Noah Galvin on Losing a Role for Being ‘Too Gay’ and the Politics of Coming Out in Hollywood

Photo: Maarten de Boer/Getty Images Portraits
Noah Galvin Has Nothing to Hide
The 22-year-old Real O’Neals star on losing a role for being “too gay,” playing a teen on TV, and the politics of coming out in Hollywood.
Photograph by Maarten de Boer/Getty Images Portraits

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Noah Galvin is smoking a cigarette next to a bodega on the corner of 97th and Broadway when I spot him. He has slight stubble and easy bedhead coiffed at a 45-degree angle, as though he had woken up not too long ago at his mom’s apartment around the block, where he stays when he’s in New York. He had flown in from Los Angeles for the network upfront presentations because his show, The Real O’Neals, was getting a second-season pickup from ABC.

Galvin comes from the New York theater world, where he started out at 9 years old in a community theater production of Oliver. The Real O’Neals is his first major foray into television. He plays a 16-year-old Catholic-school student named Kenny who comes out of the closet to his religious family and school in the pilot. Galvin, who just turned 22, is gay himself, but that’s where most of the similarities between him and his character end. Whereas Kenny is wide-eyed about his burgeoning sexuality, like a true New Yorker Galvin is forthright about his opinions, or as he calls himself, an “anxiety-ridden, neurotic, nebbishy Jew actor.” It makes him unafraid to say what’s on his mind, whether it’s critiquing Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet for gay minstrelsy or calling Colton Haynes’s coming out “pussy bullshit.” In a conversation with Vulture, Galvin was also frank about the politics of coming out himself in the industry, which has already cost him a role for being “too gay."

Congratulations on the renewal.
Thanks. The excitement of it all hit me very recently. It's abusive how long they string you along for it. So once we finally found out, I wasn't even, like, excited. I was just relieved. I didn't have to go back to work and wait for this phone call anymore, you know?

Have you celebrated?
I did a lot of celebrating this week. And I got all of three hours of sleep every night. My house is a bunch of partiers. All they want to do is go out until the wee hours of the night. And I'm a grandmother. I'd rather be posted up at home with a group of friends, doing nothing. Which I usually am. But you know, upfronts week! When in New York.

How have the upfronts been?
I had some hilarious shit go down this upfronts. I had this ridiculous moment with David Blaine where he came up and started doing magic. It blew my mind, like true sorcery. But then he’s done doing magic and comes back to me 15 minutes later while I was talking to Kal Penn. I think he's going to do more magic, and then he looks down at me and is like, “So how's the show?” And I was like, oh weird, I'm about to have an actual conversation with David Blaine. And he turned out to be like — I probably shouldn't be saying this, but fuck it. He turned out to be the weirdest fucking dude.

Have you had conversations with the producers about what the second season of The Real O’ Neals will look like?
A little bit. The executive producers and the creators had a season-two pitch meeting with the network, and we had a sit-down, we'll-see-what-happens meeting prior to that. I basically just talked about little things we'd want in the show. A lot of the first season is very sexuality-heavy. It's gay-heavy and conflict-heavy between the mother and the son. Season two will be a new chapter. I'm very excited to get to explore Kenny's passions. As a character, he hasn't had those opportunities because he's suppressed his true self. He's never been able to fully give himself over to anything in terms of an extracurricular. He has a Chicago poster in his room and a record player, but what the fuck does that mean in terms of who he is as a person? My dream is for him to have a lesbian best friend who challenges his masculinity.

Galvin, right, as 16-year-old Kenny O'Neal in ABC's The Real O'Neals. Photo: Carol Kaelson/ABC

What have your conversations with Dan Savage been like?
I love him a lot. He's the smartest gay man you'll ever meet in your life. He's the most articulate. The thing about Dan is he is primed for combat at all times. Like, ready to throw down. And not only ready to throw down, but ready to win whatever debate. And he will.

More recently for me, he has been a source of advice in terms of kids who want to reach out to me or want to share their coming-out experiences. I got a slew of tweets like, "I don't feel safe at home. I don't know how to talk to my parents." And I was like, fuck. How do I deal with this shit? So I screenshot it and sent it to Dan and was like, What do I do with this? That's a thing that Dan has been a homie for.

Has it been hard, when kids reach out to you?
I don't know. There are varying levels of severity of these stories. So sometimes it does get really intense. I do have to be very careful about what I respond to and what I don't. I'm learning how to deal with it all.

You're 22.
Right. I'm still figuring out my own bullshit. I've got struggles of my own. I don't have time to be your fucking soothsayer.

You've talked a lot about this already, but I have to ...
I understand. Playing a gay character on a gay TV show, being gay in real life …

But the question I'm interested in is if it was ever a question to stay in the closet?
Thank you. That's a more interesting way of asking it. Yes. It was not a point of contention, but a discussion point. I have a very large crew of people that all weighed in. But because of the show and the character and this opportunity I'm being given, I couldn't not come out publicly, solely for the people that watch our show. Too often, gay characters on TV are being played by straight people. Some play stereotypes of gay people, some don't. But more often than not, the people playing gay on TV are either not gay, or they are gay and they're not out of the closet.

