After filming The Birdcage, Nathan Lane and Robin Williams went on a press tour to promote the Mike Nichols and Elaine May comedy hit. It was while they were on The Oprah Winfrey Show that Lane, who was not publicly out yet, credits Williams for protecting him from questions about his personal life.
“I don’t think Oprah was trying to out me,” Lane explained on Sunday Today, “but 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.’ He said, ‘Oh, it’s alright, don’t worry about — we don’t have to talk about it. We won’t talk about it.’”
The Lion King star recalled Winfrey asking questions like, “How come you’re so good at that girlie stuff?” (it was a different time?), but Williams “sort of swoops in and diverts Oprah, goes off on a tangent and protects me.” Lane, who publicly came out in 1999, called his co-star a “beautiful, sensitive soul.”
“I just wasn’t ready to do that,” Lane added. “Now you have to make a public statement about it — I was terrified… It’s great that everyone now feels comfortable but homophobia is alive and well and there are plenty of gay people who are still hiding.”
You can watch the interview above.