Luke Macfarlane on his role in Billy Eichner’s ‘Bros’

Photo: Kristina Bumphrey/Variety via Getty Images

Luke Macfarlane knows more than one way to fall in love with someone. In more than a dozen Hallmark movies, this gay man has fallen chastely in love with beautiful women, including shoe addicts, “Christmasphobes” and a world-famous pianist. On the ABC drama Brothers and sistershe played Scotty Wandell, a confident gay man who finds himself in a relationship with Matthew Rhys’ Kevin, whom he considered but turned down a threesome with an ex. Now in the next Universal rom-com Brothers, he falls in love with Billy Eichner while taking detours through three-way, four-way, poppers, Grindr, and steroid muscle worship. Instead of being in a Hallmark movie, he’s in a movie that keeps poking fun at Hallmark movies.

Brothers follows Eichner’s character, Bobby Leiber, a loud-mouthed, fiery gay podcaster, as he falls in love with what he sees as his natural enemy: Aaron, a “boring” guy who can have sex with who he wants. Macfarlane has the honor of playing Aaron, an intentionally virgin, non-straight straight man, while being surrounded by a constant barrage of the best queer character actors the world has to offer: Harvey Fierstein, Bowen Yang, Ts Madison and Jim Rash. only scratch the surface. At the center of all this flamboyance, Macfarlane must command the public’s attention as the living embodiment of Grindr’s faceless torso. Before BrothersMacfarlane, who came out in 2008, opened up about what it’s like to play boring without being boring, starring in a major studio-released rom-com, and whether or not he thinks there’s any precedent for Brothers in line with gay cinema.

Within five minutes of introducing your character, we hear it referred to as “boring.” How do you approach playing a character whose description includes “boring”?
The beginning of the film was the hardest part to film. There’s a part of Billy’s character that says that because he’s intimidated by Aaron. But also, boring people tend not to talk much. There were definitely conversations where I said, “I think I should say less.” I asked for the lines to be removed, which most actors don’t do.

It’s very selfless of you.
[Laughs.] Yeah. He is boring in the sense that he may look conventional. Something that also happens at the beginning of the film is that he lowers his voice a lot. Watching the movie again, I was like, Oh my God, my voice is so low. He’s trying so hard to be this ordinary, masc, kinda boring guy.

When you watch it at the beginning of the film, do you find it boring?
No. I don’t think he’s boring. I think he’s probably very embarrassed that people think he’s boring. Do you think he’s boring at the start of the movie?

I knew enough about romantic comedies to know it was going to open.
When I moved to New York at 19 to go to Juilliard, they taught us to let go of all our ideas about what it meant to be a certain type of person, because that is boring. Aaron is a guy who never had to learn those lessons because his face was buried in law books. The advantage of being an actor is that you are encouraged from an early age to question, Who are you? What’s that thing you’re wearing? Take that off. It’s not interesting. The beginning of the film was like a return to my 19 years for me.

As a gay actor who plays straight roles, did you have to put back some of the layers that Juilliard taught you to shed in order to get cast?
I’ve done a lot of straight roles, and weirdly, sexuality doesn’t really play into it. There are a lot of very interesting essays on what a gay voice is and what gay movements are. I never really think of it that way. For me, it’s always about, What do I naturally have that this character has, and what do I need to put a little more? One of the things that Luke naturally has is that I’m a very open guy. I don’t think you find Aaron like that. He works to erect barriers and walls. He wants to be seen as sort of tough and aloof.

If he’s putting up these walls, what brings him to Bobby?
We talked about it a lot. I revealed to Billy that I had started listening Bodybuilders many as prep. I don’t normally listen to it. It’s an incredibly intimate thing to have people in your ear. Especially during the pandemic, they were like my friends who I checked in with and heard their opinions. On some level, Aaron, who probably doesn’t have a lot of close friends that he talks to about things on a deeper level, probably gets a lot out of that kind of private time he has with Bobby Lieber on the Bobby Podcast. lieber. He wanted Bobby, whom he knows to be very intelligent, to know that he is too.

