from going out on a boat or to the beach!
If you were arrested, what would your friends assume it was for?
Having way too many mimosas at brunch or too many margaritas on Taco Tuesday.
Follow Shaun on IG: @ShaunMelady
Watch the trailer for The Disturbance Call here:
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