Following its world premiere at the 47th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and glitzy premieres in New York and Los Angeles, today finally sees the theatrical release of Universal’s big gay rom-com Bros, co-written by and starring Billy Eichner as part of an all-LGBTQ+ principal cast. In the film, which is as hilarious and romantic as it is meaningful, Eichner’s character, Bobby, is tasked with overseeing the creation of the first national LGBTQ+ history museum in the United States. This brings together a diverse museum board, with each member representing their identities, portrayed by an excellent ensemble, featuring a Black trans woman, Angela (Ts Madison), the Black gender nonconfirming Wanda (Miss Lawrence), a cis white bi man, Robert (Jim Rash), a Latinx trans woman, Tamara (Eve Lindley), and a cis white lesbian, Cherry (Dot-Marie Jones).
Following the Bros premiere at TIFF, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann had an exclusive conversation with Ts Madison, Miss Lawrence, Jim Rash, Eve Lindley, and Dot-Marie Jones.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: What did it mean to each of you to have Bros receive the fantastic reaction that it did last night at TIFF?
Dot-Marie Jones: “That was an incredible experience, the film was even funnier. Seeing it last night, alongside everyone who is in it was so special and it was amazing to hear the response from the crowd. I know the parts where we as a cast died laughing when we were making it and all of the mess ups that we had in the boardroom scenes, so it was great to see the audience react to some of the moments too. Not only did the audience have fun watching it and feel represented, but they really got the whole movie. I’m very proud to be a part of this, it’s been a long time coming.”
Ts Madison: “I’d seen it before, but to watch it in a theatre with everybody and to feel how receptive everyone was to all of the jokes was unbelievable. As far as me critiquing myself—thinking ‘Girl, I should’ve said this’ or ‘I should’ve said it like that’—I threw all of that out of the window watching it last night with that crowd. I thought to myself, none of that matters right now because the people here are absorbing it in the way that it’s supposed to be absorbed, they understand that it’s funny. This is something that’s magical for our community. It’s definitely going to progressively push the LGBTQIA+ umbrella in a forward direction when it comes to love stories and displaying how we give love and receive love. I was so ecstatic to receive all of that raw emotion from that audience last night because I know that change is definitely going to happen in the world after everybody gets the opportunity to see this.”
Miss Lawrence: “Being there, seeing the reaction, soaking it up as it happened was definitely a moment in the sun. It means that we are on the precipice of healing the world as we know it. People who have forever been last and now coming first; voices that were never heard are now being heard; people who were never seen are now being seen; and that is the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a movie that serves as a melting pot for every part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum. We’re all represented in this movie and it not only pushes the LGBTQ+ community forward, it also pushes the world forward. It gives our straight counterparts a different perspective. It gives them the articulation to be able to talk to their questioning or LGBTQ+ child or friend. We are giving education to people who have been ignorant for so long—not through any fault of their own—and we are taking our rightful place in the entertainment industry, and it’s about time.”
I had hoped that I would laugh as much as I did, but I had not expected to be crying.
Eve Lindley: “The same ting happened to me. It was a 2000-person premiere, but in a way it felt intimate showing it at TIFF. It just feels like a bunch of film nerds gathering to watch and talk about film. So it’s really great company to be in.”
Jim Rash: “It’s so great to see a comedy get a platform like this at TIFF. A good comedy and a good drama are both good movies, there shouldn’t be a separation. Getting into TIFF with Bros opening on September 30th is such perfect timing, not just for word of mouth, but to celebrate where this whole thing started with a community that loves film.”
Something that’s so special about the film, is that you can say how significant and meaningful it is, but at the same time it’s hilarious.
Miss Lawrence: “Yes, you get to laugh, but not laugh at us, with us.”
For a long time it was gays and lesbians, and more recently its been trans and gender nonconforming folks, who have been the butt of jokes in major movies and on comedy specials. How empowering is it to be part be something where you’re in on the joke, where you’re creating queer humour?
Miss Lawrence: “It’s something that should have been done a long time ago. But a delay is not a denial, and it’s about time. I spent my younger years watching shows like In Living Color, and seeing high profile straight actors play drag queen characters as the comedic relief in various projects, but the minute we had the audacity to try to show up and earn our space, we became shunned and frowned upon. As much as I want to hate how things used to be, I also want to say thank you for planting the seed, whether you knew you were planting the seed or not. Over the years, having people like this dynamic cast doing the endless work that we do, we watered the seed and now we’re in harvest.”
