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    Nathan Lane Remembered When Robin Williams "Protected" Him When He Wasn't Ready To Publicly Come Out

    "Robin was just the greatest person. Such a beautiful, sensitive soul and so kind and generous to me."

    Warning: This post contains discussion of suicide.

    Nathan Lane is an incredible actor, and his journey is inspiring.

    Closeup of Nathan Lane

    He's a three-time Tony Award winner for Angels in America, The Producers, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

    He successfully crossed over into feature films after his unforgettable turn as Timon in The Lion King.

    Timon in "The Lion King"

    And most recently, he earned a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for Only Murders in the Building.

    Nathan Lane on "Only Murders in the Building"

    But my favorite role encapsulating his journey as an actor was The Birdcage (1996), also starring Robin Williams, who died by suicide at age 63 in 2014.

    Nathan Lane and Robin Williams in "The Birdcage"

    In a new episode of Sunday Sitdown with Willie Geist, Nathan recalled how, during the press tour for The Birdcage, Robin, who he described as "a beautiful person" and "just a sensitive soul," protected him at a time when he wasn't ready to come out as gay publicly.

    Willie Geist and Nathan Lane

    "I just wanted to talk about [how] I finally got a big part in a movie, and I didn't want to make it about my sexuality," Nathan said. "Although it was sort of unavoidable because of the nature of the film and the character."

    Closeup of Nathan Lane

    Unfortunately, Oprah's line of questioning about typecasting began to lead Nathan toward prematurely discussing his sexuality. A video of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1996 shows how Robin perfectly interjects to protect Nathan's privacy.

    Nathan Lane and Robin Williams

    When Oprah asks if Nathan is "afraid of taking that role and being, like, typecast and people forever saying, 'Are you? Are you not?'" Robin jumps in with a hilarious impersonation of Oprah, giving him time to collect his thoughts.

    Screenshot from "The Birdcage"

    Nathan added, "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,'" Nathan said.

    Nathan explained how Robin "sort of swoops in and diverts Oprah and goes off on a tangent and protects [him] because he was a saint."

    Nathan Lane and Robin Williams on "Oprah"

    "I just wasn't ready to do that, to make this whole thing… the public side of it, the celebrity side," Nathan reflected. "'Oh, now you're a public figure, and you have to make some sort of public statement about it.' I was terrified. I wasn't ready to do that."

    Closeup of Nathan Lane

    As for today, Nathan acknowledges our progress since he came out years ago. "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."

    Closeup of Nathan Lane

    I will never forget the day Nathan Lane, one of my favorite actors from Mouse Hunt and The Birdcage, publicly came out, not too long after the murder of gay American student Matthew Shepard in 1998.

    Nathan continues to have an illustrious acting career. He recently starred in the 2023 Broadway show Pictures from Home and Ari Aster's upcoming A24 surrealist comedy horror Beau Is Afraid.

    Closeup of Nathan Lane

    Watch a short version of Sunday Sitdown with Willie Geist here, or listen to the full podcast here.

    The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at The Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, is 1-866-488-7386.

    If you or someone you know has experienced anti-LGBTQ violence or harassment, you can contact the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs hotline at 1-212-714-1141.