“High School Musical” director Kenny Ortega has finally confirmed that Ryan (portrayed by Lucas Grabeel) is gay.
Ortega, who himself is gay, confirmed the news while speaking with Variety about the queer aesthetic that runs through his films, and now actor Lucas Grabeel, who played Ryan has voiced his own reaction.
Speaking to TMZ, Grabeel said, “There’s so many amazingly talented gay actors that could do it as well, so if ‘High School Musical’ was made today – I don’t know if I would play Ryan.”
He explained, “I would love to, but the last thing I want to do is take an opportunity away from other people. As a straight white man, I know that even without trying, I have taken opportunities away from other people.”
In his interview with Variety, Ortega said, “I put a lot of who I am into my work. I mean, really all the way back from the earliest work that I’ve done, even as a choreographer in film and television,” he said. “I think, yeah, that it’s just there and whether it’s screaming at you, or whether it’s just sort of quietly there, it’s there.”
“The character of Ryan in ‘High School Musical’, Sharpay’s twin brother, we decided he’d probably going to come out in college,” the filmmaker continued. “It was less about coming out and just more about letting his true colours come forward.”
Ortega was not confident that Disney or the greater audience was prepared for an explicitly gay character; however, he was not deterred from moulding the character the way he wanted.
“I have to be honest with you. I didn’t think at the time — and Disney is the most progressive group of people I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “I was concerned because it was family and kids, that Disney might not be ready to cross that line and move into that territory yet.”
“So, I just took it upon myself to make choices that I felt that those who were watching would grab,” Ortega explained. “They would see it, they would feel it, they would know it and they would identify with it. And that is what happened.”
Grabeel also recalled talking to Ortega about the character and the idea that Disney wasn’t “ready” for an openly gay character in the movie.
“I came up to Kenny one day and was like, ‘Hey, so can we talk about the character for a second? Ryan’s gay, right?’” he said. “He was like, ‘Well, I mean, it’s a touchy subject sometimes with children’s programming – I’m not sure if Disney is ready now for that kind of thing. I absolutely agree that he is and I think we have an opportunity here to showcase a real person.’”
He continued, “[Coming out] is something that a lot of kids go through and don’t often see portrayed on television. At that time it was either [the gay characters were] extremely flamboyant or very closeted and kind of shut off.
“We need to start educating everyone at the youngest age possible and that’s why it will fall into the hands of Disney who create so much great programming for the developing minds of our future country,” Grabeel added. “We in the film industry have a duty to educate as well as entertain.”