Queer Kinship

Darren Criss describes how the queer community still inspires his work

Even if Darren Criss is done taking on queer roles, he’s still reveling in his intrinsic kinship with the community. In a recent panel, Criss offered some insight into his background growing up around queer communities in San Francisco and how those experiences shaped his formative years.

While speaking to an audience at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2), Criss looked back on his breakout role as Blaine Anderson, boyfriend to Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) on Glee.

“It was f*cking awesome,” he said. “Nowadays, we just call it a relationship on TV. But to contextualize it, a gay relationship on mainstream Fox, that’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of.”

Since then, Criss went onto star in more queer roles, playing Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway and gay spree killer Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. While he has since thought differently about taking on those roles, he explained why he has always felt so at home with the community.

“I have been so culturally queer my whole life,” he said. “Not because I’m trying — you know, actually, I was gonna say not because I’m trying to be cool but I’m gonna erase that, because I am trying to be cool. The things in my life that I have tried to emulate, learn from and be inspired by are 100 percent queer as f-ck.

“It was in queer communities that I’ve found people that I idolize, that I want to learn something from. And I’d say that’s a gross generalization, that’s a lot of things and a lot of people. But I grew up in San Francisco in the ’90s. I watched men die. There was an awareness of the gay experience that was not a foreign concept to me. So, it was a narrative that I cared deeply about.”

Criss made similar comments in a 2021 interview where he opened up about the criticism he’s received for taking on queer roles. “While I have not grown up as a queer person, I’m a lifetime subscriber, man,” he said. “I’m a season ticket holder to the queer experience. I grew up in San Francisco in the 90s; these are people that raised my cultural awareness… [so] also it means a lot to me.”

In 2018, Criss announced that he would no longer be taking on queer roles. “There are certain [queer] roles that I’ll see that are just wonderful,” Criss told Bustle. “But I want to make sure I won’t be another straight boy taking a gay man’s role.”

At the same time, he said that it’s “unfortunate” he’ll no longer get to explore those characters. “The reason I say that is because getting to play those characters is inherently a wonderful dramatic experience,” he explained. “It has made for very, very compelling and interesting people.”

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