Billy Eichner On LGBTQ Movie Bros Being a Labor of Love
Billy Eichner can’t believe this is happening. It was a day he never imagined. After five years of co-writing, producing and staring in his films, and then promoting them, Bros, it’s still surreal that it exists. “I just look at the screen and I’m like, ‘That’s me?’” he says.
Eichner, 43, isn’t being modest—for a long time, it really was unimaginable. Because Bros It is a romantic comedy produced by Judd apatow in major studios. Get Knocked Up Trainwreck, with a revolutionary distinction: It’s not a boy-meets-girl story but a boy-meets-boy one.
It’s conventional in the sense that all the action is built around the connection of its romantic principals, Eichner’s podcaster/museum director character Bobby and the decidedly more reserved Aaron, played by Hallmark Christmas movie staple Luke Macfarlane. But BrosThe radical satire of Grindr culture, such as poppers and etiquette, is what makes ‘The Beatles’, which was released Sept. 30, a revolutionary film. It also repeatedly references LGBTQ history. As with any rom com faithful to the form, the devil is in the details, but this time he’s waving a rainbow flag.
On a memorable run, Eichner was Parks & Recreation, voiced Timon in the 2019 live-action remake of Disney’s The Lion KingHe played Matt Drudge in the limited series 2021 American Crime Story: Impeachment. But he’s still probably best known for his work on the TV show Billy in the StreetThe series ran from 2011-17. He was downright diabolical there, asking innocent New Yorkers about pop culture. Sometimes he had a celebrity such as Mariah Carey with him, and sometimes screaming at them. He contends that persona was satirical, and Eichner’s IRL vibe, even over Zoom, is turned down several notches. Referring to Bros, he was thoughtful about his “historic” movie and what it means for a culture that has been long starved of queer content. He’s the first openly gay man to write and star in a major studio film; it’s arguably the biggest movie to come out of the studio comedy system to trace a relationship’s formation in the modern world of gay men. But whatever its firsts are, there’s no denying it’s a big deal.
While part of Eichner may be skeptical about this whole situation, another part of Eichner has believed that his destiny was to top-line a major motion movie since childhood in Queens. He acknowledged that he’s an “unlikely” leading man, but has the confidence to appear onscreen shirtless and show his butt. He thinks he and Macfarlane have “really good chemistry” and that when he watches Bros—which he’s seen five times—he gets “swept away.” His capsule review of his own movie? “I really love it,” he says. The title was on his baseball cap that he wore during the interview. his social media feedsHave been saturated with Bros-related posts.
He’s come a long way since writer-director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Neighbors) approached him to ask whether he’d want to write and star in a gay rom com. Eichner explained that Stoller was inspired after watching a Netflix episode. Friends from CollegeStoller created the show, and Eichner starred in it. Stoller approached Eichner between the show’s two seasons. Eichner had never written a script before and had no story in mind, but “instinctively” said yes. “Once I started, I realized I had so much to say,” he says.
Stoller would later direct Eichner. They would alternate writing scenes and revising them. Stoller brought a familiarity with the nuts and bolts of screenwriting, whereas Eichner had “over 20 years of experience” under his belt as an openly, sexually active gay man.
Right: Eichner as Bobby Macfarlane and Luke Macfarlane, Aaron in Bros
Nicole Rivelli—Universal Studios
Bros is as pop-culture obsessed as any product of Eichner’s brain is bound to be (there are especially funny running gags about Queer Eye Hallheart is a growing number of programming options on the Hallmark Network. Beyond the political implications of going deep about gay life, he also strove to create something “that lived up to the standards of great romantic comedies.” He mentioned several such inspirations during our 90-minute conversation: Broadcast News It was five times name-checked by him Moonstruck Annie Hall(3) Tootsie (once).
