One Life to Live's Ryan Phillippe says parents "shunned" him over his gay soap role

Posted Wednesday, November 25, 2020 9:40:52 AM

Ryan Phillippe says his parents were ready to disown him for playing One Life to Live teen Billy Douglas, the genre's first openly gay character. Others also warned him not to play the "risky" role during the height of the nation's AIDS crisis.

Long before Ryan Phillippe became famous for his roles in films like Cruel Intentions, Gosford Park, and Crash, the actor played the role of gay teenager Billy Douglas on the soap opera One Life to Live. And it's a career choice that he says nearly cost him his relationship with his family.

In a recent interview with New York's KFC Radio, Phillippe reveals that his parents, Richard and Susan, weren't pleased when he landed the pioneering role in the early 90s. "I'd grown up going to Baptist school, Christian school," the actor explains. "I was shunned at that point... I mean, this was 1992 and I was playing a gay teenager and I was in a Christian school. They weren't happy about it."

As fans may recall, Billy Douglas was a popular but closeted high school student who was a jock that became class president. His story was one of the longest and most complex narratives to deal with a lesbian or gay character on television up to that point, and Phillippe said that he was actually warned against the "risky" role, as it came at the height of the AIDS crisis. He told Entertainment Weekly at the time that he was initially hesitant about the opportunity. "I thought, 'What is my family going to think? What about my friends?' But I realized that for Billy, the torment is a hundred times that."

Phillippe also shared with EW back in 1992 that before filming started, Linda Gottlieb, then-executive producer of OLTL, brought in psychiatrist Richard Isay, a specialist in issues faced by gay teens. "I had a lot of questions," Phillippe recalled. "But when he told us that three times as many gay teenagers kill themselves as do straight teens, I realized that maybe this role is where I'm supposed to be. Maybe some kids will see that there are ways to deal with this positively."

As Phillippe recalls in his KFC Radio interview, it wasn't just the role of OLTL's Billy that his parents weren't happy about. They also chided the actor's participation in Cruel Intentions, in which he starred as Sebastian Valmont, a wealthy bad boy who vows to seduce his virginal classmate Annette Hargrove -- played by the actor's then-real-life love, Reese Witherspoon -- and his stepsister, Kathryn Merteuil -- played by All My Children alum Sarah Michelle Gellar (ex-Kendall Hart).

"I thought my parents were going to disown me," Phillippe recalls with a laugh, adding that despite his parents' past anger, he's eager to play similar roles in the future. "I've still never played a character like that since. It was so fun to be so flippant and theatrical... The movie somehow finds new fans all the time."

Check out part of Phillippe's interview below and let us know what you think in the Comments section at the end of the article.

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