While making the 2006 Disney Channel movie “High School Musical,” director Kenny Ortega didn’t think Disney would allow the character Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) to be openly gay.
In an interview with Variety published Tuesday, Ortega said he was “concerned because it was family and kids, that Disney might not be ready to cross that line and move into that territory yet,” despite the fact that the entertainment giant was “the most progressive group of people” he had worked with.
“I just took it upon myself to make choices that I felt that those who were watching would grab,” added Ortega, who is gay. “They would see it, they would feel it, they would know it and they would identify with it. And that is what happened.”
Grabeel, who made a cameo as himself in Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical – The Series” reboot last year, has also been open about his thoughts on the character.
“People have always asked me if Ryan was gay,” he told TVLine last year. “I’ve seen a lot of performances from the tours or high schools or community theaters, and they always take Ryan to that place of being way over the top. That’s fine, but that’s not exactly the way I played it. I had a lot of talks with (Ortega) about his own experience in high school. He was not out and he wasn’t running around being that way, but he had that energy inside of him. It’s such an important time in your life and you’re figuring so many things out. Now, thankfully, people are much more accepting and welcoming of other people’s differences.”
Ortega added to Variety: “We decided he’d probably come out in college. It was less about coming out and just more about letting his true colors come forward.”
Thirteen years later, the “HSMTMTS” reboot allowed for both of those to come forward with musical choreographer Carlos (Frankie Rodriguez), who in one episode slow dances with his crush, cast member Seb (Joe Serafini), at the homecoming dance.
Looking back, Ortega says he is still proud of what Ryan’s character represents.
“I have to say thousands of kids that have said, ‘If it weren’t for “High School Musical,” I don’t know that I would have ever been comfortable in my skin. I don’t know when I would have been able to feel comfortable enough to come out, embrace who I am,’ ” he said.