It's important to me that with this slightly revolutionary thing we're doing on network television that I should go full force and follow through as completely as possible. And it's paid off in ways. In terms of, like, the kids who watch my show and say thank you for being open about who you are, and playing this character, and bringing a level of authenticity that maybe somebody else wouldn't have. I like to think it makes it that much more relatable. And older people who watch the show are like, damn, I wish I had something like this on TV when I was younger to normalize my situation and make me not so self-hating.

But, on the other hand — it's only happened like once so far — but I missed out on an opportunity, or wasn't granted an opportunity, because people in L.A., producers and casting directors, are not the most creative. I don't have like 30 IMDb credits. I have one. So when they see me play this character, they're like, Oh, he's really good at playing the funny gay kid. That's what he does. Let's have him do more of that! And I don't really want to do that. I play this character, but I come from doing avant-garde, off-Broadway theater, playing all types. I want to keep doing that.

So it was a discussion point, something we talked a lot about. Maybe I did fucking ruin my career right off the bat by doing this. But it's done some good. And I'm hoping that with time, I'll be given those opportunities to play other characters.

It was down to me and one other boy. One producer who watches our show was like, But he’s too gay. It was horrible. It made me feel so shitty.

Was that role you missed out on for a straight guy?
Yeah, it was for a straight kid. And at the end of the day, I got very far in it. It was down to me and one other boy. One producer who watches our show was like, But he's too gay. It was horrible. It made me feel so shitty. I was like, Well, how did I get so far in the process if I was "too gay"? Obviously that's one person's opinion. Somebody who watches our show is maybe blinded by the fact that I play gay on this television show — I'm sure there are a thousand contributing factors. And maybe I was, like, “too gay” in that audition. I don't know. I don't get to watch the audition tape, you know? So it's an interesting thing I'm learning to navigate and having to deal with for the first time.

It's interesting because you know Colton Haynes …
I …

Do you?
The worst.

But you know he talked about coming out. He didn’t actually say he was gay.
That's not coming out. That's fucking pussy bullshit. That's like, enough people assume that I sleep with men, so I'm just going to slightly confirm the fact that I've sucked a dick or two. That's not doing anything for the little gays but giving them more masturbation material.

Is it strange to play a 16-year-old?
No. I've been doing it a really long time. Since I was a child, I've been playing children. When I was little, I was the kid that you'd hire to do the reading or workshop of your new material. Because I'm a good reader, I'm a confident actor. People would hire me to come in and do a 29-hour reading for a week. And I'd play "the kid" in every fucking new musical or play that was in New York for like the past ten years. And then eventually there would be a production, and I'd be too old for it or something like that. But I'm like, thank God I get to play 16; I'm not playing 12 anymore. So that's nice.

You get to have a sexuality.
Exactly. I maybe get to kiss people on the show. That's like, whoa!

How do you think the show handles his sexuality? And how do you think it compares with the broader landscape of gay representation?
Specific to our show, we're not dealing with Kenny's sexual confusion. We're dealing with his coming-of-age. So the sexuality is out of the way for the first episode. And then it's about everyone else around him struggling with his sexuality. It doesn't "other" the young gay boy. It “others” the seemingly normal people around him, which isn't done a lot.

Your character has a lot of very specific mannerisms, like this little stoop, almost. What was important for you in terms of physicality?
That's my go-to when playing younger people: a little slouchy. He's a kid that's been hiding a portion of himself for a very long time. I think he'd be a little closed off, a little hunched over, a little hidden. I pitch my voice up a little bit when I play him.

Did you discuss his flamboyance?
The idea of his flamboyance, there's an ebb and flow to it because we shot in a certain order, and then it airs in a completely different order. Me and our hair guy, Jimmy Servera, had created a perfect hair journey from start to finish of his hair getting gayer and gayer. But by the time it airs, that hair journey is completely thrown out because it's being aired in a random order. And me personally, I'd created a journey of flamboyance. I wanted him to get more and more comfortable with his sexuality as the season progressed. As a viewer, because it airs out of order, it's hard to track those things. So I ruined my whole character analysis and whatnot. [Laughs.] But it was something I was trying to find, how flamboyant this kid was. And it was actually the first question I asked in my test for this show. They were like, do what you're going to do and then we'll tell you. And they never gave me a note about it.

If you watch the pilot, he's more straight than he is in any other episode. So that's something I still want to play with. Because even me, as a person who's 22, I have an ebb and flow to my flamboyance.

And it depends on who you're with.
Yeah, it depends on who you're with. If I'm with a bunch of gays, I'm going to be like, Yas queen! Yas, yas, yas! But when I'm with my brothers and we're wrestling, I'm going to bro out. And I want Kenny to be that. I don't want Kenny to just be the Eric Stonestreet. I want him to be a person. I want him to have levels to him. A lot of portrayals of gays on television don't allow for that.

