Nathan Lane is looking back at how the late Robin Williams shielded him from having to publicly disclose his sexuality during an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
In a new interview with Willie Geist for Sunday TODAY, Lane, 67, recalled how he “wasn’t prepared” to discuss being gay during a 1996 appearance on the talk show. The duo was there to promote their 1996 film The Birdcage, in which they portray a couple. At the time, Lane wasn’t ready to open up about his personal life.
“I don’t think Oprah was trying to out me,” Lane told Geist. “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.’”
Instead, the Lion King star was hoping to focus on the triumph of scoring the iconic role, in which he portrayed a gay man who performs in a Miami drag club owned by his partner, played by Williams.
“I certainly wasn’t ready to go from table-to-table and tell them all I was gay. I just wanted to talk about I finally got a big part in a movie and I didn’t want to make it about my sexuality, although it was sort of unavoidable because of the nature of the film and the character,” Lane said, looking back. “I just wanted to do good work, and I hoped that people would like it.”
But during the show, Lane and Williams both recognized that Winfrey was beginning to inquire about whether the former was gay in real life.
“She was like, ‘How come you’re so good at that girlie stuff? Are you worried about being typecast?’” he said. Williams, however, was able to redirect the conversation. “And then Robin sort of swoops in and diverts Oprah, goes off on a tangent and protects me because he was a saint.”
Lane went on to praise Williams, who died by suicide in 2014.
“Robin was just the greatest person, just such a beautiful, sensitive soul and so kind and generous to me,” he said. “And it was, you know, it was sort of prescient about gay marriage.”
Lane, who won an Emmy Award in 2022 for his work on Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, ended up coming out in a 1999 interview with the Advocate. Last month during an appearance on The View to promote his new Broadway show, he shared that he’s been with husband Devlin Elliott for a quarter of a century.
“We’ve been together 25 years and he’s the greatest person in the world and I couldn’t get through my life without him,” Lane noted, adding that he’s a romantic “every day of the year.” The couple, who officially tied the knot in 2018, chose to eschew celebrating Valentine’s Day last month because they like to maintain that level of romance all year long.
“In fact, my husband and I just said, ‘Let’s not do anything on Valentine’s Day. It’s about doing it every day, that kind of appreciation,'” he shared.