Illustration by June Le in article about Billy Eichner wanting gay actors to play gay icons
Why are queer icons like Elton John and Freddie Mercury played by straight actors? (Illustration by June Le, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

Billy Eichner Says More LGBTQ+ Actors Need To Be Cast as Gay Icons

There are now more LGBTQ+ focused biopics, movies, TV shows and other forms of media, but it’s not LGBTQ+ actors who are telling these stories.

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Illustration by June Le in article about Billy Eichner wanting gay actors to play gay icons

There are now more LGBTQ+ focused biopics, movies, TV shows and other forms of media, but it’s not LGBTQ+ actors who are telling these stories.

On Jan. 21, Billy Eichner announced via Twitter that in the upcoming film “Man In The Box,” he would be playing the role of Paul Lynde, a gay actor who rose to popularity in the 1960s. He also took the opportunity to make a plea for Hollywood to begin casting more LGBTQ+ actors to portray straight people as well as LGBTQ+ icons.

Eichner, who himself is gay, said in an interview with Deadline that although society has come a long way in how it views and treats members of the LGBTQ+ community since the ‘60s and ‘70s, gay and lesbian actors are still often put into a box that doesn’t allow them to portray the same range of roles a straight person would.

“Perhaps we’re not as marginalized, politically, or in the world at large and obviously things have gotten better,” Eichner said in the interview. “But within our industry, although you’re seeing more gay people on TV, and more gay characters, we’re often used in such limited ways.”

Eichner talked in particular about how men who present as “something other than masculine” are not considered for roles that don’t fit into their public persona.

“We might applaud them, and we might say, oh, they’re so funny, you know, but they have tended, in the past, not to be allowed to have the types of dynamic, chameleon-like careers that straight actors, who get the same level of admiration, the same level of respect, the same number of laughs, have been able to get,” Eichner said.

Lynde was known for his Broadway and film roles in the massively popular titles “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Bewitched” and “Hollywood Squares.” But Eichner spoke about how Lynde was denied for some roles 50 years ago because of his assumed sexuality. While many things have improved greatly for the LGBTQ+ community, there is still work to be done regarding representation.

Eichner’s points can also be backed up by statistics. GLAAD released a report on July 16 that found, out of the 118 released by major studios last year, only nine films included an LGBTQ+ character with more than 10 minutes of screen time, and 21 out of the 50 gay characters that appeared did so for less than one minute.

Lynde, who died in 1982 at only 55 years old, never even explicitly came out as gay; however, as The Loop puts it, “Although Lynde never specifically addressed his sexuality, the iconic TV star never bothered to deny it either, and he was often noted for his ‘barely-closeted’ lifestyle which, at the time, was uncommon.”

Eichner also touched on the subject in his interview, saying, “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. You didn’t see him getting set up on dates with women, or having phony relationships with women, to try to present to the world as a straight man. I think that was very admirable, for the time, and also, if you look at those jokes on ‘Hollywood Squares,’ he comes as close to admitting he’s gay as you possibly can.”

People on Twitter were quick to praise Eichner for his statements and to congratulate him for earning the role. One user replied to Eichner’s tweet, agreeing that gay actors should play their icons.

With the recent surge of Hollywood biopics telling the stories of iconic men and women who were part of the LGBTQ+ community, Eicher’s casting in “Man In The Box” sets an important precedent: When casting the role of a gay man, gay actors should be considered first.

“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,” Eichner said. “The list goes on and on, and that’s not a coincidence. After a hundred years of making films, it’s not a coincidence. It’s not that they just haven’t been able to find the right gay man, who has enough talent to have a career like that.”

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