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World exclusive: ‘The Boys in the Band’ cast lift the lid on Ryan Murphy’s all-gay Netflix remake

Mart Crowley's 1968 stage classic still has a lot to say about gay life more than half a century later.

By Will Stroude

When Ryan Murphy inked a (rumoured) nine-figure deal with streaming giant Netflix in 2018, film and TV fans had high hopes for what was to come.

With shows like Hollywood, The Politician and upcoming film musical The Prom putting LGBTQ stories – and stars – front and centre, the American Horror Story creator has cemented his position as one of TV’s most powerful queer voices – and his latest venture may just be the historic jewel in that rainbow crown.

The Boys in the Band, the film adaptation of Joe Mantello’s Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of Mart Crowley’s 1968 stage classic, is set to one of the 20th century’s most vital – and divisive – queer works to brand new generation.

And, in a sign of just how much has changed for LGBTQ representation and culture in the 52 years since the production’s birth, each and every role in the film (out 30 September) will be played by an out and proud gay actor – and household names at that.

The cast of ‘The Boys in the Band’ open up in a world first exclusive interview in the Attitude October issue, which comes with a special edition double gatefold cover. (Photography: Scott Everett White)

In a world exclusive interview in the Attitude October issue – out now to download and to order globally – stars Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Tuc Watkins, Robin de Jesús, Michael Benjamin Washington, Brian Hutchison and Charlie Carver shed more light on the film and the conversations surrounding LGBTQ representation and equality they hope it will spark, just as the original play did more than haf a century ago.

“With a revival, there’s always that question of, ‘Why now?’” says Mantello, who returns to direct the film adaptation of his acclaimed 2018 revivial. “I think this material’s got an unfair rap on what it’s about. There’s a general criticism that it’s about self-loathing.

“When I look at it, I see all sorts of instances of bravery, tenderness, and grace. Shame isn’t front and centre — although it’s certainly part of the story, given the world these men live in.

The all-gay cast of Netflix’s ‘The Boys in the Band’ (Photography: Scott Everett White)

“And let’s face it — a film about nine saints isn’t terribly compelling.”

The process of doing the play on Broadway and then shooting it was a voyage of discovery for the whole cast, giving them an opportunity to confront their most personal experiences.

Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), who plays party host Michael with masterful sensitivity, was no exception.

“I realised that being gay and growing up around people and in a culture where that wasn’t celebrated – where it was reviled, in many ways – had an impact on me”, Parsons reflects.

Jim Parsons as Michael (Photography: Scott Everett White)

“Happy as I am, I’m still working out the fear I grew up with: that by revealing who I really am, I will somehow lose the love of the people who are important to me.

“This story wasn’t a direct reflection of my time, and things have changed rapidly for gay people over the last couple of decades, but even now, there’s that residual [feeling].” 

It’s true that over 50 years since the play first opened, society is still facing the same challenges to progress.

“There is a mentality outside of capital cities in America that equates homosexuality with diminished masculinity, which is simply not the same thing. It’s simply not,” says Zachary Quinto, whose magnetic, morose character Harold serves as the catalyst for much of the film’s drama.

“I do think that’s changing. When you see this group of us in this film, and you see the other projects that we’ve done, it’s a way to keep the conversation going and to keep moving things forward.”

Zachary Quinto as Harold (Photography: Scott Everett White)

Quinto, 43, continues: “Our country is being driven into the ground by an administration which is permeated by this patriarchal-white-male, heterosexual, homophobic, trans-phobic mentality.

“Persecution still exists. It has shifted slightly into different factions of our community. With increased trans visibility — a huge step forward in the last five or ten years — there’s come increased violence against trans people — particularly Black trans women, and trans women of colour.

“As gay white men, maybe our challenges have diminished slightly, but we owe it to one another to stand up on behalf of each other. Violence against one of us is violence against all of us.

“It’s a complicated issue and we’ve come far — but we still have a way to go.”

I think [The Boys in the Band] is as relevant today as the 1960s,” adds Robin de Jesús, who plays flamboyant, radical Emory.

Robin de Jesús as Emory (Photography: Scott Everett White)

“Back then you were literally protecting yourself from violence – but the beauty of today is that we’ve evolved: we still have the same problems, but we can get deeper into the nuances of them, like with the iPad zoomed in.

“So maybe nowadays it’s not as much about physical violence — although that’s still an issue, especially for our trans community — but it’s also about emotional sustainability. How do we support each other?

“So I think there’s absolutely a parallel with today.”

