Bros director Nicholas Stoller talks sex, love and works with Billy Eichner on groundbreaking gay comedy

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“Bros” is another R-rated, boundary-pushing look from a man in an arrested state of Nicholas Stoller. It’s the kind of look at male neurosis, usually the kind of mania that emerges a decade before the midlife crisis, that has been the director’s trade fund in comedies like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Get Him to the Greek”. and “Neighbors”.

But this film has an important twist. It has an all-LGBTQ cast and centers on two gay men with serious commitment issues — a stretch for Stoller, who is heterosexual. So he turned to Billy Eichner, whom he knew from working together on “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” and “Friends From College,” to help shape an authentically queer “cute meetup.” “Bros,” the culmination of a years-long writing process that Stoller likens to therapy (“making a movie like this is a lot like ‘Prince of Tides,’” he says). Debuting Friday, “Bros” will make history as the first major LGBTQ romantic comedy studio to open exclusively in theaters.

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Nicholas Stoller

Nicholas Stoller directs Billy Eichner in ‘Bros’

Stoller spoke with Variety about convincing Eichner to dig deep, the responsibility that comes with destroying that particular glass ceiling, and directing the movie’s many steamy sexy scenes (it’s all foursome!).

Who had the idea to make “Bros”?

I worked with Billy on “Friends From College,” and what I discovered in the first season was that he wasn’t just really funny. He had good acting chops. Then we screened the pilot in a movie theater and every time Billy was on screen, the audience would burst out laughing, even if he was just glancing. It made me realize…this guy is a total movie star.

I love romantic comedies, and for years I wondered why no one had made the great R-rated studio comedy about two gay men falling in love. It’s not my story. I’m straight. But I was intrigued by the idea and offered to partner on a screenplay for a movie that Billy would star in and I would direct.

What was Billy’s response?

Well, it turns out he had kind of an embryonic idea for years that was a bit broader. It was about him falling in love with a guy and kind of based on a relationship he had. That was sort of the genesis of it. Before I started, I established three rules: the first was that you had to have a story; the second was that he had to be really honest; and the third was that since it was a studio comedy, it had to have a happy ending.

Are the best comedies drawn from personal experience?

They kind of do. I’ve done it a few times where I’ve been involved in adapting a movie for a specific comedian. Whether it’s Jason Segel in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” where he got so invested, or “Get Him to the Greek,” where Russell Brand explored his addiction, these films act as a multi-year therapeutic process. A lot of it, I ask a lot of questions and we both talk about our relationships or our issues and how we feel about love and blah, blah, blah. And then you find a way to make it all fun.

Ultimately, it’s a gay rom-com and you’re a straight man. How did this impact your approach?

I knew from the beginning that it couldn’t be a simple story, but with two guys. I am very aware that love in the LGBTQ+ community is very different from how my wife and I met and married. I also knew that I didn’t know many details. In the end, everyone’s story is different. There are billions of love stories on this planet and each one is different. I have gay friends who are married and have children and their lives are almost identical to mine. And I have straight friends who are single and date a lot of women and are my age. This movie was very specific to Billy’s story, his life, his experience, his neurosis, his vulnerabilities, his insecurities and how he sets up blocks that keep people from getting closer to him. It was about him specifically. The more specific you are in telling a story, the more universal it becomes.

Since this is the first major studio theatrical romantic comedy with gay protagonists, were you worried about what would happen if it bombed? Did you feel very responsible for making a hit?

Because of my straight privilege, I was so naively optimistic the whole time that it was going to be awesome. Billy was more concerned about that, and understandably. He felt like he had this gigantic opportunity and if he missed it, the door could close. But to his credit, he didn’t let that scare him off by watering down the story. He didn’t let that deter him from being as precise, as blunt, direct and honest as he was. From time to time he would say, ‘What if they don’t end up together?’ That’s when I would step in and say, ‘No, no, no, that can’t happen.’ It was the only creative note I was hammering on.

There’s a monologue halfway through “Bros,” in which Billy’s character talks about all the homophobia he faces and the doors that were closed to him because he was openly gay. Did Billy put a lot of his personal struggles into this moment?

We were having a debate about the movie and I was like, ‘Why aren’t you dating anyone?’ And he said, “I was too busy. We were going back and forth and eventually I was like, ‘You gotta tell me what’s going on because this movie can’t just be about a guy who’s too obsessed with work and errands to fall in love.’ And then he told me a version of the story that became this monologue. It took a long time for Billy to open up because it’s very important to him that he’s not seen as a victim. He’s a strong guy. He’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. He’s one of the only people I’ve ever met in Hollywood who’s completely self-taught. He didn’t rely on a mentor or connections. He did it himself.

For a romantic comedy, “Bros” has a lot of sex. How did you approach these scenes?

I don’t understand how you can do an R-rated rom-com without having sex in it. Sex is part of love. It can be honest and goofy, and it can be hilarious. The only thing I’m uncomfortable photographing is serious sex or sexy sex. I would suck to direct “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

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