Gareth Thomas is not one to mince words. A rugby player, he plays a tough sport where subtlety is not required. So expect nothing but a blunt answer if you ask about the idea of Mickey Rourke playing him in a film. After all, Rourke is 21 years older and does not have perfect pecs and a six-pack.
"I don't give a fuck about that," says Thomas. "He's the perfect person to play me. ... It's not about the physical."
Thirteen months ago, the thought of Thomas, 36, sitting in a Los Angeles hotel talking about being cast in a movie would have seemed absurd to him. But his life has dramatically changed since he came out as an openly gay professional rugby player.
He was in Los Angeles this week for more meetings about the movie, to tape an "It Gets Better" video and to be a guest on the "Ellen" show. He sat with Outsports for an extended interview and came across as an affable, comfortable yet impressive man (all 6-3 and 226 pounds of him). Clad in a flannel shirt over a t-shirt and jeans, he even lifted his shirt to show us one of his tattoos, revealing the black Ellen underwear he was wearing (we will post the video on Friday).
Thomas' story is by now well known -- a rugby star from Wales with a beautiful wife who seemingly had it all, yet who was tormented by the fact that he was a closeted gay man. He and his wife separated after he told her he was gay. In 2006, his secret became too much to bear. He told his team, which was supportive, then came out publicly three years later to near universal acceptance. It is the stuff of Hollywood.
"I can't complain," Thomas said in an understated manner. Sure, some potential sponsors have been leery (less, he says, by his sexual orientation than by fear of the unknown) and at one point fans became abusive towards him at a match (leading to their expulsion). But instead of complaining about what he terms "brick walls," Thomas is determined to go over them or, being a rugby player, through them.
A case in point is that he no longer has to worry about hearing what fans say, since his secret is no longer a secret that he need fear being exposed.
"Someone might yell, ‘Thomas, you're gay!' " he said. "Yeah, I fucking know. I told the world."
At some level, he said the small amount of negativity he has received has made the story seem more real to people. Coming out is a journey and the road is not always smooth. Being an openly gay athlete still competing (his rugby league season starts next month) has made him a much sought-after person. He received a lot of e-mail after a Sports Illustrated profile of him appeared in May 2010. And while he appreciated every letter, he also felt somewhat uncomfortable dispensing advice to athletes considering whether to come out; he says every person's situation is so unique that there is no one answer.
He received e-mails from two American college football players, who posed the dilemma all gay athletes face. "Do I choose my football and the life of a lie or decide to be [openly] gay and have to give up what I love? It's a tough one for me to answer," Thomas said.
The upcoming movie about his life is gaining a lot of attention for Thomas, who came to Rourke's attention after the Sports Illustrated profile. Thomas bristles at what he sees as the hypocrisy of some gay people who wanted someone they perceive as hotter to play the role; These are the same people, he said, who want to be accepted for who they are.
"I sat with him many times and he really gets it," Thomas said of Rourke, who is a huge rugby fan. "He's a real deep, emotional person."
While there is no title yet for the film, Thomas has met the director and writer and is satisfied that his story will get the proper treatment. He wants it be a universal story, showing the good and bad, as a way to connect with everyone.
While training for the upcoming season, Thomas (who is single for those wondering) is also reaching out as a speaker. He has been asked by LGBT groups at several British banks to talk about sexual orientation in the workplace, and his rugby status has helped open the door. He told a funny story about being invited to the private, top-floor dining room of a Barclays executive ("nobody goes there," the employees told him in wonder) wearing jeans, despite denim not being allowed. The executive was a huge rugby fan and the two bonded over their love of the sport. Bank employees report that "things have gotten so much better" after he has spoken at their workplace.
Making a difference is something Thomas hopes to continue. He is seeking opportunities in the U.S. to spread his message and make sports more inclusive and less homophobic. No longer hiding, Thomas is compelled to speak out so others don't have to suffer like he did. Not bad for a guy who thought at one point "I was the only gay man in the world."