Making Gay Rom-Com Dreams Come True: Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane Chat 'Bros'

The stars of Hollywood’s first studio-made romantic comedy about two gay men didn’t ever think that a movie like this could happen — and now they’re part of history.
Sarah Ward
Published on November 03, 2022

When Bros turns its attention to Hollywood's past with queer stories, and with gay men on-screen specifically, it doesn't hold back. A film starring and co-written by Billy on the Street, Parks and Recreation and Difficult People's Billy Eichner isn't going to bite its tongue, including about the poor record of LGBTQIA+ inclusion and representation in mainstream cinema. First, Eichner's character Bobby Lieber reflects on being asked to pen exactly the kind of feature that Bros is — a studio-made rom-com with two gay men as its leads, that's honest about queer life and love, and also broad in its appeal — with acerbic and hilarious results. Later, Bros digs into Hollywood's penchant for tragic queer tales, and for Oscar-bait performances by straight actors playing gay. The movie laughs, but it also hits its targets.

Blazing a trail, yet being hyperaware that this'd be a better world if it wasn't: that's one aspect of Bros. The first-ever Hollywood rom-com about and starring two openly gay men, it's a film that does what nothing else has before and knows it. That feat is worth celebrating. So is the fact that Bros features an all-LGBTQ chief cast, another mainstream milestone. Just as worthy of praise and affection: that Bros is warmly and candidly entertaining and engaging, while still remaining unflinchingly authentic about the characters and culture it depicts, and clearly knowing that making viewers laugh and cheer is a rom-com's number one aim.

It was filmmaker Nicholas Stoller, a veteran of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement and the Bad Neighbours franchise, that actually set Bros in motion — and approached Eichner to be involved. The pair had worked together on Bad Neighbours 2 and TV series Friends From College, but Eichner was still skeptical that a movie like this could and would ever happen. Thankfully for audiences, it has. In the process, it also adds a big-screen star turn and a nicely layered performance to Eichner's resume. He doesn't run around the New York City streets yelling about pop culture at people, but he does get opinionated on his character's podcast, and the feature is set in NYC. He does have Debra Messing pop up as well.

Plus, Eichner gets to fall for — and also work through a swathe of conflicting feelings about — Luke Macfarlane's Aaron Shepard. The Brothers and Sisters and frequent Hallmark network star is another key part of Bros, and he's no one's mere hunky love interest. This is a pioneering film not just because it's about two gay men and hails from the big end of town in filmmaking circles, but also because it heroes complex gay characters living complicated gay lives.

Visiting Down Under for Bros' Australian premiere, Eichner and Macfarlane chatted with Concrete Playground about making gay rom-com dreams come true, never thinking a movie like this could happen, and the rewards of genuinely reflecting their own experiences and community on the silver screen.



Billy: "I was shocked that he [Nicholas Stoller, Bros' director and co-writer] wanted to do it with me, and very flattered. And I said yes knowing that it was a huge and very rare opportunity, but also not having any idea if I had the skills to do it, or a story that was worth telling.

But as it turned out, once I sat down at my laptop, 20-plus years of being an openly gay man and navigating the world of dating and relationships and all that, I had a lot to say. I didn't even realise it at the time, but I guess I had a lot bottled up that I wanted to get out — and this movie gave me the opportunity to do that in a funny and entertaining way, I hope."

Luke: "I was sent a script — and part of the job of being an actor is reading scripts, and sometimes that's a challenge. But reading Bros was a total delight. 

I really remember laughing out loud, and being a little bit nervous because comedies have not been something I've done a lot of. But also just underneath all the comedy and the jokes, I really understood and responded and connected to this character of Aaron."



Billy: "It wasn't something that I was thinking about. I honestly think I wasn't sure if something like this could happen even. I thought maybe it could happen as an indie film, because historically that's where we were allowed to make movies like this, as independent films. And many of those are great, and we are very lucky to have them — and Bros wouldn't exist without decades of queer indie cinema paving the way for more mainstream queer content. 

But even so, when Nick [Stoller] and Judd Apatow, who produced it, when they said that they thought that Universal, a major studio, would want to make it, I honestly didn't believe them. I didn't think they were right. 

