The Making of ‘Bros’, the First Major-Studio Gay Romcom

As they tried to create the first gay romantic comedy by a major studio, Billy Eichner had a lesson for Nick Stoller: Love is not love. “I knew it was such a huge opportunity,”Eichner, star and co-writer of BrosDue out September 30th. “But what I told him right off the bat is, ‘If we’re going to do this, you have to understand that this is not as simple as doing When Harry Met Sally and swapping in two men.’”

Stoller, Who directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall And Neighbors, To co-write and direct, I had to let go of some universalist impulses. BrosUniversal Studios is giving a lot of attention to the ‘Real World’ category. “I did come into this being like, ‘Well, all relationships, whether straight or gay or whatever, are, on some fundamental level, the same,’”Stoller. “And Billy came into this saying, ‘No! It’s super different.’ I kind of went to a class taught by him where he explains, in great detail, all the differences. And at the end of the day, they’re the same — and different.” 

“We have our own rules about what’s ethical or not ethical, in terms of dating and commitment and monogamy,” Eichner adds. “And two men together is a very unique, specific romantic situation. Because yes, we’re gay. But, as I often tell my straight friends, we’re still men. I think straight people think we’re basically women. We are men! I always say to my straight male friends, ‘Think about all the weird, fucked-up male shit you have in your brain about sex and monogamy and being vulnerable. Now times that by two.’ That’s going to be a very complicated situation, and we’ve really never seen it explored.”

It’s a fresh take on romantic comedy with Eichner in the Billy Crystal/Woody Allen role (sorry!). vein as Bobby Leiber, a successful but neurotic and emotionally unavailable New York media figure who’s also heading up an in-the-works LGBTQ history museum. (Eichner compares Bobby to Holly Hunter’s Type A whirlwind in Broadcast News.) When Bobby meets Aaron (Luke MacFarlane), a handsome, jock-ish lawyer with his own commitment issues, he’s shocked to find himself falling in love for the first time… and the stuff of rom-coms ensues. All in all BrosIt is an instant classic and heralds the long-awaited return for big, theatrical comedies about grown-ups. “I’m in my forties,” says Eichner. “I look around at movies in general — about straight people, about gay people — especially comedies, and say, ‘Where are the adults?’ I grew up with those great James L. Brooks movies and Nora Ephron movies. They really made me fall in love with movies. And they have disappeared entirely.”

This kind of movie can be made outside the familiar world of straight people. It also offers a lot of genuine, fresh-feeling comedy. An early date between Bobby and Aaron ends in a near-foursome — a scenario that Brooks and Ephron never quite touched upon, There’s an excitement to the reaction we’re getting from straight audiences who’ve seen the movie at early screenings,” says Eichner. “Because it feels like you’re getting a peek behind the curtain at a culture of dating and sex that straight people think they understand, but they don’t really know what it’s like.”

He knew this long before he was born.Stoller understood what he was doing and saw this as an opportunity to fill a gap. “I was like, ‘Why has no one done a great big romantic comedy where two gay men fall in love? But I’m certainly not the person to do that by myself, because I’m straight, and I don’t know that story. So, I wanted to do it, but it was pretty theoretical.” 

He realized that he was actually a man pretty soon. Eichner is best known for his hilariously harrassing celebrities and random passersby with his belligerent. Billy on the Street persona, had a small role in Stoller’s Neighbors 2 and a bigger one as an uptight doctor in Stoller’s Netflix series Friends From College. Over the course of the latter project, Stoller realized that Eichner — who also starred in Hulu’s Difficult PeopleHe played a convincing Matt Drudge.American Crime Story: Impeachment Among other parts — had unexplored potential. “I thought he’d be good,” Stoller says, “but he was really good. I thought, ‘This guy deserves a movie. He’s a movie star.”  

Bros proves Stoller right, and validates Eichner’s original conception of his potential. He did Angels in AmericWhen he was studying acting at Northwestern, a and Chekhov played onstage. He always considered himself a leading man. As a gay 43-year-old man, he was close to giving up on Hollywood accepting him. He was a little boy when he stated, “I went to see Steve Martin and Tom Hanks movies and I thought, ‘Oh, I could do something like that.’ It was only when I was in my mid-twenties when I started to think, ‘I guess I’ll be lucky if I can just play the neighbor on a sitcom.’ Because that’s what Hollywood was telling me.” 