“Authenticity” is a word Eichner uses frequently. The theme of the movie, at least on a meta level, is a refutation of the marriage-equality rallying cry “love is love.” BrosHe argues very explicitly, and in explicit sex scenes, that love isn’t love. “That is a lie we had to make up to convince you idiots to treat us fairly,” explains Bobby in the film. “Love is not love. There are many differences in our relationships. Our sex lives are different.” During our interview, Eichner offered a more subdued spin—acknowledging the phrase’s political importance and essential truth, but standing by his character’s contention that it’s devoid of nuance. But given attacks on trans rights and Clarence Thomas’s Dobbs opinion suggesting that the Supreme Court may set its sights on rolling back gay-marriage rights, have those “idiots” been adequately convinced to warrant exposing the phrase’s fallacy? “Honestly, I don’t think saying ‘love is love is love’ to Clarence Thomas, at this point, is going to move the needle with him very much,” says Eichner with a shrug.
Eichner claims that he wrote the book he was most comfortable with. The words came out, though not without some trepidation. “I’ve been conditioned to think that if I’m too honest about my life in my work that it won’t be accessible, that no one will buy it, that no one will see it, that straight people won’t want to watch it,” he says. This particular anxiety shows up on screen during an emotional scene set on a beach in the gay mecca of Provincetown, Mass., where Bobby laments: “I was always too gay or too niche or I made people uncomfortable. Even my dad who was so wonderful and supportive, I remember him saying, ‘You know not everyone wants to hear this gay stuff all the time.’ But what was I supposed to do?”
He worried in particular about how the studio would react to the length of that beach monologue, which was “heavily and very specifically inspired by real moments in my life.” Universal, he says, specifically praised that scene after an early screening.
How much of Billy is in Bobby is hard to pin down—when asked for a percentage, Eichner demurred. Still, he contends that the movie is “heavily autobiographical.” And even where it is not, it was nonetheless useful. He stated that writing is his passion. Bros was a good reminder to not ignore the potential for romance in his own life, as he is “often” and, in fact, currently single. “It’s very rare you meet someone that you actually connect to in a really special, powerful way that isn’t someone you’re just settling for,” he says. “And I’ve never been someone who felt the need to settle for anything.” That said, he tailored his script to refrain from sending the typical rom com message that the point of life is a “romantic relationship with one other person, and if you don’t get that your life is a failure.”
Eichner denies that his experience of being in public for almost ten years might be a rarefied view of the urban gay experience. “If you want to, you can make the choice to conduct yourself like a normal person and just go with the flow and stay grounded in that way,” he says. He’s on apps, but says he does not send pics of his junk to prospective partners—unlike Bobby in the movie.
Bros may be an overall fresh take on a tried-and-tested film genre, but elements of it are faithful to the way Hollywood has long operated—namely, this is a story brought to you by white people about white people falling in love. Bobby admits with self-deprecation at one point that he’s “just a boring, old cis white gay,” and yet the surrounding script seemingly disagrees—he’s not boring at all, Bros argues. He’s someone whose story is prioritized, someone worth hearing pontificate on a variety of aspects of queer culture.
Regarding the optics of breaking the rom-com ceiling as a white man, Eichner said, “You’d have to be completely out of touch not to think about that.” Ultimately, he said, he wrote the script as a vehicle for himself and he is, in fact, a cis white gay. His insecurity about writing about intersectional problems that might have been necessary if his lover was of color made him uncomfortable. “I am smart enough to know that, while there might be some overlap in terms of those issues between white gay men and men of color, I didn’t think anyone wanted my take,” he says. He pointed out the diversity of the cast which, aside Debra Messing and Kristin Chenoweth, is entirely made up of LGBTQ performers, including TS Madison and Bowen Yang.
Besides, reasoned Eichner, “The whole point of this is that we make a movie that’s so funny and so relatable and so moving to all audiences, straight and LGBTQ, that the industry and other major studios are encouraged to make more movies and from different perspectives.” If Eichner has a say, he’ll remain on the vanguard. He’s signed on to star in Amazon Studios’ Ex-Husbands, which he has described as a “big, gay divorce comedy,” and he’s also attached to a biopic of the famously (and barely) closeted comedian Paul Lynde.
He hopes that he can win hearts one at a while. He was elated about how the early screenings had influenced his opinions. Bros, recalling a text he received from a straight guy friend of his, who told him, “It’s hilarious, but it also made me want to go home and tell my wife that I love her.”
Eichner’s response is surprisingly earnest. “I was really moved by that,” he says. “There’s hope for straight men yet.”
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