Roland Emmerich is the director behind such blockbusters as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and new film 2012. After 25 years in the industry he’s decided to come out. Below he explains why and why he thinks there’s no hope for closeted Hollywood actors...
Is Roland Emmerich gay? You’d never know it by watching his films. But his Knightsbridge mansion contains photoshopped portraits of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad exposing a hairy, sculpted chest (pecs courtesy of a gay website) and Princess Di flipping the bird, and he’s hired Adam Lambert – last year’s glam (and out) American Idol runner-up – to sing the theme tune to his apocalyptic epic 2012. We’d say the signs are clear, even if we hadn’t observed him in person dancing cheek to cheek with his young partner in a lavish jungle-themed bash in Cancun, where the master of disaster’s latest world-pulverising saga was unveiled to journos (complete with skimpily-dressed Mexican hunks decked out as Mayan warriors).
When it comes to being an out filmmaker, Emmerich’s definitely no Todd Haynes. But the German-born director has dropped his cloak of secrecy in recent years and, as a purveyor of cinematic destruction whose films have raked in billions, is one of Hollywood’s most powerful gay men, despite making films without an ounce of homo-sensibility to them (and one – The Patriot – that starred homophobe Mel Gibson). Emmerich argues that he’s always expressed his sexuality on screen in his fondness for outsider characters, including – in Independence Day – having the world saved by a black man (Will Smith) and a Jew (Jeff Goldblum) back in the day when that was actually a big deal. But frankly, Michael Bay (Transformers) makes camper movies than Emmerich.
After obliterating the White House in Independence Day, unleashing a mutant lizard on New York in Godzilla and draping the world in ice curtains in The Day After Tomorrow, Emmerich’s latest chunk of disaster porn outstrips all previous efforts. For starters, he topples St. Peter’s basilica onto worshippers, reduces Rio de Janeiro’s Christ The Redeemer statue to dust and sends LA sliding into the ocean. “Even my friends joke with me: ‘You destroy the world again!’” the Teutonic director tells us delightedly over lunch. “But you find something you’re good at and successful with and once in a while you want to do it again because it’s easy for me to get a lot of money to do these movies. And each time I can do it a little bit better. I said to myself, ‘If I do it again, this time I will get it all out of my system.’”
Which is why in 2012, our planet’s 6.8 billion inhabitants – including John Cusack, Thandie Newton and Woody Harrelson – will flee fireballs, floods, earthquakes and tidal waves as an ancient Mayan doomsday prophecy comes true. In short, the Earth’s crust makes like one of Nigella’s recipes and crumbles into oblivion. How ironic would it be if the world survived eight years of George Bush – and then four years later was destroyed by a dead civilisation’s prophecy. (Not that Emmerich buys into it. “I hope it’s not true – I want to make more movies!”) “I’m publicly a big critic of George W. Bush. Because of him, during his presidency I tried to live as much outside of America as possible.” That included making an epic about mammoth hunters – 10,000 BC – which even he admits was underwhelming. “I made it maybe with a big doubt in my heart,” he says, mainly because it allowed him to spend almost three years in Africa, New Zealand and London making the film.
Raised in a wealthy German family, Emmerich’s father financed his early projects while his student graduation film – The Noah’s Ark Principle – was rather impressively granted the opening slot at the 1984 Berlin Film Festival. But Emmerich wanted to be the next Spielberg, not the next Fassbinder, so coming out was never on the cards early in his career. For one thing, he was “deeply closeted”. But he also claims he was worried about being ghettoised. “I’m 53 now and I say to younger gay men, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are,’” he muses. “Because when I grew up, you could not say you’re gay because immediately it would be like, ‘gay director, gay director.’ And I didn’t want to be in that box because I wanted to make the movies I’m making... For me, making movies has nothing to do with sexuality.”
Does he give any credence to the recent assertion by TV director Todd Holland (The Larry Sanders Show) that young directors are better off keeping shtum about their bedroom preferences? “Nooooo,” he says, hesitantly. “But I would also say that I would never put my sexuality in the foreground because you get put in that box. And I just don’t like boxes.” So, in other words, yes... But Emmerich also stresses that the landscape has changed since he first arrived in LA. “There’s a whole group of gay Hollywood directors and we all get together and some of us make small movies, some big, some make gay movies and some not-gay movies. It’s just great that you can be honest these days about being gay. You don’t feel pressure about it any more.”
For actors, though, nothing’s changed. “With actors, it’s impossible,” he agrees. Does he think it will ever change? “I hope so. But it’s more difficult because they’re the figures of identification. If you’re a girl and you fall in love with a male star, you want to deep down feel the possibility that he could love you. When you know he’s gay, it’s a little hard… If I was an actor, I wouldn’t come out because it would only limit what I do. It would limit me to not be a romantic lead. Even if some of the most famous romantic leads, later we found out they were gay.”
To give him his due, Emmerich does put his money where his mouth is. He’s donated $150,000 of his fortune to the Outfest Legacy Project for LGBT film preservation. “That’s what you can do when you’re rich and you want to help,” he says.
With 2012 out this month I wonder if he’s nervous about how the film will go down with the critics who often apply the vitriolic blow-torch to his movies for being flimsy, bombastic and containing the most stilted wordplay this side of Big Brother. “I got so many bad reviews in my life, I’ve stopped to care,” he chuckles. But Emmerich thinks that coming out has made him a better director. “The more I’m open about my sexuality, the more emotional my movies are – I think they have more heart now. The most intimate moments I have ever directed are in 2012.”