Nathan Lane Says His “Birdcage” Co-Star Robin Williams “Protected” Him From Coming Out On “Oprah” In 1996

March 27, 2023 / Posted by:

Nathan Lane is back on Broadway in the play Pictures from Home, so he went on Sunday Today to promote that shit and discuss his career. Variety reports that 67-year-old Nathan got to talkin’ about starring in the 1996 classic, The Birdcage, with the late great Robin Williams. At the time, Nathan was mostly known for his stage roles and voicing Timon in The Lion King (1994). The Birdcage was his first big live-action role. And even though he’d come out as gay at age 21, he didn’t feel ready to share that fact with the world. Luckily, Nathan was protected by Robin, who he calls “a saint.” Nathan says that when the pair went on Oprah together, Robin did everything in his power to distract Oprah from pulling his co-star out of the closet on TV. Hey, if anybody’s great at distracting people with bonkers non sequiturs, it’s Robin Williams.

Obviously, Oprah loved big emotional confessions back in the day. But Nathan didn’t wanna make his first big movie role about his sexuality. via Variety:

“I was not prepared at all for that,” Lane said about openly discussing his sexuality at the time. “And I certainly wasn’t ready to go from table-to-table and tell them all I was gay. I just wanted to talk about finally [getting] a big part in a movie, and I didn’t want to make it about my sexuality.”

Unfortunately for Nathan, his Birdcage character was gay. So the topic was “sort of unavoidable”:
“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,’” Lane said. “He said, ‘Oh, it’s alright, don’t worry about — we don’t have to talk about it. We won’t talk about it.’”
During the show, Oprah asked a bunch of questions that left the door open for Nathan to come out. Like, “How come you’re so good at that girlie stuff,” and “Are you worried about being typecast?” But, whenever Oprah did that, Robin would distract her with silly bits and impressions:

According to Lane, Williams “sort of swoops in and diverts Oprah, goes off on a tangent and protects me because he was a saint.” Lane called Williams a “beautiful, sensitive soul.”

“I just wasn’t ready to do that,” Lane added. “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.”

Nathan ended up coming out publicly in a 1999 issue of The Advocate. His decision was sparked by the murder of Matthew Shepard. Here’s part of Nathan’s interview on Today. Some of the Robin Williams stuff is about six minutes in:


And here’s the full video of Nathan and Robin on Oprah. Nathan comes on at 15:40, and Oprah asking Nathan about being typecast is at around the 16:50 mark:

Robin makes everything better. He should’ve hung out for all of Oprah’s interviews. Imagine if he was there for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s? Woulda been 150% more exciting. “Were you silent or were you silenced?” Cut to Robin doing a 10-minute-long mime schtick.


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