Photo: Everett Collection
In 1982, Harry Hamlin spent the height of his film career as the character of an openly gay man in the romance film Making Love. In a new interview celebrating the film’s 40th anniversary, Hamlin says he’s “proud” of the role, and also says that it “ended my film career.
Barry, Hamlin’s character in the movie, is a hedonistic novelist in Los Angeles who begins a passionate affair with Zack (Michael Ontkean), a successful young doctor, who is also happily married to a television executive played by Kate Jackson. Zack’s seemingly picturesque life is turned upside down when he’s forced to confront his attraction to the same sex.
At that time, same-sex films, especially those depicting affairs, were almost unheard of for major studios, but Hamlin believed that Making Love, directed by Arthur Hiller, was a “serious” and “meaningful” project that Hamlin wanted to pursue despite the concern of his close friends and colleagues.
Hamlin was discouraged by plenty of people from doing the movie. He recalled to PEOPLE, “I think it had been offered to pretty much everybody in town and everyone had turned it down because they thought it might be damaging to their careers. I didn’t see it that way.”
Hamlin continued that he had been looking for something serious and something meaningful, as opposed to the type of work he was being offered at that time, which included movies about vampire bats invading a small town in the Midwest.
“It [Making Love] was way ahead of its time,” the actor said.
Hamlin’s agent encouraged him to take the role: “He said, ‘Everyone knows you’re straight so you’re going to be okay.’ But I didn’t really pay much attention to any of that noise. I thought it was interesting and bold. I was attracted to that,” Hamlin recounted.
With the negative reviews that followed the film, Hamlin surmised that the reception ended his studio film career.
“For years, I’d think, was that the reason why I stopped getting calls? And finally realized that was the last time I ever did a movie for a studio,” Hamlin explained. “I’ve done independent films but never a studio film. I had been doing nothing but studio films and basically going out on all the castings for all the movies. That stopped completely.”
Hamlin also revealed that he thought that the movie didn’t get the attention that it probably deserves, “given the time in which it was released.”
He added, “I think it just had to do with the fact of the studio system being a closed system and once they saw there could be some confusion about my sexuality, then they just said they didn’t want to take the chance.”
Despite the initial reception, Hamlin recognizes that he “went on to have a great career — and I still do.” Acknowledging the “tectonic shift” in LGBTQ+ stories since his work with Making Love, Hamlin added, “I’m very proud of having done that movie.”
“People come up and thank me for making the film and say they were affected by it and that it helped them come out or it helped them talk to their parents about their sexuality,” Hamlin said. “Very rarely does one have an opportunity to have that kind of effect out there in the zeitgeist.”
The actor has since starred in various TV shows, including L.A. Law, The Nanny, Veronica Mars, The Hot Zone, Mad Men, and Harry Loves Lisa alongside his wife Lisa Rinna. For his work in the legal drama L.A. Law, Hamlin has also received three Golden Globe nominations.