Since you listened BodybuildersMust have been fun doing the scene with Bowen.
Bowen was great. I think he’s one of the funniest guys. It was so much fun that our film literally jumps from Harvey Fierstein to Bowen Yang, landmarks of queer representation in culture.

This film is widely talked about as an original, as it is the first major studio-funded gay romantic comedy. We also talk a lot about straight romantic comedies Brothers looked for inspiration. But where do you see Brothers in a gay cinematographic lineage?
Where we exist in the gay line is that it’s going to be in the big movie theaters. I grew up in the suburbs, where you could only see films at the multiplex. The only way I saw queer cinema when I was an 18 year old kid growing up in Ontario was that my Jumbo video had a queer film section that I was terrified to visit. The fact that it’s in a 3,000-seat multiplex is important.

This film is also clever in the manner of romantic comedies of another generation. Yes, it is wide. Yes, there is physical comedy. But it’s in this vein of News broadcast and When Harry Met Sally: movies for adults. It’s a smart romantic comedy. But I know your question was about the queer community, so I’m trying to think of a queer romantic comedy.

It doesn’t have to be a romantic comedy. One thing I thought about during Brotherss conversations about being masc was the original version of band boys.
Oh interesting. Perhaps the gleeful answer to that is that we don’t spend the film tearing ourselves apart, which we did a lot. But the issue of masculinity is not entirely unique to the queer experience. Even in this marvelous Channing Tatum movie just released for streaming starring Sandra Bullock, the masculinity of Tatum’s character is in jeopardy. He is all about his appearance and presentation. These ideas of masculinity are present in all aspects of culture.

You have already played homosexual characters, notably in Brothers and sisters. Is it different from being involved in something that actively seeks to unfold in some version of a modern gay life?
As opposed to a TV?

Brothers has a sensibility that’s more like how real-life gay people live — Grindr may be a plot point.
It’s weird, because when I was on Brothers and sisters, I was 20 years old. Now I’m 40. It’s weird to be in something now that feels more like time. But you also have to appreciate what kind of sandbox you’re playing in – it’s a Judd Apatow movie. It will be topical. He also has the specific comic voice of Billy Eichner, and Billy’s comic voice is about pop culture. What he does best is make these observations about the culture at large. Like Hallmark movies.

I bet you are often asked about this.
It’s part of my story.

Are there things you’ve learned from being a romantic lead in Hallmark movies that you’ve brought to Brothers?
There are technical aspects – I’ve been on a ton of sets. I know my way around intimate conversation. I learned to fall in love with many different types of people. I don’t know what that says about me, but you’re getting good at listening to people.

With Brothers, Billy is the star and the writer. How does that affect your dynamic when you’re supposed to be equal on screen?
Aaron is drawn as a very different character. I don’t compete at all for the space it makes. As an actor, he has a set of talents that aren’t things I know how to do: he can deliver a quick dissertation on many, many things. He respects me as an actor and wanted that different energy from me. I think that’s what “opposites attract” is all about – finding something different and finding love there.

You spoke earlier about the person you would like to see this film with: an 18-year-old gay man who lives in the suburbs. But it’s going to the cinemas, and there aren’t enough 18-year-old gay kids to fill all those seats. What do you think of the wider audience for this film?
I brought my mother, my twin sister and her husband, and my older sister and her husband to TIFF, and listened to their laughter. My mom had a lot of questions about poppers, but she also said, “I feel like I understand a little more where you’re coming from.” She cried in all the right places and she laughed at unexpected things. She was talking about the scenes in the meeting room afterwards, and she was like, “I laughed but I didn’t even know what half the jokes were about!” My mother understands: Maybe I can understand my son a little more. Maybe I can understand why it’s taking him so long to meet someone. I’m not like Aaron at all, but she can understand me through this movie.

This interview has been edited and condensed.