If anyone has the talent to pull off playing Paul Lynde, the campy queer icon beloved for “Bewitched” and “Hollywood Squares,” it’s Billy Eichner, one of the most prominent out gay comedians in the business. Eichner has just been tapped to star as Lynde in “Man in the Box,” a biopic based on the actor’s life on the screen. While Lynde was never officially “out,” his sexuality was well-known in front of and behind the camera throughout a run on television beginning in the ’50s up until his death in 1982.
The project was first reported by Deadline, to whom Eichner gave a wide-ranging interview about the struggles for out and closeted gay actors in Hollywood, and how he hopes to de-stigmatize major roles for queer stars with the Lynde film.
“There’s some overlap, between Paul and I, in that we both had our breakthrough in the industry, as performers, presenting a rather larger than life, flamboyant, gay persona on screen,” Eichner said. “Even though I was always very out, Paul was never technically out. But he was as out as you could be, at that time, in that he was clearly leaning into a flamboyant persona. Unlike Rock Hudson, and Tab Hunter, and Cary Grant, and all these other actors, he wasn’t pretending to be straight.”
Eichner also questioned the “spectacle” of why Hollywood loves to shower awards on straight actors who go gay. “One of the main reasons I want to do this is…because gay actors are never, hardly ever, I should say, allowed to play our own gay icons. Harvey Milk, Freddie Mercury, Elton John. Where are the gay actors?” he said. “When it really comes to some big project about a gay icon, the one everyone’s throwing awards at…we love the spectacle of rewarding a straight actor, for quote unquote, transforming himself into a gay person.”
Eichner added that the consequences for actors coming out are often career-ending. “When someone comes out of the closet, we celebrate them. We applaud them. We put them on the cover of magazines. We say, thank you for living your truth, and thank you for being brave, and you’re such a role model for our gay kids. And then instantly, that actor gets taken off so many casting lists in the business,” he said. “This is exactly what happened to Paul, and it’s still happening today, which I can tell you from my own career, having lived it on the day to day, for almost 20 years now.”
He said that, “after a hundred years of making films, it’s not a coincidence,” adding “There is no gay Tom Hanks, in this country. There is no gay Will Ferrell. There’s no gay Steve Carell. There’s no gay Paul Rudd. There’s no gay Kevin Hart. There’s no gay Will Smith. The list goes on and on.”
“Man in the Box” will be produced by Tom McNulty, with a script by Edwin Cannistraci. In addition to this film, Eichner is also working on a gay romantic comedy through Judd Apatow’s production company.