Actor-comedian and LGBT-equality advocate Jason Stuart was born in New York, but was raised in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District by a Jewish mother whose parents survived the Holocaust in Polish ghettos, and by an aristocratic Jewish father who was “almost Protestant.”
The couple stayed together until Stuart was seventeen. After the divorce, Stuart’s father remarried. According to Stuart, his stepmother is about as much of a blue-blooded Bostonian as anyone can get without actually being a Lowell, a Weld or a Quincy.
At the same time, his mother is quintessentially a New Yorker—and a Jewish mother, who has remarried four times.
“I think their individual influences on my personality and on my character growing up were equal,” he said. “My mom is very funny and my dad was very ambitious. I got my sense of humor and sex appeal from her. I got my father’s drive and sense of self.”
Even splits, pleasing proportions and fifty-fifty outcomes are recurring themes throughout Stuart’s career as an actor and comedian who has been making a living in Hollywood since the early 1990s.
For instance, despite having been an out-of-the-closet gay actor since 1993, only about half of Stuart’s roles in movies and on television are gay.
“I never knew I wasn’t gay,” recalls Stuart. “I didn’t know what these words mean. People called me names, but I didn’t know what they meant. Everything was compartmentalized. I grew up in very different times.”
Stuart’s first role was as a slave in a school stage play about the Jewish holiday of Purim. He loved acting and made a decision then to be an actor, no matter how difficult that might be.
“This business is hard work,” he said. “It’s wonderful work, but it takes drive, focus and commitment to continue getting parts. Sometimes you have to make your own opportunities.”
Stuart’s life off screen and stage is also a life of hard work. Returning to the theme of balance, Jason Stuart splits his time away from camera lenses and live audiences evenly between seeding his acting career and making life better for other actors.
In 2007, Jason Stuart co-founded SAG-AFTRA’s LGBT Actors Committee, which he still chairs. In his capacity as committee chair, he recently shepherded the commissioning and release of a landmark study with the prestigious Williams Institute that entertainment-industry executives, academics, journalists, media experts and civil rights leaders have been digesting since late September.
The report, called “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Diversity in Entertainment: Experiences and Perspectives of SAG-AFTRA Members,” is likely to help shape and define formal efforts to improve and increase portrayals of lesbians, gays, bi and transgender people in films, television shows and in online media for years to come.
“It’s kind of a cliché, but I really do feel there’s an obligation we have to give back to the community,” Stuart said in response to a question about what prompted him to establish the LGBT Actors Committee. “This is the community that I’m a part of and that I love.”
Further acting on the impulse to give back, Stuart recently signed on to join a panel of LGBT media experts for the Los Angeles Press Club’s presentation of a panel discussion, titled, “LGBTs In The News: There’s More to our Story than Discrimination and Marriage.”
“I wanted to support my fellow actors and show them they will not have to go through the same hard times as I had to,” Stuart said.
Stuart and four other panelists comprised of journalists, activists and celebrities recently discussed the common human bond among straight people and LGBTs during a live, in-depth discussion before an audience of media professionals and others at the Los Angeles Press Club engagement of the “LGBTs In The News” panel series.
Lucas Grindley, editorial director at Here Media; Alexis Arquette, actor-transgender-rights activist; Will Walters, civil rights activist, founder of the Know Rights -or- No Rights campaign; and Karen Ocamb, award-winning journalist and news editor at Frontiers Media joined Stuart on stage at the Steve Allen Theatre. The Rage Monthly editor, Joel Martens joined me as co-moderator of the event.
Yet Jason Stuart remains first and foremost an entertainer. This is a guy who loves acting and can make audiences laugh as effectively as he can make them cry.
In fact, Stuart has been compared by critics to Philip Seymour Hoffman because of his ability to play heavy roles, such as the New York manager of the storage company on “The Closer,” to parts on shows like the hit comedy “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Stuart’s prowess for swinging to dark roles like that of Father Divay in a recent indie film adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” from the zany Dr. Thomas on the network sitcom “My Wife and Kids,” which ran for four years on ABC.
According to IMBD.com, he possesses “the comedy timing of John Ritter and the quirkiness of Steve Buscemi.”
Stuart fits right in working with costars who are household names, such as George Clooney, Faye Dunaway, Angelina Jolie, Damon Wayans, Drew Carey, George Lopez, David Spade and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact, Stuart was featured in the comedy hit “A Day Without a Mexican” and the award-winning HBO drama, “Gia.”
That depth and breadth of acting ability and audiences’ willingness to accept Stuart in such varied roles has made him a hot commodity for both big-studio directors and independent filmmakers who want a strong name to fill crucial character roles.
Most recently, director Ira Sachs called on Stuart to take on a role in 2014’s anticipated release of “Love Is Strange.” That part comes at a time when Stuart has a rush of roles in other highly anticipated and highly regarded films, including “Holy Land” with James Franco, also due for release next year. He also recently finished a pilot with Paul Elia and Baywatch’s Alexandra Paul, called “Mentor.” Not surprisingly, it’s about Stuart’s work mentoring twenty-somethings.
Stuart’s first acting inspiration might seem strange to some, but probably not to other gay men.
“It was Barbra Streisand in ‘Funny Girl,’” he said. “I remember seeing ‘Funny Girl’ when I was very little. I thought, ‘oh my God; she’s Jewish like me. She’s funny on the outside and fat on the inside.’ She changed who I was, even though she was a woman and I was a little boy.”
Catch Jason Stuart at Jon Lovitz Comedy Club in Universal City on December 13, or at “Selene Luna’s $5 Dog & Pony Show!” at Akbar in Los Angeles (Silverlake) on December 23.