If I’m with a bunch of gays, I’m going to be like, Yas queen! Yas, yas, yas! But when I’m with my brothers and we’re wrestling, I’m going to bro out. I want Kenny to be that. I want him to be a person.

Can you be more specific?
Are you trying to get me to throw somebody under the bus right now? Because I've thrown Eric Stonestreet under the bus a solid seven times this week. No, I think as wonderful of an actor as Eric Stonestreet is — I've never met him, I assume he's a wonderful guy — he's playing a caricature of a caricature of a stereotype of stereotype on Modern Family. And he's a straight man in real life. And as hilarious as that character is, there's a lack of authenticity. I think people — especially young gay kids — they can laugh at it, and they can see it as a source of comedy, but like, nothing more than that. And I want Kenny to be more than the funny gay kid.

Is there a gay community in Hollywood?
I don't know. The weird, closeted element of L.A. is large.

The glass closet?
Yes. Hilarious. There was a kid who guested on our show. He was flirting with me so blatantly, to the point where he asked me out a few times. At one point I turned to him and was like, Are you gay? And he was like, Well ... I don't know. I'm more like, go with the flow. And I was like, Shut the fuck up. Get out of my face with your wishy-washy bullshit answer. You're a fucking faggot. Like, I know you are. You know you are. Stop beating around the bush. Just go make out with me in my dressing room.

And I ran into that more often than not. But also you meet a lot of straight men out in L.A. that are … I question a lot of people's sexual orientation in L.A. The actual gay-gay community is in WeHo, and it's a club scene. I have no interest in that whatsoever.

Is there an industry network?
Yeah. I think there are enough boys in L.A. that are questionably homosexual who are willing to do things with the right person who can get them in the door. In New York there is a healthy gay community, and that doesn't exist in L.A.

What kind of roles do you want to be doing?
I want to do everything. I just want variety and longevity. I've never filmed a movie before, I want to do that. I want to come back to theater at some point. But I was in New York for like ten years, grinding. I'm ready to be in L.A. for a little while, and really experience film and television. And then when I'm yearning to be a theater slave again, when I'm ready to be paid $200 a week to do a show eight times a week, I'll let New York know.

What was coming out like for you?
I'll tell you the version I haven't really ever told anybody. I mostly talk about me coming out to my mother, which was her asking me over a series of a few months, “Are you gay? Do you think you're gay?” I was like 13. The next year she would ask me, like, every few months if I was gay. Finally I was like, yeah. She jumped up and down and was like, best friends forever! And I was like, oh fuck, what have I done? [Laughs.]

There are enough boys in L.A. that are questionably homosexual who are willing to do things with the right person who can get them in the door.

But before that, I had made the decision for myself that I was gay. I knew I was gay. I had settled the fact, but wasn't sharing it with anybody at the time. I met this girl doing a play, and I completely fell in love with her. I was so confused. We dated for like three, four months, and it was slightly sexual. I didn't know what was happening. And then I had another best friend who I had come out to throughout this process, and she was like, “You can't string this person along. You have to just be out with it.” But I’m genuinely confused because I really, really love this person. And so finally I sat this girl down and was like, “Listen I think I’m gay.” And she was like, “Okay, bummer. Can we still be best friends?” I was like, “Oh, for sure.” We’re still best friends, and we’re going to Hamilton together tonight.

Has being on a TV show affected your dating life?
My dating life is already pretty shitty because I look like a 12-year-old. Being on TV just adds another level of difficulty to the dating thing. First of all, I’m gay, and that’s just hard because gays are naturally a promiscuous collective of people. So there’s the lack of monogamy and then there’s me looking like a 12-year-old. And then there’s being in L.A., where half of the men are closeted and the other half are just dumb. But also gay boys my age are either club kids or they’re in college and they haven’t come out yet and they’re still DL on Grindr. So I tend to date people that are slightly older, but then I get into this situation where they’re just, like, twink hunters. I’m like, “No, I don’t want to date you, you 45-year-old man.”

I’m seeing two people right now. I'm seeing a 24-year-old and I'm seeing a ... I think he's like 38. But it's nice. I'm dating for the first time ever. I never really did that in New York. So it's interesting, I'm slightly capitalizing on the fact that I'm on a TV show, to a certain extent. Using my slight fame to be with sexier people than I normally could be if I wasn't on a TV show. So yes, these are not the people I want to end up dating, but I'll go out. You're cute. Why not?

Sure. Not going to say no to that.
Like, yeah, you have nice muscles. I'll go out with you. I'm on a TV show. The hardest thing, though, is finding smart people. Because I just don't like actors. I don't want to date actors. Ideally I just want to find some, like, awesome fucking finance guy in his early 30s to be real sexy and take me places. I'm already crazy enough. I don't need another neurotic fucking actor to make my head spin. I do plenty of self-hating and self-deprecation, you know?

Editor's note: This article originally contained a reference to Bryan Singer. In an interview format, we generally let the subject speak his mind. But this is a contentious issue, and after consideration, we decided to delete the reference. Noah Galvin has issued a statement.