Billy Eichner is opening up about his experience as an openly gay actor in Hollywood.
The “Lion King” star, 41, spoke to Deadline about LGBTQ representation in film and television as well as the career challenges actors can face when they come out of the closet.
“What’s happened is that, when someone comes out of the closet, we celebrate them,” Eichner said in the article, published Tuesday. “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.”
According to GLAAD’s annual Studio Responsibility Index that studied 118 films released in 2019 from the eight largest studios, 22 (18.6%) included characters who were LGBTQ, which is a slight increase over the previous year’s report (18.2%, 20 out of 110 films).
But even though there are more LGBTQ characters on screen, Eichner says “we’re often used in such limited ways.” Of the 22 films counted in GLAAD’s survey, only nine included an LGBTQ character who had more than 10 minutes of screen time. More than half of LGBTQ characters (28 of 50, 56%) received less than three minutes of total screen time, with 21 appearing for less than one minute.
“There is no gay Tom Hanks in this country,” Eichner said. “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, 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.”
Eichner says he’s in in the midst of developing a film called “Man in the Box” with producer Tom McNulty. In it, Eichner plans to star as real-life comedian Paul Lynde, who appeared on the TV show “The Hollywood Squares” from 1966 to 1981. Though Lynde never publicly came out, he was “as out as you could be, at that time,” Eichner said.
According to Eichner, Lynde’s professional opportunities were limited because he “did not present as masculine” — a stigma that Eichner says gay actors still face.
“That is the story of gay characters throughout Hollywood history,” he continued. “It comes down to masculinity. We accept a masculine actor, playing effeminate, and in fact we’ll reward him for it greatly. And when the opposite happens, when someone’s presented themselves as flamboyant, or more effeminate, as an actor, or as a person, tries to do the opposite, it’s almost thought of as a joke.”
Eichner also described Hollywood as “so hypocritical” in its treatment of LGBTQ actors. Though many in Hollywood are the “first to attend a fundraiser” for the LGBTQ community, Eichner says they need to step up in telling LGBTQ stories with LGBTQ actors.
“It’s like, we’re so liberal, and we’re so tolerant, and we’re so accepting,” Eichner continued. “OK, then, where are your movies that center gay characters with gay actors? They don’t exist.”
Though Eichner says he does not want straight actors to be barred entirely from playing gay characters, he believes it’s important LGBTQ people have the chance to tell their own stories.
“We have the lived-in experience, to bring the intellectual nuance of it to the screen,” he said. “I don’t have to go sit with 30 gay people and try to find out what it’s like to be gay. I know, and no one knows better than me and my friends. I think we need to stop undervaluing that, the feeling that if a gay person plays a gay person it’s not acting but if a straight person plays a gay person, we give them an Oscar.”
Contributing: Carly Mallenbaum
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Billy Eichner says Hollywood is ‘so hypocritical’ to LGBTQ actors