It’s not often an actor plays a role for months on stage and then is given the chance to reprise it shortly thereafter on screen—alongside all the same castmates. Such has been the trajectory for Zachary Quinto and the Boys and the Band ensemble, who have seen their Tony Award-winning Broadway run in 2018 followed up by a splashy Ryan Murphy-produced Netflix adaptation, out this week.
Quinto—first on stage and now streaming on a television near you—portrays Harold, whose eventful 32nd birthday party is the centerpiece of the story. Though bitingly sharp and clever, the prickly Harold is, by Quinto’s own admission, a tough hang. “He relishes the thought that the world should just come to him,” Quinto explains, speaking on the phone about the project earlier this week. “He makes almost no effort to extend himself.”
Embodying Harold in the theater, Quinto says he was focused on making sure his “choices [were] hitting the back row.” For the Netflix adaptation of the Mart Crowley play, directed by Joe Mantello, Quinto attempted to shift gears. “It was a very different process… The film is much more about inviting the audience in, rather than sending choices out. And I think Harold thrived on film because it allowed me to just sit back a little bit and drop into his nature a little bit more specifically.” From Quinto’s perspective, Harold is “the most fun character because he’s such a departure from who I am,” he says. “I haven’t gotten to play somebody this bombastic in this kind of over-the-top way. I really enjoyed that part of him.”
Quinto, 43, who first gained attention for his role as the villain on NBC’s Heroes in 2006, has since pursued an intriguing mix of big-budget productions (the Star Trek franchise), with smaller and artsier fare (Margin Call, I Am Michael). He is currently in Los Angeles—spending his time exercising and playing banjo, among other pursuits—and has spent the past few months focusing on his production company, reading scripts and taking meetings as he determines what he might want to work on next. “I think it would have been a very different quarantine if I was just waiting for the phone to ring,” he reflects.
Quinto says a large part of what drew him to the Boys in the Band project initially was that it was a story about a group of gay men in which all the actors involved—including Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, and Andrew Rannells—are openly gay themselves. “I am very encouraged about the idea of representation. The thing that excites me is authentic representation, the fact that this is a company of gay actors.” He continues, “I’m not the kind of person who’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t think straight people should play gay characters.’ And I also feel like gay actors should be able to play straight characters. I think we’re going through a time in our cultural history right now where representation is very important and people are rightfully protective of authenticity and representation, but the idea of being an actor is about inhabiting points of view and characters who may not be complete reflections of our own experience. So I’m not precious about that, per se. But I do think the idea that the main company of this film is all openly gay actors is a real unique and exciting aspect of this story.”
Boys in the Band was first performed off-Broadway in 1968, which is when the story is set, a year before the Stonewall riots took place, and the tone and content of the work have been met with mixed reactions in the years since. (A previous film adaptation, directed by William Friedkin, was released in 1970.) There are aspects of the gay male experience portrayed in the 2018 revival, and now the 2020 film, that feel very much of the time depicted, five decades ago. But there is also a great deal—particularly in the dynamics between the assembled friends and frenemies at the party—that feels pretty contemporary. “It’s very specifically told through the lens of the gay male experience in this very unique time in history,” Quinto says. “But these are characters who are longing for some acceptance within themselves in the world around them. And especially for young people who may not be as well-versed in history of the gay lineage, the gay legacy, I think it’s important to realize that it’s not that different from what people feel today.”
While there have been massive strides made, the pressures of social media and technology still make things challenging, he observes. “We may be more integrated as a community and we may be more represented and more accepted and more a part of the mainstream,” Quinto says. “But even for people who don’t identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, that sense of where we look for acceptance, where we look for love… so many people are looking outside of themselves, and I think there’s something quite universal about that.”
While the ensemble won’t get to celebrate the release of the film together in traditional fashion, they are finding ways to mark the occasion (“There’s always a group text thread, for sure”).” But even amidst this uncertain time for Hollywood, Quinto is excited about a slate of projects on the horizon. “I have a lot of stuff in development right now, and a wide-ranging variety of themes and ideas. There’s a couple of LGBTQ+ stories. There’s some comedy stuff—I think there’s ways of looking at things that highlight experiences, but with levity.” He pauses, and continues. “So for me, it’s just really about, ‘Well, what is resonant? What is valuable in terms of entertainment value, obviously on one hand, and on the other, in engaging a social discourse?”