Andrew Rannells, who plays the philandering Larry, ranks among a wave of actors who are out – and have always been able to be out.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of shows like Girls, The New Normal, then I was on Broadway with this,” the 42-year-old says.

Andrew Rannells as Larry (Photography: Scott Everett White)

“Those were all beautiful depictions of relationships and gay men. I feel like things are getting better, with more people sharing their stories. More producers and directors are giving more opportunities to gay writers and storytellers, and that’s what’s making it better.

“Something like The Boys in the Band having to represent everyone – it’s an impossible task.”

Rannells continues: “Mart wasn’t trying to represent everyone – he’s telling the story of these nine men on one particular night. I think that’s why it was applauded, and why others shied away from it, thinking, I don’t see myself in that.

“Well, I love Ozark, but I’m not a money launderer.”

He adds: “I feel that we need to give ourselves permission to tell all sorts of stories. And if some of them aren’t pretty, that’s OK, too. They don’t have to always represent the best parts of us.”

Larry’s onscreen love interest, Hank, is played by Rannell’s own real life partner Tuc Watkins, and the former Desperate Housewives star agrees that The Boys in the Band continues to stand as an important vital portrait of the toll prejudice takes on both a personal and societal level.

Tuc Watkins as Hank (Photography: Scott Everett White)

“The characters in this play are evidence of what can happen to people who are not allowed to be who they truly are”, Watkins muses.

“Telling a person they’re not OK affects the people, families and children that stand next to that person.

“I believe we are all here to make each other feel safe. I hope to make others feel safe to be themselves around me.”

For some of the cast, working on The Boys in the Band raised issues even more personal to their own experience of being gay in 2020.

Michael Benjamin Washington, whose character Bernard enabled the original stage show to touch on race issues at a time when the civil rights struggle was reaching its height, credits Crowley’s foresight for including a Black man in an otherwise “white tribe” of gay friends.

Michael Benjamin Washington as Bernard (Photography: Scott Everett White)

“What’s interesting about The Boys in the Band is the relationship that these men have. It is a fraternity of sorts, but under the guise of ‘you are illegal, you are a felon for what you feel’, he says.

“So, to find a tribe that you can come together with platonically is very fascinating to see, that there is no one definition of gay, relationship, attraction and the things we try to chase from our past.”

“It’s very important to see how [the film is] received, that’s a real barometer of where culture, society and civilisation is – particularly American civilisation, these are American characters in a New York space.”

Charlie Carver, at 32 the youngest member of the cast, says his role as ‘eye candy’ Cowboy initially threw some of his own insecurities into sharp focus.

“Traditionally, Cowboy is played by a towering hunk”, he explains. “I had trouble finding my way into the character when I felt limited by an idea of the ‘right’ physicality.

Charlie Carver as ‘Cowboy’ (Photography: Scott Everett White)

“I’ve struggled with how my looks fit into my sense of self – I don’t think that’s a particularly unique experience as a gay man – and I didn’t feel ‘hunky’ enough for the part.

“Which led down a pretty important path of self-discovery: I was forced to confront that shit head-on. I had to find a different way into the character and then trust that it was enough.”

The extraordinary intimacy and chemistry of working with the all-gay cast for the 2018 Broadway show, and then for the film adaptation, is clearly apparent on-screen.

For Matt Bomer, who readily admits that being an out and proud gay man in Hollywood has come with at a “cost” professionally, the shoot was one to cherish.

“It was such a freeing experience to get to tell a story with an entirely gay ensemble and creative team,” he says.

Matt Bomer as Donald (Photography: Scott Everett White)

“There are often times on set where I am the only openly gay person there, and I’ve learnt how to manage that and do the work — but it was so nice to have this collective experience together and a shared sense of who we are, and who we want to be, and an understanding of each other. I think that really informed the work.”

Parsons agrees. “So many members of the original cast died of [Aids-related illnesses], and didn’t work again, and had to hide their sexuality even while they were doing this ground-breaking gay play.

“So the camaraderie, and the shared view of the world, and having everyone in his own unique way being a part of that — I’ve never experienced anything like it before.

‘The Boys in the Band’ premieres on Netflix on 30 September

“It led to us becoming a kind of family. There’s just a specific bond unlike anything else I’ve ever been a part of.”

“I think it’s going to strike a chord with people,” adds Quinto. “I’m thrilled that we get to share the story with such a wide range of people. At the end of the day, it’s a fun romp, beautifully shot.”

Read the world exclusive first interview with the cast of The Boys In the Band in the Attitude October issue, out now to download and to order globally.

Subscribe now to secure your special edition The Boys In the Band double gatefold cover and get your first three issues for just £3.