Much of the discussion around the release of the Billy Eichner-starring, Judd Apatow-produced romantic comedy bros has been about the semantics of its historic nature.
Yes, it’s one of the first major studio movies starring two gay leads played by two openly gay actors. Yes, it’s part of a small, but growing handful of LGBTQ-inclusive films upending the mainstream rom-com genre. But it’s another detail — frequently thrown out during the film’s press tour as a sign of its groundbreaking nature — that perhaps makes the film most notable. And that’s its all, openly LGBTQ+ cast.
It was a decision, star and co-writer Eichner told The Hollywood Reporter during the film’s New York red carpet premiere, he believed it was important from the pitch.
“One of the first things I said to [co-writer] Nick [Stoller] and [producer] Judd [Apatow] was that my love interest needs to be an openly gay actor because the whole movie is about that. It would have been so hypocritical,” he recalled. “Then I said, the whole cast should be openly LGBTQ.”
It’s a story that’s been told frequently by the actor and other members of its cast ahead of the film’s theatrical release, which kicked off on Friday. But it’s the real-world implications beyond it being another bullet on a list of the film’s achievements or “firsts” that speak best to why a film like bros is, in fact, important.
That’s because the film’s LGBTQ-led cast was also supported by LGBTQ crew members offscreen, creating the kind of inclusive set environment several of the film’s stars had yet to experience, in the way they did, on bros.
“To show up on set and it was just so many queer people, so many LGBTQIA-plus — all the letters people — I felt very comfortable,” star TS Madison, who plays the LGBTQ museum board member Angela, explained. “I have been in some situations where I’ve worked on a set where it was very uncomfortable. I couldn’t really be myself. Where it was just like I’m gonna tear this place up. But when we showed up to work it felt like we were at home with our family. This was a breath of fresh air.”
Madison’s co-star Miss Lawrence, who portrays Wanda, another member of the LGBTQ museum’s board headed up by Eichner’s Bobby, says that removing the typical tokenistic experience he’s had on sets helped him focus more on his craft, and less on how he was being perceived.
“I’ve done a few projects, but I’ve always been the one or one or two people in the LGBTQ community. This time around, being able to be a part of a cast that is made up of every one of those letters — in front of the lens and behind the lens, the production crew, you name it — I didn’t have to carry that impostor syndrome with me when I went to work this time,” Lawrence shared. “I walk into a space, usually, and feel like I have to over-perform, over-project or over-exert because I feel like so many people don’t think I belong there. I didn’t feel that this time.”
That, then, perhaps is one thing that makes bros interesting in the larger canon of major studio films, which works alongside a long history of queer, indie and smaller studio romances and rom-coms.
While Eichner was pulling from his own experiences to portray Bobby, a famous podcaster, author and LGBTQ+ museum head, Eichner’s co-star Guy Branum said the writer-actor “really tried to hold his arms as open wide as he could in telling a story about telling his own story.”
The result was the kind of working environment that is rare in Hollywood, where creative talent from various corners of the LGBTQ+ community can be present and visible, despite its leads being two white men.
“Billy and Nick, they are two white men, and they went to Universal and pitched the movie with Bobby as the lead surrounded by a cast of other LGBTQIA people,” Madison said. “They knew that they had the duty and the obligation to bring people of color and other diverse identities to the table and they did that. They could have not done that. Billy understood the assignment.”
For Monica Raymund, who plays Bobby’s straight friend Tina, it also resulted in her being unfraid to discuss how her identity speaks to her craft and role, as well as playing in the film’s comedic sandbox.
“I feel like I’m represented in front of and behind the camera, and so automatically, there’s a comfort to it,” she told THR. “It’s not permission as much as ease and feeling liberated and free to be who I am and then to be public about how I do know this point of view being a queer person. Here’s my story and how I can relate to the character.”
“Sometimes I’ve kept that to myself on certain projects,” Raymund added. “So to be able to share a little bit of my personal life, which is a very meaningful part of my life, is a treat. I’m very grateful for it.”
While Eichner noted the decision to feature an all LGBTQ+ cast helped the film avoid “hypocrisy,” for the film’s co-writer and star, it was also about creating more opportunities for labor equity.
“Major studio movies like this are a big business. They generate a lot of money. So it’s not just about art. It’s about equity — financial equity, equal opportunities when it comes to employment, health insurance is affected,” he explained. “So I thought, this is a chance not only for me to have a platform to make a movie about my story, but I want to pull up as many LGBTQ performers as I can and give them that opportunity, too.”
As for his own personal experience on set, the comedian and actor described his time with the cast and crew as a rare and special moment in entertainment.
“We’re not identical. Some have had way more challenges than others, and yet, we are bonded by being part of this community that I’ve always loved,” he told THR. “I think every day we looked around and looked at each other like yeah, this is our time, finally. I think we were all really grateful for it, and I think we’re really proud to be a part of it. I know I am.”