'Jungle Cruise' Star Jack Whitehall On Playing Disney's First Major Gay Character: "We Totally Understood The Significance Of It"

Over the past few years, Disney has attempted to be more inclusive by creating more progressive characters compared to their famous films dating back to the '40s. Their latest film, Jungle Cruise, takes a huge step towards representation by featuring its first outwardly gay character.

In Jungle Cruise, a live-action adventure film based on the theme park ride of the same name, Jack Whitehall plays McGregor Houghton. The younger brother and assistant to his sister Lily (played by Emily Blunt), McGregor accompanies her and a noble steamboat captain named "Skipper" Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) on an adventure to uncover The Tree of Life, a place that is rumored to possess healing powers beyond the limits of modern-day medicine.

SlashFilm's own Jacob Hall spoke with Whitehall about the importance of his character and what his LGBTQ+ representation means to him as an actor. In one particular scene (free of spoilers),  MacGregor explains his backstory to Frank and how his sexuality destroyed his reputation but strengthened his bond with his sister. In response, Frank raises his canteen and toasts MacGregor for being gay.

Tokenism's a Hell of a Problem

Hall addressed how recent Disney films like Beauty and the Beast and Cruella tout gay characters but never actually address it or make the characters matter to the plot. Furthermore, they don't enhance the character by making their identity vital to their arc.  In other words, Disney was queerbaiting and using gay characters to create buzz and nothing more.

While it's a minor plot point, Jungle Cruise's reveal is still treated as a legitimate backstory and not a fleeting moment. Hall emphasized in the interview that he is a queer person himself and that "it's frustrating when Disney always says, 'Here's our next gay character!' and so often, it's a moment that can be cut out of the movie, a blink-and-you-miss-it gay moment."

The defining difference with Jungle Cruise is that there is a great scene where MacGregor comes out to Dwayne Johnson's character. It may not pivotal to the overall plot, but it is pivotal to this character and to his backstory — you understand this guy and where he comes from — and then Dwayne Johnson toasts it. He literally toasts to him and his authentic self.

When Hall asked Whitehall about filming this particular scene and how it came to be, knowing that people are watching this ready to judge it, Whitehall replied:

"Yeah, I know. We totally understood the significance of it. I'm not going to lie: I was very nervous about getting that scene right. We really talked about it so much. I love that they have the space in the movie for that moment, and I love that that scene is in there. I love that you learn that about MacGregor, and he has this interesting and rich backstory, and he's a man in full, and he has this fully realized character. We've talked about the comedy sidekicks – so often in those movies, those characters are one-dimensional and you don't learn a lot about them. I think the fact that we have that scene in the movie, you're so much more invested in MacGregor as a character, and you care about him, and you're so on the journey with him. To see where he ends up at the end of the movie, it's great. I loved that in the script and really wanted to do something that audiences emotionally connected to, and hopefully they like what we did."

Representation Matters

Whitehall cares deeply about LGBTQ+ representation and is proud of his character. There is a sense of bravery and vulnerability that will hopefully translate off-screen during the scene where his character opens up to Hank. For kids, seeing moments like that could help them facilitate their own conversations about coming out. They now have a Disney character they can identify with and that's huge.

With Disney taking more steps towards inclusion and representation, there is an important responsibility about normalization at the same time. As Whitehall mentioned, MacGregor is not one-dimensional and he is not a throwaway character. He is loved, respected, and has his own story so that kids watching can be comfortable with their own stories too.

Jacob's full interview will be released later this week while Jungle Cruise will premiere in theatres and stream on Disney + July 30.