Ts Madison: “We were tired of looking at ourselves on television and not being able to play ourselves. That’s like asking a white man to play a Black man. You don’t know know what a Black man’s life is like, you don’t know what a Black man goes through, you have no idea, so how could you step into that role with no experience? It’s the same thing with LGBTQ+ people. How could you step into a trans person’s role and give a dimension from a trans person’s perspective? You can’t do that. I don’t care how much you sit around and shadow and absorb, you’re not that and it’s not your experience. I think what’s going on right now with Bros, and what Hollywood needs to take note of, is that we’re tired of looking at ourselves being portrayed on television and movies by straight actors who are just giving a version of it, instead of the real thing. I want to see what we saw last night in Bros. I saw gay men in love with each other; I saw trans women sitting at the table of a board of directors; I saw a very powerful lesbian woman standing up for lesbian history; I saw a gender nonconforming gay man directing and controlling that board room, and all those roles were played by people who are in that life.”
Miss Lawrence: “By people who walk that walk.”
Dot-Marie Jones: “By people who are in that skin, absolutely. In the last thirty years that I’ve been in this business, there would maybe be one gay guy or one gay woman on a project. Those gates were locked tight, but now we’re busting them damn locks and it’s opening it up not just for gay men and lesbians, but for the whole LGBTQ+ community, for our family, as it should. That’s one of the reasons being a part of this film means so much to me. When I was on Glee, so many kids would contact me and they would be suicidal because they felt unaccepted or were being bullied—and all of that crap that still goes on—but maybe this film will open up conversations, and remind people that it’s not contagious, so don’t be an asshole! Open up your ears, open your eyes and your mind and your heart and let everyone in. I love everybody until you do me wrong. I don’t care what you are, who you are, or what you do; if you’re a good person and you’ve got a good heart and a good soul, that’s all that should matter.”
Miss Lawrence: “That’s all we’re required to do in this life—that’s why we’re here—to be of good service. That’s it. That’s everybody’s assignment. When I was in high school, I had this friend named Seneca. He was a beautiful boy, with long hair, who committed suicide because he felt like he did not belong even though his mom was his best friend. I never knew that he was struggling with who he was, but he took his own life and we later learned it was because he felt like he din’t have a place here, he felt like he was a mistake. I believe that our spirits live on. I believe that we are here because somebody else was here first who is no longer here and so I’m thankful for these types of moments and the movement that we’re creating, because whoever that next Seneca is will have a point of reference. Our generation didn’t have these points of reference, but now that little Seneca who’s struggling today will be able to say to themselves, ‘What I am feeling and what people are telling me is wrong’, because there’s an example right here in Bros‘. With Bros, LGBTQ+ folks are being celebrated, and they’re shifting the needle, they’re changing the narratives of who we are and what we look like and how powerful our voice is and that our values matter.”
Eve Lindley: “I’ve been really fortunate with my career and I’ve got to work with a lot of really cool people. There have been times though, when I’ve been working with someone and in the back of my head I’ll be thinking about the fact that they were in a movie where there was were derogatory storylines and jokes about me and my community, like Soapdish. That didn’t happen on Bros. It was a really great group of people whose catalogue of work reflects who they are as people.”
Jim Rash: “With Bros, we as a community were the ones making the observations, we were shining the light on ourselves, we were having fun at our own expense, in a good way. I loved that we were being funny about this part of our culture and our community. We’re calling those things out, but at the same time someone could watch this and just think it’s hilarious. I also love that Bros bridges the comedy and drama so well. I love the ballet between comedy and drama; the movement between having a message, and having heart and being a really funny comedy. There are some great cutaway jokes in this movie too. Like when they call the grandmother, and the movie posters that they look at. That adds a whole other layer. Billy and Nicholas were working with a very specific, beautiful tone. This movie knows what it is and that’s not the easiest thing to do. It doesn’t feel like a hodgepodge in any way. It’s Billy’s brain seeing the world.”
Eve Lindley: “It hits upon some universal things. I cry every time Luke’s character says, ‘If you think you’re unlovable, I’m proof that you’re not’. That’s a universal thing that everyone I know feels. We all suspect that we’re unlovable, whether we’re queer or not. That’s why I think we love rom-coms in general, because of that feeling of somebody seeing you.”
Although we’ve rearely been able to see ourselves represented in the genre, is there a rom-com that has meant something to you or that you enjoy rewatching?
Eve Lindley: “I think a lot of queer people are really good at thinking, ‘If I squint, then this movie is about me’. I feel that way about Pretty Woman. She’s this woman who is low class, at the bottom of the totem pole, but she rides it. That’s a favourite of mine, along with Dirty Dancing.
