‘Let’s make the funniest movie we can make’

Bros, directed by Nicholas Stoller, written by Northwestern alumnus Billy Eichner and Stoller, is a film that prides itself on a couple of firsts: the first romantic comedy from a major studio focusing on gay men and Eichner as the first openly gay man to write and star in a studio picture. Featuring an LGBTQ+ principal cast, the film hilariously threads the needle in its portrayal of common complications across all romantic relationships, while never sacrificing the uniqueness of LGBTQ+ experiences.

I sat down with Eichner and costar Luke Macfarlane—who play protagonists Bobbyand Aaron, respectively—to discuss the joy of the theatrical experience, bringing the film from idea to reality, and the exuberant messiness of loving both complicated people and communities. What follows has been edited for length and clarity.

Adam Mullins-Khatib: When you spoke to the audience after the screening last night, you spoke to the importance of sitting together in a theater and laughing. What does that really mean to you and why is that process so important? 

Billy Eichner: I think we’ve forgotten how much fun it is to sit in a movie theater with people and laugh for a couple of hours, you know? I think—I hope—Bros is a reminder to people of that, “Oh, wow.” 

Seeing a comedy in a movie theater, and not just watching it at home by yourself, but sitting there with hundreds of other people and laughing together and being moved together. That’s a very special communal experience. You know, it’s an experience I grew up having all the time that we took for granted. And now we don’t get that anymore. You know, a lot of the movies that get released in theaters are pretty dark and gritty and cynical and or they’re harm movies, you know, they’re meant to scare people.

And I love a lot of those movies, nothing against those movies, but, you know, we used to get comedies in movie theaters, too, things that made you laugh and feel good about life and were uplifting and made you feel hopeful. And there’s something about experiencing that with hundreds of other people that I think is very comforting and delightful and makes you feel good about life. So, I hope that Bros gives people that experience. 

Luke Macfarlane: Again, we were for the last maybe five to six minutes kind of waiting in the hallway and listening, and I forgot how much I like listening to people respond to something. And there’s something so immediate, it’s like a light switch with laughter, you kind of know. There are different versions of it—it slowly comes up or it doesn’t come up. I’ve seen the movie enough times now that I can, not just watch a movie, but also listen to the audience watch the movie. And that’s delightful, absolutely delightful.

Absolutely, it’s so interesting these days the dearth of these kinds of comedies in theaters. I love all kinds of movies, but it’s sad, losing that experience of just being in that room and laughing together, not just being nervous or scared or anxious together. 

Eichner: Right, or suffering through a four-hour movie together. And, for LGBTQ movies, the few that we’ve got, they’ve so often been about the suffering of being gay. About the torture of the closet. They’re period pieces about tortured gay, gay cowboy, queer people, and we’re getting beaten up and we’re dying of several different diseases, and we’re being played by straight male movie stars. So, we don’t even get to play the roles where we’re dying! And look, those stories are important to tell. I don’t mean to diminish those. That is part of our history, and part of our existence as queer people, but we also fall in love and make each other laugh a lot. My experience of being gay is and has been pretty joyful. Most of the time when it has been complicated or challenging, it’s been in the way that being a human is complicated and challenging for everyone straight or LGBTQ. So again, this is a rare movie, and I’m glad to be giving people that experience and I hope they take us up on it. 

In terms of the development process and bringing this idea from inception to the theaters, were there any particular points that struck you as critical in that process? Like you said, you don’t typically see this kind of story and this kind of representation in the theater, so was there something about creating this film that really stands out to you as an aha moment? 

Eichner: Sort of, yeah. You know it’s the first movie I’ve ever written and the first movie I’ve ever starred in. But, I didn’t make it by myself. I made it with two very experienced guys who made a lot of great major studio comedies, Judd Apatow and Nick Stoller. Bridesmaids, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and the list goes on and on. 

I love those movies. So, you know, for all of us and for me, especially, it meant a lot that the movie be hilarious. We’re comedy guys, first and foremost, you don’t sit down and say, “I’m writing a historic comedy, or I’m going to write a gay movie, etc.” We sat down and said, “Let’s make the funniest movie we can make.”

But also, and I told those guys from the beginning—and to their credit, they were always backing me up on it—I said, “It has to be authentic.” That was what I want to give people. I want LGBTQ folks and the gay men that the movie is essentially about to see themselves reflected in a way we have not gotten nearly enough of over the years, especially on a big screen in the movie theater. And I think it’s important and fun and exciting for straight people, who might think they know what it’s like to be gay based on a few wacky sitcom characters they’ve seen over the years, but they don’t really know.

So, in addition to getting what I hope is a very funny experience at the movies for them and making them laugh out loud, they’re also getting a peek behind the curtain at a culture they may think they know, but they don’t really know.

I told Nick and Judd from the beginning, we can’t just do When Harry Met Sally and slip in two gay guys, you know? We don’t play by those rules. And the movie has to reflect that. So that was really important to me.

Macfarlane: The rules are different. 

Eichner: The rules are different, sometimes. 

