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Nathan Lane explains how Robin Williams protected him during a 1996 'Oprah' interview

The actors were starring in "The Birdcage" at the time, which led some people to speculate about the sexuality of Lane, who was not publicly out at the time.
/ Source: TODAY

Nathan Lane says Robin Williams played a key role in making sure he didn’t have to come out when the two men appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” more than a quarter of a century ago.

Lane, 67, and Williams co-starred in “The Birdcage,” the 1996 movie in which Lane dressed in drag and became a star. Lane said he was not interested in discussing his sexuality in any public forum at that moment in his life.

“I was not prepared at all for that,” he told Willie Geist in TODAY’s Sunday Sitdown this week.

“And I certainly wasn’t ready to go from table-to-table and tell them all I was gay. I just wanted to talk about I finally got a big part in a movie and I didn’t want to make it about my sexuality, although it was sort of unavoidable because of the nature of the film and the character.”

Lane, who is currently starring in “Pictures From Home” — his 25th starring role on Broadway — said Williams helped him by redirecting some of the conversation when they appeared on “Oprah” to promote the “The Birdcage.”

“I don’t think Oprah was trying to out me,” Lane said. “I said to Robin beforehand, ‘I’m not prepared. I’m so scared of going out there and talking to Oprah. I’m not prepared to discuss that I’m gay on national television. I’m not ready.’”

Lane, who won an Emmy Award in 2022 for his work on Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building,” said Williams, who died by suicide in 2014, was fine with not talking about it at all, but Oprah veered the conversation in that direction.

“She was like, ‘How come you’re so good at that girlie stuff? Are you worried about being typecast?’” he said. “And then Robin sort of swoops in and diverts Oprah, goes off on a tangent and protects me because he was a saint.”

Lane gushed about Williams, while also reflecting on how “The Birdcage” was progressive in its approach toward same-sex relationships.

“Robin was just the greatest person, just such a beautiful, sensitive soul and so kind and generous to me,” he said. “And it was, you know, it was sort of prescient about gay marriage.”

“The Birdcage” may have rattled some cages when it came to how people viewed homosexuality. Lane said he found “some comfort” when people told him they realized they were gay watching the movie.

“I think people just loved the movie because it’s funny,” he said. “And that’s a way of — it’s disarming. You know, that’s how you draw people in.”

Lane, who said he has been out since he was 21, explained why he was so reluctant to publicly address his own sexuality when “The Birdcage” came out.

“I just wanted to do good work, and I hoped that people would like it,” he said.

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