I love the She’s Like the Wind moment in Bros, with Billy singing in the shower.
Eve Lindley: “Oh, me too! Billy’s voice is so good. I had no idea that Billy could sing like that.”
Jim Rash: “I didn’t either, until we were shooting that scene at the end.”
Eve Lindley: “He sang all of that live on set!”
Jim Rash: “He sang that song at least three times, and it felt like his voice was ready to do it five more times. During the pandemic, I made a list of movies that I needed to see again. When I rewatched some of them, they either didn’t hold up or were more offensive than I’d remembered. Because I was going to be in a rom-com, I wanted to see a Cameron Diaz moment and I watched My Best Friend’s Wedding again.”
Eve Lindley: “That was kind of groundbreaking, because she didn’t get the guy in the end. It’s just her with her gay best friend, having a ball!”
Jim Rash: “Exactly! I thought Cameron was so amazing in it. Not only does she hold her own in a Julia Roberts movie, but she also plays what’s supposed to be the bad person, who is ruining love, and yet she’s so likable in it. Also, there are four singing moments in that movie, and they got away with all of them!”
Eve Lindley: “How is that film not a Broadway musical yet?!”
What does it mean to you to be part of this all-LGBTQ+ principal cast?
Jim Rash: “Awful! Just kidding! What reaction could I have, but just love? Making this movie, both in front of and behind the camera, there was a family of our community. It was a celebration beyond what you see on screen. With any movie, you come to the table with the people you’re going to work with for a period of time and you cross your fingers that you’ll enjoy each other’s company, because you have to see each other every day. On this film, it was disastrous! No! It was such a loving environment. It was a safe space and we could all feel that something special was happening.”
Eve Lindley: “The whole historic nature of the film was lost on me at first. I was just excited to have a job and to be working. When I knew that Ts, Jim, and Miss Lawrence were going to be in it I was even more excited. I’m a huge fan of Dot-Maire Jones and Billy Eichner too. But it wasn’t until the press roll out that I realized how historic this all is and how groundbreaking it is. Billy, our producer Judd Apatow, and our director Nicholas Stoller, keep saying that they didn’t set out to make a groundbreaking film, but that’s what they have done. Last night at the screening, I was so moved, not just by Billy’s speech on the beach in Provincetown, but also by what he says in the party scene at the end. Billy acknowledges all of the people who came before us. We’re here and they are not. We shot that scene so many times, but seeing it in a theatre last night, the power of it really hit me. I’m only now realizing what all that means. The film is meta in a lot of ways, because we’re talking about the queer history that has led us up to this exact film being released. It’s incredible, the writing is so smart.”
What were those scenes like to shoot in the boardroom?
Jim Rash: “It was a lot of fun over the three days of shooting in the boardroom around the table. We’d get everything on the script done and then we would play and new things would get brought up and happen through improvisation. Because the writer side of me enjoys the process so much, I couldn’t stop focusing on Billy. It’s such a difficult thing to have written something and also to be starring in it; to be in a scene and be present and not have your writer mind invading and listening. He always went internal and was pitching new things, or redirecting something. That’s a difficult way to operate, but he was very good at it.”
Finally, what’s your favourite piece of LGBTQ+ culture, or a person who identifies as LGBTQ+; someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years and why?
Ts Madison: “To Wong Foo! It was a white drag queen, a Black drag queen, and a Latin drag queen. Once again played by straight men.”
Dot-Marie Jones: “Honey, pasta’s straight till you cook it!”
Ts Madison: “But there was nothing else at the time. They weren’t casting real drag queens back then. RuPaul only had a cameo in that movie instead of playing one of the lead roles, but she could have really played one of those parts. All of the real drag queens were in it as cameos instead. It could have followed three real drag queens, but it was about having the movie star names and bringing in the box office sales. We appreciate them for that. Let me tell you something, I appreciate Wesley Snipes for being a Black man stepping into that role of Noxeema and breaking it down, and letting them know, ‘Honey, I’m here to make my money, and also to make a statement in the world that regardless of how you guys accept me, it’s OK if you want to express yourself in this way. I appreciate Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo too. To Wong Foo was one of my things, I loved it.”
