As Luke Evans found success in Hollywood, he may not have put forth a definitive statement about his sexuality ― but that doesn’t mean he was trying to hide it.
The actor was named Attitude’s 2020 “Man of the Year,” and told the British LGBTQ publication that accusations that he had kept quiet about his authentic self in prior interviews and on social media were simply “not true.”
“My career was public, I was photographed, and all that stuff,” Evans said. “My personal life just became the last thing that I had. Also, what was strange was that when people did find out that I was gay, there was a lot of articles and stuff written saying that I was hiding it, and I wasn’t.”
Growing up a Jehovah’s Witness, Evans struggled to come to terms with his sexuality as a teen. At 16, he left his home and his religion to pursue an acting career. “There were a lot of bullies in my school, and I was an easy target,” he recalled. “I needed to find my identity, and I needed to be independent of my family, find my voice and be a happy, gay teenager.”
“I just wanted to get online and I wanted to pick up the phone and say, ‘Do you realize I left home at 16 because I was gay?’ I went into the world as a kid, because I had to,” he said. “I am proud and happy, and I’ve lived a very big life that I’m super happy with. And I’ve never been ashamed.”
These days, the 41-year-old is very much a bankable star, with well-received performances in the “Hobbit” and “Fast and the Furious” franchises. Earlier this year, it was announced he would reprise the role of Gaston ― which he first played in the 2017 live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” ― in a forthcoming spinoff series for the Disney+ streaming service.
“I hope that I’ve broken down a lot of barriers, just because I’m trying to represent my community, but I can’t represent everybody,” said Evans, who has been romantically linked to Miami-based art director Rafael Olarra. “And I certainly can’t please everybody. I just have to do it my way.”
As to the advice he’d give to young LGBTQ people who may be struggling to come to terms with their true selves, he added, “You can be happy with yourself and you can also be whoever you want. You can have any career you want and nothing should dictate what you do because of your sexuality.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.