Having found a perfect vehicle for his talents in Disney’s photorealistic “Lion King” reboot, Billy Eichner has been relishing his time in the spotlight, posing with co-star Beyoncé and “freaking out” over encounters with British royal family members at the film’s starry premieres.
Eichner, however, would like his presence in the film ― which also stars Donald Glover and Seth Rogen ― to have an impact that extends beyond onscreen laughs and meme-worthy red carpet moments. In a new BuzzFeed interview, the gay actor-comedian says he’d like to see more LGBTQ characters in family films, and is hopeful his star billing in “The Lion King” is a step in that direction.
“Gay people always had to sort of search for the closeted gay character, because there were no openly gay characters, and we were so thirsty for them,” Eichner, who plays Timon, said in the July 13 interview. “I would love to see a world where we don’t have to argue about, you know, whether [LeFou] in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is gay or not.”
“I’m not saying that character’s gay,” he continued. “But in the new movies that are made, there should just be existing openly LGBT characters so that we don’t have to keep arguing about Bert and Ernie. I don’t care if Bert and Ernie are gay. I want to see actual gay people that are not a mystery. The way to move on from all those debates is to just create openly gay characters in children’s programming and family entertainment.”
Interestingly, the character of Timon in 1994’s animated version of “The Lion King” was voiced by Nathan Lane, who is gay. For his part, Eichner said he’s glad director Jon Favreau “kept the tradition” of having Simba’s meerkat sidekick played by “a gay actor, with a certain type of comedic sensibility, alive.”
Of the character himself, he added, “I didn’t think about him being gay so much as I thought, ‘Well, I’m gay, and I have what some may consider a gay sensibility, and I’m going to bring that to the table, just the way that Nathan did.’”
In February, it was announced that Eichner would write and star in a new romantic comedy focused on a gay character, to be produced by Judd Apatow. According to Deadline, the as-yet-untitled film will “center around two men who have commitment problems and are attempting a relationship.”
Eichner has, of course, exhibited a comedic flair for uniting LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ audiences on his beloved series, “Billy on the Street.” Still, he admitted to feeling “a lot of pressure” to get the new film’s tone right.
“It’s kind of the culmination of everything I’ve worked towards, to make a real, mainstream funny movie about gay people,” he said, “that straight people go to and laugh as if they would laugh at any other movie, but that remains authentic to the gay experience.”