“Then to grow up watching Rupaul’s entire career flourish in front of me was incredible. I used to sit on the floor at home watching RuPaul. The spirits spoke to me and said, ‘This person is going to be your friend and you’re going to work with this person’. I was 14 years old at that time. I’ve been a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race numerous times, I’m a piece of Drag Race herstory, honey. World of Wonder created my television show, The Ts Madison Experience. I have so much love and admiration for RuPaul because she could have been a diva and said, ‘Honey, run that bitch out of here, I don’t need this new girl coming in here’, but instead she extended her hand to me, both in my career and in my personal life. Anytime I ask Ru for anything, she does it. RuPaul is definitely the most important person to me in terms of queer history and in my own life. RuPaul means so much to me because she embraced me. She’s like, ‘This is my daughter coming up in this space and y’all going to respect her!’ That was so amazing for me, because I don’t have a polished past and I am one of the most outspoken trans women. When people call out trans women’s names, they call out Laverene Cox and Janet Mock first—not to dismiss Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera—I’m talking about living trans women now. Then when you say my name, people might say, ‘Why her?! She’s boisterous and loud!’ But that’s me, that is my representation of the trans community because that exists too; loud, boisterous, outlandish, outrageous people who say and do whatever they feel unapologetically. So that’s why I’m walking that RuPaul path honey!”
You brought a lot of that to your role in Bros.
Ts Madison: “Well, I wanted to bring more of myself to the role, but we will do that in Bros 2!”
Miss Lawrence: “Some moments in queer history that I love are people like Gene Anthony Ray, who was Leroy in the film and TV show Fame. I went to performing ing arts high school myself, so dancing, singing, and acting were my original passions and my original gifts. Unfortunately, we lost Gene far too early, so that point of reference left us. As I grew more to understanding my Black queer culture, I learned about Paris Is Burning, and so I learned about Pepper LaBeija and Octavia St. Laurent and Junior LaBeija, and all of these people who I literally am because of. Those were all important figures in Black queer history for me.”
Dot-Marie Jones: “I’m trying to think at my age who I looked up to and respected as a lesbian. Sandra Bernhard is a good friend of mine, she was one of my first friends when I moved to Los Angeles. One thing about Sandra is, who you see is who you get. She has very few walls, she’ll tell you like it is. She’s never been anybody but her. Amanda Bearse is the same. I worked with her back in 1994 and 95 on Married With Children. When I did one of the episodes it was her directing and that was the first woman director that I’d worked with and she was amazing, not in a self-righteous, obnoxious way, but this confidence would exude from her.”
“I didn’t have a big coming out, I have just lived my life and tried to be the truest, most authentic person I can be and what you see is what you get. I hope that that comes through in my work. There are few cuss words in Bros, but I hope this film reaches the kids who are old enough to see it and I hope that it gives them that little bit of confidence to be who they are, to be their true selves, whether they’re lesbian, nonbinary or trans. God doesn’t make junk and we’re all here for a reason and we’re all given these bodies for a reason and it’s up to us to figure out what to do with it and that’s something that I’ve always felt and I’ve always said.”
I think quite a lot of that is encapsulated by the brilliant speech that Billy has in Bros on the beach in Provincetown.
Miss Lawrence: “Yeah, it’s so good. That’s going to be the nomination moment right there, mark my words. It ties it all together.”
Dot-Marie Jones:“It’s two gay men talking, but what Billy says in that speech can resonate with any one of us. It’s wide open. And that’s all I got to say about that.”
Miss Lawrence: “Yes, Forest Gump, honey!”
Jim Rash: “A long time ago my friend took an acting class with Charles Nelson Reilly, who is known from Match Game, but he was a director and a playwright, and from what I gather he was out and he was briefly mentioned in the documentary Visible: Out on Television. There was a real impact to that kind of stuff, with gay men giving sassy answers like Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares.”
I think these men often get overlooked but they were visible at a time when no one was out in the entertainment business.
Jim Rash: “They were beloved, people watched those shows for those funny one-liners.”
Eve Lindley: “We don’t ever have queer history taught to us, and I was so used to looking forwards, but I got to an age when I thought I really should look backwards. I found out about people and was like, how did I not know about this person? Like Christine Jorgensen a famous trans woman in the 1950s. When you read how they were writing about her back then, it wasn’t with hatred, it was more like, ‘this amazing medical anomaly’, and with a fascination. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know about her until a few years ago, she should be in history books. Actually, I bought my niece this little book called Bad Girls Throughout History, and its all these women who were radical for their time. There’s Gloria Steinem and Harriet Tubman in there; women who broke rules. I was so pleased to see that Christine Jorgensen was in there, I thought that was really cool. I played Sylvia Rivera in a short film and she was another person who I didn’t know about until I auditioned for that. She’s become like a kind of spiritual totem for me, I have a framed photo of her in my house, she was a really cool lady.”
By James Kleinmann
Bros opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, September 30th 2022.