After years as a Hallmark Channel hunk, Luke Macfarlane finally nabbed the romantic lead of his dreams — and on his own terms. Macfarlane plays the dashing love interest to screenwriter Billy Eichner’s character in “Bros,” which is being touted as the first gay studio rom-com (at least, the first to get a wide theatrical release with an all-LGBTQ cast).
With his All-American good looks and easy winking charisma, some audience members may wonder where he’s been hiding since finishing a long run on the critically beloved ABC drama “Brothers & Sisters” in 2011. A recurring lead on a successful primetime show should have led to a flurry of offers, it certainly did for his onscreen partner Matthew Rhys. Though he’s reticent to point fingers and grateful to Hallmark for the steady work, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happened.
“I’m never going to know the opportunities I wasn’t given. I’m never going to be in those rooms,” Macfarlane said during a recent phone interview with IndieWire. “So I’ll never know entirely. But I did know that I wanted to be a leading man. That’s the thing that I think I dreamed of when I was a kid at Julliard. Those are the roles I looked at and thought that’s the kind of role I would want to play. I don’t know if I was denied them. I don’t actually know. But I do know for a fact that growing up, I never did see out gay male movie stars.”
In the scheme of out gay celebrities, Macfarlane was a bit of a pioneer. He came out publicly in 2008, when California’s Prop 8 was threatening to ban same-sex marriage in the state. To put that in context: That’s two years before Ricky Martin, four years before Anderson Cooper and Matt Bomer, and nine years before Kristen Stewart. While it’s certainly not a competition, the landscape of out gay actors looked a little different back then.
“It was a different time. There weren’t a lot of people. I did come out before a lot of my colleagues came out,” he said. “I came out officially when I was on ‘Brothers & Sisters’ in the Globe and Mail, which is my Canadian newspaper. It felt like the right thing to do at that time. Proposition 8 in California was up for debate and gay rights were still very, very much part of the national conversation and the politics of the time. And it felt like I had to add my voice to the group of people that said, ‘I’m queer and I’m publicly out.'”
By his own admission, Macfarlane doesn’t fit traditional gay stereotypes. Eichner pulled a bit from Macfarlane’s real life for his character Aaron, an estate attorney who once harbored dreams of being a chocolatier. Like Aaron, Macfarlane loves hockey, Garth Brooks, and is “probably guilty of spending a little bit too much time in the gym.”
While no one is complaining about that (especially during Macfarlane’s many shirtless scenes in “Bros”), Macfarlane empathizes with Aaron’s strict adherence to unrealistic male body standards. “Aaron is somebody that growing up in the ’90s had probably a lot of preconceived notions about masculinity and the way you need to look a certain way in order to be successfully sexually appealing. So I think there’s definitely a part of me that thinks about that,” he said. “Especially as a man in Hollywood.”
“‘Office’ gif? This person isn’t gay,” Bobby mutters to his phone during one of their many funny texting exchanges. Much of the humor and tension in the film comes from Bobby’s opinionated, brash, loud queerness clashing with Aaron’s more assimilated gayness. (Macfarlane’s love of country music led to the movie’s sweet conclusion, in which Eichner’s character Bobby serenades Aaron with an original love song in the style of Garth Brooks.)
Not only is that a conversation that’s ripe for comedy, it’s one that Macfarlane hopes will inspire more gay guys to embrace their place in the broader queer community. Just like he has.
“I represent another side of the queer community. One that has put a larger foot into this heteronormative space in the community,” said Macfarlane. “I’ve always felt very comfortable with who I am and I’m very proud of my contribution to the queer community. … I hope that Aaron is taken with as much sensitivity as he deserves because I think he weirdly has the most to learn in this movie. I think he has the least experience in the community and he, like maybe some of our audience members will, [learns] that you don’t actually need to be so afraid of it.”
Though it can sometimes feel like LGBTQ+ acceptance is whizzing along faster than anyone can keep up, the reality is that there are many countries where it’s still illegal to be gay, and many counties where it may feel that way. Macfarlane came out before it was cool, and he paid the price. Hopefully, “Bros” shows Hollywood what a dazzling leading man it nearly passed up.
“I didn’t know if that was ever going to come along for me in my career. And I was making peace with that. ‘Oh, I’ll be an actor that works and I’ll have ups and downs.’ But a feature studio film, I didn’t know if that was ever going to come around for me,” he said. “So the fact that they did make it for LGBTQ people was my foot in the door.”
Universal Pictures will release “Bros” in theaters on Friday, September 30.