Bros: Nicholas (Neighbors) Stoller’s Gay Rom-Com, Starring Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane

The romantic lead in the new gay rom-com talks about how masculine norms shut his character off “from finding his authentic self.”

In 2005, shortly after graduating from Juilliard, Luke Macfarlane was cast in Over There, an FX series created by the late Steven Bochco, certain that it would make him TV star. “I really thought that was going to be the moment,” he says of the series that lasted one season.

Luckily, ABC’s Brothers & Sisters came calling. Macfarlane was cast in what was supposed to be a six-episode arc, but the role ran for nearly 100 episodes.

He played the love interest and eventual husband of Matthew Rhys’ character during a time when same-sex couples were rarity onscreen.

Gay Directors by Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press)

Macfarlane himself came out during his tenure on the drama.

Billy Eichner

Now, a decade later, the actor makes his film debut in the first-ever gay rom-com from a major studio; the main cast is entirely made up of LGBTQ actors.

He stars in Universal’s Bros from Billy Eichner (the first openly gay man to co-write and star in his own major studio film) and director Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors).

Macfarlane plays Aaron, a probate lawyer struggling with the mundanity of helping rich people write their wills and love interest for Eichner’s Bobby Leiber.

Meet-Cute

Their meet-cute happens at gay club, where shirtless, ripped, baseball-hatted Aaron makes cheeky conversation with the pithy and perennially single-on-purpose Bobby.

Macfarlane’s performance adds layers to a character who could easily glide by on looks and jokes alone. “When I first read the Bros script, I really connected with Aaron on the idea of, where does his masculinity fit into the gay spectrum?” he says. “how that shuts him off a little bit from finding his authentic self.”

Billy Eichner (left) and Macfarlane in a scene from Bros, produced by Judd Apatow. COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Macfarlane came of age, and into the business, at time when gay men felt the ways in which they were allowed to express themselves, and search for success, were very narrow.

“There was something about growing up in the 1990s, our ideas of masculinity came from Abercrombie & Fitch or Calvin Klein ads, and that was confusing to gay people of certain age,” he says.

He recalls how after-school viewing of the Chippendales dancers on The Phil Donahue Show exemplified the masculine messaging of the time. “You’re like, ‘Do I want to be with that or do I want to be that?’ ”

Bros offers unapologetic display of the many facets of queer culture in all its glory.

It also made for some of the most involved sex scenes of Macfarlane’s career, an experience he looks back on fondly. “We had intimacy coordinator, but Billy and I felt really comfortable. We gave each other permission to go for it.”

It’s a bit unbelievable for the actor who, despite ambitious outlook, says he could never fully picture the career he’s created: “If I closed my eyes when I was 25 years old and imagined my future, I’d have said I’d be chasing tank down the street in Iraq war movie or something.”

Bros bows September 9 at Toronto Film Fest.

There are LGBTQ moviegoers who will get to see their world reflected on the big screen by an LGBTQ-only cast.

Studio execs are crunching the numbers, creatives hoping the film will be judged more holistically than just reliance on box office, and actors who finally experience movie made by people just like them but who hope it’s seen by people nothing like them.

“It’s about more than getting gay people out to see the movie,” says Macfarlane. “We go to movies to understand the world, and that’s what people are going to get when they see this. And they’ll be entertained along the way.”

Gay Directors by Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press).