With his twin brother Max by his side, Charlie Carver rose to stardom in shows including Desperate Housewives, Teen Wolf, and The Leftovers. He’s managed to escape the perils of twin typecasting with solo turns, like an appearance alongside James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael (2015), a film based on the autobiographical story of Michael Glatze, a gay activist turned anti-gay Christian pastor.
“Lately, every job I’ve had has this awesome historical component,” says Carver. Take, for example, his part in ABC’s Gus Van Sant-directed miniseries, When We Rise (2017), which dramatizes the battle for LGBTQ+ rights, starting with a look at the early days of the movement in the late ’60s. “I think it’s important to know your history,” he says, “and the history of your community.”
Carver’s continuing this streak with a spot in the hotly anticipated revival of Boys in the Band—playfully dubbed the gayest play ever made, no less—currently running in a limited Broadway engagement on its 50th anniversary. This is the first time the originally Off-Broadway hit, staged a year before the Stonewall riots of 1969, has been on the Great White Way.
“I think it’s important to know your history…and the history of your community.”
“Boys in the Band started down in the village in 1968,” says Carver, “as a play that was not likely to be around for very long because it was the first time that gay men were being represented on stage, and it took off. It went to London and Tokyo and Paris and toured the world for three years.”
Despite being considered a landmark gay play today, Boys in the Band was polarizing for gay and straight audiences alike upon its initial release. Mart Crowley, who wrote the original play, encountered difficulties at every step—from casting actors to finding a producer—before the show finally began its first run in January 1968. “It’s a play about friendships and changing times,” says Carver, “but it’s really a birthday party that just goes horribly awry.”
With this seemingly innocuous storyline, Crowley managed to candidly capture the authentic experiences of life as a homosexual man during the time. Crowley’s story brought to the surface the feelings of fear, self-loathing, and anger shared by so many gay men of his generation who were forced to live life stifled inside the closet. Boys in the Band also places cattiness and biting humor at the core of the relationships between gay men; it felt like a look behind the curtain that some gay audiences didn’t feel like they wanted to necessarily share with people outside their world.
The show was a success, but not without its fair share of backlash—especially a year later, post-Stonewall. After the riots, when pride was the message the community wanted broadcasted, Boys in the Band was seen as harmful and reductive.
“It’s a journey coming into yourself, but the sooner you feel free, the more you can contribute.”
Carver, along with everyone else behind this long-awaited production, sees it differently, through a more modern lens. “The cast and the creative team behind this are so many of my heroes who paved the way for me to do what I want to do,” says Carver. He says there’s something “incredibly relevant” about seeing this slice of life from 1968 within the context of today. He sees it as a chance to experience “how gay men felt about themselves then, and what that tells us about where we are today, and how much we’ve changed.”
Today’s ensemble includes a host of Hollywood’s out-and-proud heavy-hitters: Andrew Rannells (Girls), Zachary Quinto (Star Trek), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), and Matt Bomer (American Horror Story). The irony, of course, is that all the marquee actors involved in this project grew up in a world reshaped by the gay liberation movement. Carver, for example, came out publicly via Instagram—which is not to say it was an easy or painless process, but it did allow him an immediate connection to a large part of his audience who was ready to receive him with a warm, positive embrace. In fact, it catapulted him to gay role model status among many of his young fans, something he hasn’t taken lightly.
Carver works closely with organizations including GLSEN, which focuses on LGBTQ+ issues in K-12 education. He raves about the kids he’s met through his championing of these programs. “These are outspoken, brave, audacious, smart, tactical, young people,” he says. “I wish as a younger person that I’d been more involved and had been more settled into my voice. It’s a journey coming into yourself, but the sooner you feel free, the more you can contribute.”
While this coming out experience may seem a far cry from the world of Boys in the Band, the struggles on display aren’t completely foreign to Carver, the son of a man who came out late in life. Learning this at the age of 12 informed his own process. “In some ways I didn’t have to come out,” says Carver. “My dad and I had that understanding. He gave me permission to be whoever I was pretty explicitly at that age.”
Surprisingly, Carver says the support of a gay dad actually delayed his own coming out. He needed the space to define himself first, outside of his father’s identity. “It was one of those classic parent-teen situations where I wanted to be my own person and push my parents away.”
Once Carver had established himself in Hollywood with a few roles under his belt, he says there was no doubt in his mind he’d come out publicly. “I’m so happy these days,” he continues. “I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing and I’m moving in the direction of the career I didn’t know I could have.” Carver says that, five-to-ten years ago, he wouldn’t have been able work in the business in the “same easeful way” he does now. Which, in contrast to the actors from the first cast of Boys in the Band, who struggled to find work after just playing gay on stage in 1968, seems like as good a reason as any to celebrate.