Before Johnny Sibilly was an out-and-proud star of game-changing LGBTQ+ shows like “Pose,” “Hacks,” and the “Queer as Folk” reboot, he was an actor in a class, trying to find his voice and place in the entertainment industry.
In this LGBTQ-focused course — called Act Out, in New York City, where he met now-prominent trans actors like Laverne Cox, Trace Lysette, and Jamie Clayton — his coach asked him to alternate playing Lucy and Ricky Ricardo with a Bronx accent.
The result was “very John Leguizamo vibes,” Sibilly recalls. His coach was blown away.
“Why don’t you put that out into the world instead of all these masc-for-masc selfies that you’re taking?” he said, as recounted by Sibilly in present day.
“What do you mean?” Sibilly asked.
The coach replied, “You don’t know your full potential until you lean into those parts of you that are special.”
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That moment marked a major turning point for Sibilly, who had previously believed in high school and college that “maybe I have to butch it up in order to be taken seriously” as an actor.
The class showed him a new path toward authenticity. His coach was fond of recounting how several queer actors he knew had turned down prominent gay roles, like in “Will & Grace,” for fear of being pigeonholed in the entertainment industry. In the end, straight actors usually took the roles the gay actors were afraid to take. It’s a lesson Sibilly, now 34, would never forget.
“For me, I always say if I never played a straight character ever again, I would be perfectly fine with that — just because there’s so many queer stories that haven’t been told that I am dying to tell. It would be an honor to only play queer characters forever,” he says.
The value of authenticity was an important lesson for his personal life as well.
“Being queer doesn’t mean you have to throw on a lash and some mascara — which, to be honest, is more fun. But it is that exploration of breaking down those old habits of censoring yourself in order to be considered more acceptable by society,” he says. “And after I started just putting my art out in the ways that had always been special to me, I was really able to be like, Oh, there’s no going back for me. This is what works for me, and this is what works for my art.”