Christopher Bradley, the Hollywood star who has appeared in movies as varied as Waxwork, Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss and Leather Jacket Love Story, remembers that it was a lot different being an out gay actor in the 90s than it is today. His manager at the time warned him that he’d ruin his career if he came out, and looking back, Bradley admits that “he was right.” That’s why he is so glad to see actors like Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres and T.R. Knight enjoying strong support after they announced that they are gay. Bradley decided to pursue screenwriting and got accepted to the prestigious Film School at UCLA. For the past three years, Bradley has taught screenwriting at ASU, where he challenges his students to confront and put aside their prejudices and find common ground with each other.
Bradley also had the satisfaction of returning to Hollywood on his own terms to premiere his short film The Violation at this year’s Outfest, the prestigious LGBT film festival that has launched many successful gay favorites. It’s quite a journey for a man who was born one of eight children in a devout Irish Roman Catholic household. Bradley’s route to self-acceptance took him to Texas Christian University, in part to resist his growing realization that he was gay. Fortunately, the college was an enlightened place of learning that allowed him to deeply research the Bible and determine what it actually says, versus what are just people’s judgmental interpretations. Bradley took time to talk to me and to curse his nemesis, Neil Patrick Harris.
“I’ve always felt like Neil Patrick Harris stole my life,” Bradley laughed. “Or the life I wanted. He’s growing up in Albuquerque (like Bradley) and his family takes a trip to Los Angeles. He goes along on an audition with a friend. He gets the job instead of the friend and the family moves to Hollywood and he’s a star. With me, it was a series of small events. I was desperate to get out of Albuquerque. I was smoking and drinking and smoking pot in eighth grade and saw where my older brothers were going and I knew I’d get stuck in Albuquerque unless I totally cleaned up. I was always religious, but I became very, very religious as part of getting out of Albuquerque and then I realized I was gay. That made it even worse... I was told that being gay, you were possessed by a demon and God allowed you to be possessed by this demon because you had not been following his will closely enough. So I became extremely religious and was going to do everything right and God was going to make me straight. One of the benefits was that I worked very hard in school and got a scholarship to college. I was going to be a doctor, but I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor,” he said, laughing. Bradley did a play in Dallas and got an agent, which led to commercials and a bloody part in the cult slasher film The Initiation, starring Daphne Zuniga (Spaceballs, Melrose Place) and Vera Miles (Psycho).
After a short stint in New York, Bradley moved to Los Angeles, waited tables and got a small part in a film that means the world to him, 1985’s An Early Frost, the groundbreaking AIDS drama starring Aidan Quinn. He had just returned from Dallas, where a close friend had suddenly succumbed to AIDS and found the script at his front door when he returned. At the audition, it was clear he was too young to play Quinn’s boyfriend, but Bradley basically told the casting director “I’m not going to leave your office until you tell me I can be an extra. I’ve got be a part of this movie.” He continued, “I told her what had happened with my friend, but what (the casting director) didn’t tell me was that she had terminal lung cancer and had turned down this big budget Rob Lowe movie for this low budget TV movie. She told me about a group therapy scene, and I ended up getting the role (of Todd).”
At the time, Bradley also got cast in Larry Kramer’s fierce AIDS drama The Normal Heart with Richard Dreyfuss and Kathy Bates. Then, his first boyfriend called him to reveal that he’d tested positive for AIDS. “I got tested and I tested negative. By that point, he had died, a few of my close friends had died and others had tested positive, and I went, “You know what, I’m not going to be one of those actors who lies. I’m going to tell the truth.” At a Q&A after The Normal Heart, an audience member asked a question about “destroying your career” if you’re a gay actor. “I just raised my hand and said, “I don’t give a shit! I’m a gay actor and I’ll take what I get.” And it did cost me. There was a soap opera role for a John F. Kennedy Jr. type,” Bradley recalled. They would not read him for the role despite the fact that he was an Irish Catholic JFK Jr. lookalike at the time. After much prodding by his agent, someone admitted that it was because he was gay. They were spending a lot of money on promoting the role and didn’t want to risk it “blowing up in their face if it comes out that he’s gay.”
Then he met with Aaron Spelling for a role in Nightingales, a nursing school drama, at the same time as he was playing a straight role on another Spelling production. “As soon as I left the room -- I won’t name names -- this big TV producer who’s gay turned to Aaron Spelling and told him I was gay. He freaked out, because they’d just gone through all this hell with the gay character on Dynasty and he didn’t want to deal with it again. After the meeting, the producer came up to the casting director and asked her, “Well, is he?” She knew I was, but said “I don’t know.” This producer told her, “Well, tell him if he is that he can come hang out by my swimming pool anytime.” So there were consequences to being out, but looking back on it, I just don’t think I could have lived with myself any other way.”
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CHRISTOPHER BRADLEY:
1. The Violation: Bradley based this black comedy on a childhood crush he had on his neighbor. In the film, fifteen-year-old Mickey has a crush on Oscar, the rich boy next door, who has been obsessing over Mickey’s sister. The chance to house-sit for Oscar’s family permits Mickey to obsess a little over Oscar himself, in a way that blows up hilariously. Co-starring Sordid Lives’ Beth Grant, the film turns the tables on the way straight men objectify women and throws it back in their face. Bradley hopes to take the film to Sundance.
2. Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are: Bradley worked with a pre-Will and Grace Sean Hayes on Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss and the two discussed being out in Hollywood. “He knew I was out and he asked me, “Are you going to think I’m a horrible person if I’m not out?” and I said “No.” I reserve my ‘rage’ for people who are in the closet who are actually damaging gay people, like politicians who are passing anti-gay legislation even though they’re gay.” He admires Hayes and Ellen DeGeneres for doing a lot for the LGBT community before and after they felt secure enough to come out.
3. Bradley Loves Mesa, Really!: Bradley loves the cute mid-century house he bought in Mesa that he couldn’t have afforded in LA. He has nothing but praise for all of the funky, wonderful businesses opening up on Main Street in Mesa like the Royale Theater. He really sees the area becoming a thriving Arts district.
4. Bradley Pays Attention: A quick perusal of Bradley’s Facebook posts reveals him to be an eloquent critic of anti-gay politicians and someone who is paying attention to the increasingly divisive political climate. “I don’t think that Michelle Bachmann could win, but I do think that Mitt Romney could. He scares me more than she does, because he has this way of sounding sensible while saying horrible things.”
5. Bradley Did Tennessee… Williams, That Is: A stage veteran, including a role in Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in Central Park, Bradley was seen last season as famous gay playwright Tennessee Williams in Teatro Bravo’s Arizona Premiere of Rancho Pancho, about Williams’ volatile relationship with his male lover Pancho Rodriguez. Bradley would love to do more theater in town, so don’t be surprised if you see him on stage again soon.
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.