Stoller started his career building films around talented rising stars — Jason Segel in Sarah MarshallJonah Hill, Russell Brand Bring Him to the Greek — and saw Bros as a chance to do so again. Judd Apatow, comedian extraordinaire, was also a producer. For Apatow, who’s created films loosely inspired by the real-life stories of stars ranging from Amy Schumer to Pete Davidson, it was all about following what he calls “our usual process, which is going into psychoanalysis for a few years to try to figure out what the story should be. A lot of the movie is about the things we do to cover up our fear of being vulnerable. Billy’s character is brash and funny and opinionated as a way to not open up in a real way.”

Eichner somewhat hesitantly reveals that he had one real-life experience not entirely unlike Bobby’s in the movie, though it was a much shorter relationship with a less happy ending. “I had an experience years ago, when I was in my mid-thirties [and] had not seriously dated anyone in a long time,”He says. “And all of a sudden, I met someone who really shook me up, who I really fell for very quickly. It was more short-lived, but it did open my eyes in terms of relationships and love and made me think, ‘Oh, maybe I shouldn’t completely ignore that part of my life.’ I was talking to my old friends about it [then], and they said, ‘Wow, Billy has feelings!’”He adds his laughter. “Anyway, that didn’t work out and then I put the wall right back up.”

Eichner had assumed Bros would have to be an indie or streaming production, but much to his surprise, pitching it to Universal — where Apatow has had a long string of smashes — was the easiest part of the process. “They instantly got it,”Stoller. “They’re like, ‘Let’s do it!’ And then the pandemic happened and we were delayed for a year and a half.”(It was agreed going in that certain international market that tend to reject homosexual content would not be onboard: “This is not a movie for China,”Stoller. “And that’s fine. I mean, it’s not like some massive investment [for the studio].”)

(from left) Peter (Peter Kim), Paul (Justin Covington), Tina (Monica Raymund), Edgar (Guillermo Díaz), Tom (D’Lo), Lucas (Becca Blackwell), Bobby (Billy Eichner), Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), Marty (Symone) and Henry (Guy Branum) in Bros, directed by Nicholas Stoller.

From left: Peter Kim, Justin Covington, Monica Raymund, Guillermo Díaz, D’Lo, Becca Blackwell, Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane, Symone, and Guy Branum.

Universal Pictures

The Covid delay at least allowed for more time in the writing process. There were also speed bumps. “Nick has been in a marriage a very long time,” says Eichner. “Marriage and family, in the very heteronormative sense, is very, very important to him. Whereas gay men make up our own rules, we create our own families. The one time I got mad at Nick, and I hope he’s OK with me saying this, we were thinking about Bobby’s arc in the movie, and he said to me, ‘If you’re 40 and you’re single, there has to be something wrong with you.’ And I exploded. I got so mad! I think that’s an old-fashioned notion even for younger straight couples. They’re polyamorous and they’re this and they’re that.”

Stoller also had trouble picturing the character of Aaron — until he met McFarlane, who’s starred in numerous Hallmark movies (including multiple Christmas-themed ones) well after coming out as gay in 2008. “Aaron is a type of guy who Billy feels the gay community is obsesssed with,”Stoller. “This type of bro-y, masculine guy who isn’t totally in touch with his feelings. He kept explaining who that guy was to me over and over and over again, and I was like, ‘I believe you, I trust you, but I just don’t totally see it.’ And then Luke walked in, and it was like, ‘Oh, I get it!’”

Except for a few celebrity cameos, every role in the movie was played by an LGBTQ+ performer. “There were just so many amazing people who all deserved to work a lot more than they work,”Apatow. “When you do the casting, and you see how hysterical everybody is, and how strong, it instantly makes you feel bad that there haven’t been enough opportunities for them.”

The filmmakers had little idea how topical some of the movie would turn out to be, especially, in the wake of Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay bill, the scene where Bobby argues with a teacher who thinks elementary-school kids are too young to visit an LGBTQ+ museum. “I remember writing that and thinking, ‘I hope people don’t think that this is unrealistic,’” says Eichner, “because it seemed that we were making progress. But we were never taught our own history as LGBTQ people, even in a threadbare, overly generalized way. We have no sense of ourselves historically. And I don’t think we realize what that did to us, in that we know nothing about ourselves.”

“You have all these pieces of shit like Ron DeSantis trying to divide us,”Stoller agrees “and it’s just a bunch of bullshit to distract from failed policies. Hopefully, this movie does some work to bridge those fake divides.”

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