He’s also producing and starring in a film he wrote called Breakout, which he calls “my main baby right now.” The film is in pre-production, but the trailer, which screened at a handful of film festivals last summer, was nominated for best action sequence and best short film at the Action on Film International Film Festival. And he’s got a couple of scripted things in development and, of course, he’s still showing up on television from time to time, most recently as Marine Master Sgt. Charles Garrett on a January episode of NCIS.
When Wilborn first began acting, he was closeted about being gay. He landed his first role in a series (as one of the leads) with L.A. Firefighters on Fox, on which he played a very masculine, and straight, fireman. “I was making 15 grand a week and that was all fantastic, but the thing I was most excited about was that he was a butch dude and that I could now get everybody to think I was a straight guy,” Wilborn admits. His first day of filming caught him off guard, though.
“Here’s gay Carlton on the DL doing his thing,” he says, chuckling. “I’m going to show up and I’m going to be Mr. Flirty with all of the girls. There was an actress who was cast as one of the series regulars as well, and we’ve now got this energy that we’re doing all day long and we’re wearing it strong.” After a day of filming, they went to a bar and had a drink. “And some part of the mask is not wearing well for either one of us. I’m the first to be honest and say that I’m actually gay. And turns out she’s actually a lesbian. We frickin’ laughed about that so hard in that bar.” (That woman, by the way, was actress, later photographer, Alexandra Hedison, who would eventually come to fame as the woman Ellen DeGeneres left for Portia de Rossi.)
One of his 2012 performances, as a transgender woman named Glenda on The Mentalist, won Wilborn accolades from the LGBT community, and the episode was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.
“I noticed every time that God really, really wants to take me to another level, he activates me through work, through a work opportunity,” Wilborn says. “So, you know, I’ve been gay, I’ve been with men, I’ve been with women, I like to be with women—but I’ve had my issues around [accepting cross-dressers and trans women] even though I’m kind of turned on by them. So here’s what’s interesting. I had a call from my manager saying there’s an opportunity to do this role and I’m like, ‘Oh, lord, are you kidding me?’ I breathe into it, I have my conversation with God and he’s like, Go for it. Women have always been my strongest allies. I thought, Carlton if you’re going to do this and you’re going to step into this female persona, you’ve got to do justice for the female race and for the trans race. And really honor it—don’t let it be something that’s caricatured.”
Carlton in Breakout (above)