There was one moment in the film, and I talked to several friends prior to seeing it as well, and the thing that kind of came up again and again was the museum space and the range of diversity of opinion that occurred within that space. [Bobby heads the opening of an LGBTQ+ museum, trying and comedically failing to manage the broad range of expectations.] And the thing I kept hearing again and again, from folks across the spectrum was, “I’ve been in that room.”

Eichner: Yes!

Are there particular moments that brought that to you? Or is that a more generalized experience that you included? 

Eichner: It wasn’t a particular moment, but look, I’ve been an open gay man my entire adult life, and I’m not a baby; I turn 44 on Sunday [September 18]. So, I’ve been in this community and an active part of it for a long time. And of course, it’s a very eclectic community, sure, as we all know. I also wanted to make sure that as important as it was to represent all corners of the community to the best of our ability as any one-hour-and-45-minute romantic comedy can, it’s also not a sanctimonious movie. We’re not a perfect community. We do give each other hell all the time, in meetings like that, or on social media. As much as we love each other, we also really love to sort of tear each other apart sometimes and sometimes for good reason.

And sometimes it gets a little out of hand and irrational. And so, one of the great things about having the whole cast be LGBTQ is that we could poke fun at each other. Look, our community isn’t perfect, we’re flawed, and that’s worth having a little fun with, too. We didn’t want to walk on eggshells here. Again, the goal of the movie was always to be as funny as possible, as much as possible. And I thought that was a space worth poking a little bit of fun at, even though it’s also an important space. And having a museum like that should exist in real life, and it’s crazy that it doesn’t. So, there was a lot we’re trying to accomplish with that.

BrosR, 115 min.Wide release in theaters

Luke, in terms of your involvement in this film, can you kind of speak to how you became aware of it? How do you know Billy, or was this your first interaction?

Macfarlane: It was very much the old-fashioned way. My agent sent me a script and said, “This is a great part.” I was aware of Billy but had never met him before. I read the script . . . and immediately had that feeling, “Oh, oh boy, this is, this is good.” Not only because it was hilarious, but because it really spoke to something that I identified with. And then I went in, I auditioned, and it felt really good. And, as far as the rest of the film, it was clearly their script. They’d been thinking about it—Billy and Nick—at that point for a long time, but they were always very receptive to thoughts: “What is your experience of this?” We sat down in conversation before and after, and we’ve talked about this a couple times, but the Garth Brooks thing [Brooks is Aaron’s favorite musician, much to Bobby’s dismay] actually came out of a real conversation that happened during filming. 

Eichner: On set! A few weeks into filming. 

Macfarlane: On set. And Billy was like, “I’m going to put it in.” And there were other things that he just sort of threw in that didn’t ultimately make it in the movie that were just based on conversations and how he and I are different and how we take up two different sort of spectrums of the cis, white male spectrum.

Even within the spectrum . . .

Eichner: We’re not all the same. 

Exactly, even within something that you can narrowly define there’s this range of experience. 

Eichner: Complicated, messy human beings at the end of the day. And that’s really something I wanted to reflect in the movie. There are moments in the movie when Bobby and Aaron are both wrong at the same time. There are moments when you could kind of see things from both of our perspectives, and I wanted it to be messy like that, and I wanted it to feel real. I didn’t want to sort of wrap a nice little bow on every moment, you know? While also keeping it hopeful and romantic.

Macfarlane: It certainly makes your role as an actor harder. They give you more and more sort of stuff to play with. I remember as the script was developed, there were more and more things. I was like, “Oh, Aaron.” The steroids thing. At a later audition, “Aaron, he’s doing drugs. OK.”

Eichner: Not steroids, it’s testosterone!

Macfarlane: Sorry, testosterone! And, I can’t remember if the two-person blow job was also in the first draft that I read.

Eichner: It was not, that was a rewrite. 

Macfarlane: So that was another thing! Don’t judge me. 

Speaking of that collaborative process, and the kinds of things that made it in, were there any favorite moments that didn’t make it into the film?

Eichner: We shot 170 pages. With the extra time that, unfortunately, COVID gave us—because we got shut down about a month before we were supposed to start shooting in early 2020 and then a year and a half passed by—we just kept writing more stuff and more funny stuff and more jokes. So, by the time we got to shoot, we had 170 pages. To Nick’s credit, he somehow found a way to shoot it all, because the number of shoot days we got didn’t increase. 

Yeah, oh my god, there were so many jokes, so many. I think some of the set pieces that we had to cut will end up on the DVD or something like that. We had a whole Pride parade sequence, a huge Pride parade that falls apart where everyone starts fighting. I love that scene, but ultimately some of that stuff, even if it was funny, some things were a little, in the context of the movie, too silly. It’s not a sketch comedy show, it’s a real, grounded story we’re trying to tell, one with a lot of comedy and a lot of laughs, but sometimes even when things were funny on paper, it just felt like a different tone. And so, they couldn’t fit in the movie as much as we loved them. There’s a lot of those. And I think maybe you’ll see them in the extras. 

Macfarlane: Going to bed at night and pulling up YouTube and listening to those famous scenes from Anchorman where Judd is yelling from behind the screen all the different versions of the lines. That’s so funny. We love that. We love seeing the way the sausage is made.

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