*The following article contains discussion of suicide/self-harm.
Three-time Tony winner Nathan Lane sat down for an interview with Sunday Sitdown with Willie Geist to discuss the return to his theatrical roots in the Broadway play Pictures From Home.
While reflecting on his career spanning four decades–which included numerous work in TV and films in both dramatic and comedic roles–Lane talked about how his close friend and colleague Robin Williams protected him by distracting Oprah Winfrey from potentially outing Lane on her show.
Lane made his theatrical debut in 1978 in an off-Broadway production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and has gone on to perform in numerous productions on and off Broadway.
He made his film debut in 1987 with Ironweed and lent his voice as Timon in Disney's animated film TheLion King in 1994.
But his career skyrocketed after playing the flamboyant drag artist Albert opposite Robin William's character Armand Goldman in 1996's The Birdcage–an English version remake of the 1978 Franco-Italian film La Cage aux Folles.
While doing a press tour for the comedy film, Lane–who had been out as gay since he was 21–said he wasn't ready to discuss his sexuality in public.
"I just wanted to talk about [how] I finally got a big part in a movie, and I didn't want to make it about my sexuality," Nathan recalled, adding:
"Although it was sort of unavoidable because of the nature of the film and the character."
So when he and Williams appeared on The OprahWinfrey Show in 1996, Williams had his buddy's back when the iconic host put Lane in a vulnerable spot with a question about typecasting.
Oprah asked Lane:
"Were you afraid of taking that role and being, like, typecast and people forever saying, 'Are you? Are you not? Is he honey, I don't know.'"
Williams then swooped in and distracted Oprah and told her:
"Girl you changed just in the middle of that sentence."
He then continued ribbing Oprah's very flamboyant characterization of inquisitive fans, adding:
"I don't know, I'm telling you. Mmmm. Don't make me come out there."
The studio audience erupted in laughter–which allowed Lane time to collect his thoughts before responding to Oprah's question.
You can watch the moment in the clip below.
Looking back on that interview, Lane said:
"I don't think Oprah was trying to out me, 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."
"And [Robin] said, 'Oh, it's alright, don't worry about it, we don't have to talk about it, we won't talk about it.'"
Williams was a celebrated actor and comedian known for his work in films like Dead Poet's Society,Awakenings, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, and for providing the voice of the Genie in Disney's Aladdin.
He went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the 1997 film Good Will Hunting.
On August 11, 2014, Williams was found dead in his Paradise Cay home in California after an apparent suicide.
An autopsy report included an examination of brain tissue suggested the actor who had been battling depression, memory loss, and insomnia was also suffering from undiagnosed "diffuse Lewy body dementia."
"Robin was just the greatest person," said Lane, fondly. "Just such a beautiful, sensitive soul and so kind and generous to me."
And regarding coming out at the time of The Birdcage, he said:
“I just wasn’t ready to do that."
“Now you have to make a public statement about it—I was terrified."
"It’s great that everyone now feels comfortable but homophobia is alive and well and there are plenty of gay people who are still hiding.”
You can watch the Sunday Sitdown with Willie Geist interview here.
Lane eventually came out in 1999 in an interview with Bruce Vilanch for the Advocate magazine following the death of Matthew Shepard–the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who was violently beaten as part of a hate crime and left for dead on October 6, 1998.
Lane has since been a board member of and fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and was honored with numerous awards for his work and philanthropy in the LGBTQ+ community–including the Matthew Shepard Foundation Making A Difference Award in 2015.
The premiere production of Pictures From Home officially opened on Broadway on February 9, 2023, in New York's legendary Studio 54 which has been converted into a theater.
The memory play directed by Bartlett Sher was written by Sharr White and was based on the book of the same name by photographer Larry Sultan, who chronicled his relationship with his parents.
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
To find help outside the United States, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has resources available at https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/