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Billy Eichner on how Heartstopper is ‘saving lives’ and what other queer stories need to be told

Exclusive: The Bros creator talks to Attitude about what kind of queer stories Hollywood is comfortable with and how he hopes to change that.

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Universal/Bros and Netflix

Billy Eichner says Netflix’s Heartstopper is “saving lives” and is an example of the kind of LGBTQ storytelling that Hollywood is comfortable with. But he also says more variety is needed.

The writer, producer, and star of Bros – Hollywood’s first gay rom-com from a major studio (Universal) has been speaking to Attitude to mark the release of the R-rated film’s first red-band trailer.

The film sees Billy star as Bobby Leiber, a podcaster, who is asked by a Hollywood studio to write a gay rom-com that “a straight man might even like and watch with his girlfriend”.

Along the way, Bobby meets and starts a romance with Luke Macfarlane’s character, Aaron, who seems to send Bobby into somewhat of a spin.

Billy tells Attitude that he wanted the film, which isn’t shying away from honest portrayals of gay sex and relationships, to be “an authentic reflection of my life, of our [LGBTQ community] lives in a funny way of course, but something that felt real and grounded and that didn’t feel like a sitcom.”

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Commenting on the amount of LGBTQ content we get these days through independent movies and streaming services (not major studios, although Bros will hopefully break that glass ceiling!) Billy says it’s still rare to see multi-dimensional representations of queer lives.

“I’m looking at all these shows, and I’m like, where are the gay adults? I’m a gay man in my 40s. Most of my friends are between their mid-30s and 50s – because that’s my generation. I have some younger friends too of course. But where are the adults?”

This, he goes on to say, comes from Hollywood now only being comfortable with certain types of queer-centric storytelling.

“We get a coming out story about teenagers, or we get a very sitcom-ish version of our lives, where the gay characters are very cutesy and fashionable, but ultimately very two dimensional. Those can be very entertaining. But there’s also a court jester-like quality to it all.

“Or we get porn. [Laughs] That’s pretty much what we’ve gotten in terms of queer-centric storytelling.”

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But he also insists these are all very important and worthy stories.

“Shows like Heartstopper, those are so important. I wish we had those shows when I was a kid, they’re saving people’s lives, right? They’re changing lives. I don’t mean to diminish the impact of those shows and to see how successful they are is really encouraging.

“And no one loves porn more than I do. And I’ve loved those gay sitcom characters we’ve gotten because for so long, that’s all that we had. And they were portrayed by very funny actors who were making the most of a two-dimensional situation.

“But it really is time to do something funny and smart that also feels authentic. The world is ready, straight people are ready. Gay people are more than ready. And that’s that was really important to me.”

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Asked if writing this movie brought back many memories of Billy’s own dating life The Billy on the Street star laughs as he admits that it did.

“Yes! Many, unfortunately. The character isn’t exactly me. There are elements of Bobby Lieber that come from my personal life, but sometimes they come from the lives of my friends or other people, or themes that I’ve observed within the gay community that I felt were important to use this movie to start a conversation about.

“But of course, I pulled from my own life and the lives of my friends.”

Bros will be in UK cinemas on 28 October 2022.

The Attitude May/June issue is out now.