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If Luke Macfarlane had to describe his career so far, he would call it “chaos theory.” In 2005, shortly after graduating from Juilliard, he was cast in Over There, an FX series created by the late, great Steven Bochco, a gig that the young actor was certain would make him a TV star. “I really thought that was going to be the moment,” he says of the series that lasted one season.
Luckily, ABC’s Brothers & Sisters soon came calling. Macfarlane was cast in what was supposed to be a six-episode arc, but the role ran for nearly 100 — and he still considers it his most well-known. He played the love interest and eventual husband of Matthew Rhys’ character during a time when same-sex couples were an extreme rarity onscreen; Macfarlane himself came out during his tenure on the drama.
Now, more than a decade later, the actor will make his theatrical film debut — in the first-ever gay rom-com from a major studio (the main cast is entirely made up of LGBTQ actors). He stars in Universal’s Bros, from Billy Eichner (also the first openly gay man to co-write and star in his own major studio film) and director Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors).
Macfarlane plays Aaron, a probate lawyer struggling with the mundanity of helping rich people write their wills and a love interest for Eichner’s Bobby Leiber. Their meet-cute happens at a gay club, where a shirtless, ripped, baseball-hatted Aaron makes cheeky conversation with the pithy and perennially single-on-purpose Bobby. Macfarlane’s performance adds a layer of contemplative mystery to a character who could easily glide by on looks and jokes alone. “When I first read the Bros script, I really connected with Aaron on the idea of, where does his masculinity fit into the gay spectrum?” he says. “And how that shuts him off a little bit from finding his authentic self.”
Macfarlane says he came of age, and into the business, at a time when gay men felt the ways in which they were allowed to express themselves, and search for success, were very narrow.
“There was something about growing up in the ’90s, our ideas of masculinity came from Abercrombie & Fitch or Calvin Klein ads, and that was very confusing to gay people of a certain age,” he says, also recalling how an after-school viewing of the Chippendales dancers on The Phil Donahue Show exemplified the emphatically masculine messaging of the time. “You’re like, ‘Do I want to be with that or do I want to be that?’ ” Bros instead offers an unapologetic display of the many facets of queer culture in all its glory. It also made for some of the most involved sex scenes of Macfarlane’s career, an experience he looks back on fondly. “We had a intimacy coordinator on Bros, but Billy and I felt really comfortable,” he explains. “We gave each other permission to go for it.”
Now, probably, is a good time to mention Hallmark. In the past few years, Macfarlane has made close to a dozen TV movies for the cabler, forging a robust side hustle as a hunky leading man (often in straight relationships) in pics like A Shoe Addict’s Christmas and Just Add Romance, playing a fireman, a tree farmer, a hockey star, in every fictional town you could imagine. He’s calling in to this interview from the British Columbia set of his latest contribution to the Hallmark canon; as fate would have it, he’s starring opposite Marlo Thomas, wife of one Phil Donahue. In another twist of kismet, there’s a subplot in Bros about the fictional Hallheart Channel, which Eichner’s character turns to for its Christmas lineup whenever he needs a pick-me-up — that was in the script well before it made its way to Macfarlane.
It’s all just a little too unbelievable for the actor who, despite his ambitious outlook from the very beginning, says he could never fully picture the career he’s created: “If I closed my eyes when I was 25 years old and imagined my future, I’d have said I’d be chasing a tank down the street in an Iraq war movie or something.”
There are a lot of eyes on Bros as it nears its Sept. 30 release (it bows Sept. 9 at TIFF). There are legions of LGBTQ moviegoers who will finally get to see their world reflected on the big screen by an LGBTQ-only cast, studio execs crunching the numbers, creatives hoping the film will be judged more holistically than just a reliance on box office, and actors who finally experience a movie made by people just like them but who hope it’s seen by people nothing like them. “It’s about more than getting gay people out to see the movie,” says Macfarlane. “We go to movies so we can understand the world, and that’s what people are going to get when they see this. And they’ll be fucking entertained along the way.”
This story first appeared in the Sept. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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