Haaz Sleiman says it’s too early to tell how coming out might affect his career. He got mixed reactions from his family. (Photo courtesy Atlas)
‘Vicuña & the American Epilogue’
Nov. 1-Dec. 3
Atlas Performing Arts Center, Lang Theatre
1333 H St., N.E.
Haaz Sleiman rose to prominence as Mohammed “Mo-Mo” De La Cruz, the sassy, gay, Muslim nurse on the Showtime comedy series “Nurse Jackie.” While Sleiman should have been relishing his first breakout role, he wasn’t truly happy.
Sleiman was too busy being closeted despite portraying a gay, Muslim character on TV, the same role he was living in real life.
“That experience I didn’t enjoy as much as I think I should have,” Sleiman, 41, says. “The creators were two lesbians (Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem) and they said, ‘Oh Haaz, you’re such a wonderful actor. You’re a straight man with so much compassion for this gay character and we love you so much for that.’ And I’m looking at them like, ‘God, I wanna tell them, but I’m afraid.’”
After he was told that Mo-Mo would no longer be on the series, Sleiman worked up the courage to speak his truth to his family and the show’s creators.
“It was a really tough thing because I thought I would get a lot of backlash from the Muslim community. I was also worried about what my parents were going to say,” Sleiman says.
While Sleiman came out privately, it wasn’t until this year that he decided to publicly reveal his sexuality. Angered by statistics that more LGBT people have been murdered this year than in 2016, Sleiman uploaded a video to his social media accounts that went viral.
In the video, Sleiman tells the camera directly that he is, “a gay, Muslim, Arab-American man.” The actor got even more open saying, “Not only am I gay, but I’m also a bottom. Not only am I a bottom, but I’m also a total bottom, which means I like it up you know where.”
He concludes his message by threatening anyone who tries “to kill me just because I’m gay.”
“I might be gay and I might be a nice guy, but don’t get it twisted, because I will fuck you up,” Sleiman says in the video.
Sleiman says the video came from a place of frustration with President Donald Trump, hate groups like the KKK and the high murder rates against LGBT people.
“That coming-out video was so genuine. There’s nothing in there to make it more interesting or exciting. It was simply coming from the heart,” Sleiman says.
His mother and siblings have been supportive. His father didn’t take it well and his extended family has not been supportive, Sleiman says. It’s too early to gauge how being out might affect his career.
Now, he is funneling that frustration into Mosaic Theater’s “Vicuña & the American Epilogue,” written by Tony-nominated playwright Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Robert Egan.
Described as a “Trump-inspired satire,” “Vicuña & The American Epilogue,” tells the story of an Iranian tailor, Anselem (Brian George), and his apprentice, Amir (Sleiman), who are making a custom suit for a real-estate tycoon, based on Trump, to wear for his upcoming presidential debate.
This version also includes an epilogue, set eight years in the future, that examines the aftermath of the president’s administration.
“It’s going to be a cathartic experience but it’s going to be a good release,” Sleiman says. “People will cry, people will feel hurt somehow. People will feel represented, heard or seen. It’s so satisfying.”
In 2018 he’ll be in the Michael Bay-produced series “Jack Ryan” on Amazon. Sleiman is also writing and producing his first feature film. He plans to film the Arabic-language film in Lebanon, he says.