How Robin Williams Helped Nathan Lane Avoid Coming Out to Oprah Before He Was Ready

Prior to their appearance on Winfrey’s show to promote “The Birdcage,” Lane told Williams he wasn’t prepared to discuss his sexuality on national television

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“Only Murders in the Building” actor and Broadway star Nathan Lane is opening up about his coming-out journey, recalling an instance when his “The Birdcage” co-star Robin Williams helped him avoid coming out on an appearance of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” before he was ready.

“I was not prepared at all for that,” Lane told Today’s Willie Geist of the potential pressure to discuss his sexuality while promoting the 1996 film on Oprah’s talkshow. “And I certainly wasn’t ready to go from table-to-table and tell them all I was gay.”

While Lane, who dressed in drag in the film, admitted that discussing his sexuality was “sort of unavoidable because of the nature of the film and the character,” he remembers wanting to expand on his big break rather than his identity, saying, “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.”

While Lane clarified that he, to this day, doesn’t think Winfrey was trying to out him, he shared his concerns with Williams prior to their appearance on the show. “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,’” he admitted.

“He said, ‘Oh, it’s alright, don’t worry about — we don’t have to talk about it. We won’t talk about it,’” Lane recalled of Williams’ response.

As expected, Winfrey did angle several questions that could have provided an opening to Lane to discuss his sexuality, had he been ready. “She was like, ‘How come you’re so good at that girlie stuff? Are you worried about being typecast?’”

Instead of leaving Lane to deal with the questions on his own, Lane said that Williams, who he remembers as a “beautiful, sensitive soul,” “sort of swoops in and diverts Oprah, goes off on a tangent and protects me because he was a saint.”

“I just wasn’t ready to do that,” Lane said of the responsibility that comes with sharing his sexuality as a celebrity. “Now you have to make a public statement about it — I was terrified … 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.”

You can listen to Geist 77-minute interview with Lane on his podcast, “Sunday Sitdown with Willie Geist,” by clicking here. Lane begins talking about his experience with Williams and Winfrey at the 51:51 mark.