I was pleasantly surprised — really shocked — when Universal both wanted to make it and felt strongly that we do it as authentically as possible and with an all-LGBTQ cast. I was really, really surprised by that. And so, it's not really something I thought about because I didn't really think it was possible to produce at this scale."



Luke: "The approach to every job as an actor is that you have to do your absolute best because they will take away the opportunity if you don't. So I can speak simply as an actor, I always try to give the best, but rarely do I connect as deeply with a character."

Billy: "I think for all of us, we understood what a rare and unique experience it was, and we all wanted to bring our A game and do the best we can. Nick Stoller, who's directed many movies over the years and has been involved in many TV projects successfully, said he's never been with a cast that showed up to set and was more prepared.

You don't sit there and think 'let's shoot a historic scene' or 'oh god, this scene has to be good because, you know, it's the first LGBTQ this or that'. But at the same time, we just all wanted to do a good job because we realised what a rare opportunity it was. And we wanted to give the LGBTQ community a movie that felt authentic to their experience, and give every audience — straight, gay or whatever it was — a movie that would make them laugh out loud a lot, and feel good about life."



Billy: "It just came down to wanting the movie to be an honest reflection of my life, and the lives of the gay and queer people that I know. Again, we didn't sit down and say 'let's write a historic movie'. You don't even sit down and say 'let's write a gay movie'. We just said 'let's write an honest movie, and a funny movie, and let the chips fall where they may, and hope that regardless of how familiar they might be with the inner workings of gay male dating and relationship culture in 2022, that the honesty would be impactful for all audiences'.

And, that you could feel this when you're watching the movie. I think you can tell when a movie is lying to you. And, we wanted to give people something that was uplifting, and feel-good but still grounded and truthful.

Honestly, our goal was just to make a laugh-out-loud funny movie. We didn't want to make a gentle dramedy about the gay male experience, and we didn't want it to be sad or tragic. We wanted it to be honest but ultimately a feel-good movie. We wanted it to be laugh-out-loud funny start to finish, and we also wanted to make sure that both of the central characters were multi-dimensional people — that they were both more than meets the eye. 

When you meet Bobby, when you meet Aaron, you might think they're a certain type of person or a certain type of gay man, but as the movie unfolds you realise there's a lot more for both of them going on underneath the surface — that they both have their moments where they're wrong, they both have moments where they're right, they have moments when they are flawed and hypocritical, they have moments when they are hilarious and triumphant and joyful. 

I think that reflects real life — that was our goal for the movie, to make sure that it was very rich and complicated and not one-dimensional or two-dimensional. Even if that made it a bit more of a complicated experience for the audience, we weren't just going to give them this kind of easy breezy rom-com that floats by without anything real going on. We wanted to give people a very rich experience."



Luke: "You always want to play characters that are complex and multidimensional and have an arc. Just purely from an actor, and being rewarded and challenged by your part, that's exactly what you want — especially when the character is so close to who you are and the life that you live. 

So, I'm incredibly grateful that this script that was written, that is also very funny, was also very smart and kind of meant for smart audiences."

Billy: "There's so much of it that's been so rewarding. We want the movie to be as relatable as possible to all audiences — straight and gay. That said, there hasn't been a tonne of representation in mainstream films for queer characters, for gay men, especially in comedies, and again movies that aren't tragedies, movies that aren't about the suffering of being gay historically, that are about modern gay people and the way we live our lives. And it's been really gratifying to hear and to be getting messages from people, especially queer men, and who in addition to thinking this movie is funny and entertaining, are having a real emotional response to it.

It's just very impactful and very moving to see your life, or a version of your life that's at least a little closer than the ones you usually get — and certainly more than a movie about a straight couple might make you feel. As much as we love those movies, there is something unique and powerful about seeing someone from your community, someone that is dealing with the same types of things that you're dealing with on a day-to-day basis, when it comes to love and your own insecurities and vulnerability, seeing that reflected on a big screen especially.

I think that's an experience we don't get a lot as gay men, especially in contemporary storytelling. And getting the messages I've received from gay men who've seen it, who've had a really emotional response to it, who said it really moved them in a way that was surprising and they weren't expecting that, has been really gratifying."


Bros released in cinemas Down Under on October 27. Read our full review.

Published on November 03, 2022 by Sarah Ward
Tap and select Add to Home Screen to access Concrete Playground easily next time. x