Interview – ‘Bros’ director, Nick Stoller, talks about his funniest scenes to film

Universal Pictures proudly presents the first romantic comedy from a major studio about two gay men maybe, possibly, probably, stumbling towards love. Maybe. They’re both very busy. Bros, a smart, swoony and heartfelt comedy about how hard it is to find another tolerable human being to go through life with.

Starring Billy Eichner, the first openly gay man to co-write and star in his own major studio film—and featuring an entirely LGBTQ+ principal cast, including Luke Macfarlane (Killjoys), Ts Madison (The Ts Madison Experience), Monica Raymund (Chicago Fire), Guillermo Díaz (Scandal), Guy Branum (The Other Two) and Amanda Bearse (Married …with Children)—Bros is directed by Nicholas Stoller from his screenplay with Eichner.

To celebrate the Australian release of Bros, and while stars Billy Eichner and Luke McFarlane, along with director Nicholas Stoller, stopped by in our country to launch the comedy-hit, I got the chance to chat with Nicholas Stoller, and fawn over my love of Forgetting Sarah Marshall…and ask some questions about Bros too!

Nick: Mr. Stoller – it’s such a privilege to talk to you today! How are you?

Nicholas Stoller: I’m good. How are you? I really like your name!

Nick:  Thank you! At least it’s an easy name for us both to remember! And before we get started – and I genuinely mean this when I say it – but I have to let you know that Forgetting Sarah Marshall is my favourite romantic-comedy of all time! So to be talking to you today is an absolute privilege! I appreciate you taking the time to chat.

Nicholas Stoller: Thank you so much! That means so much, thank you.

Nick: In saying that – Bros obviously isn’t your first foray into the rom-com genre. I’m curious to find out from you as a filmmaker, what is an important element of your filmmaking that you want to leave your stamp on, not just for this genre, but for Bros in particular?

Nicholas Stoller: I mean, we start out with the same goal, which is to tell a story that’s honest and that has so many jokes that people are laughing really hard throughout the film, but then surprise them when they’re suddenly tearing up. That’s kind of what my goal is with almost every movie I’ve made.

And it’s the same with Bros. I wanted it to be really funny, to achieve something that was really honest, and then I want people to be surprised when it was moving. So, that’s always the goal, it’s just about figuring out how to get there. For many years, Billy [Eichner, lead star and co-writer] and I talked through the story and figured out what made sense for the story.

Nick: I want to touch on both those points you brought up – because the movie is hilarious and moving. Let’s start with the comedy. Billy Eichner, as always, is hilarious in this. I loved the cutaway gags and the one-liners throughout, but it did have me thinking that there are probably loads of great jokes that had to be left on the cutting room floor. Was there one moment or joke that was hilarious that you really wish made the final cut?

Nicholas Stoller: Look, I’m pretty ruthless when it comes to cutting stuff out. My joke is – and this is true – that I film scenes with my kids for the movie and almost always cut them out!

Nick: It’s like a reverse Judd Apatow!

Nicholas Stoller: It is! He has a very different angle to that, I think! I’m very ruthless, I hate being bored. The worst thing a movie or TV show can be is boring. The goal is to entertain, and I think you can only be boring if you’re a genius. I’m literally talking about, like, Stanley Kubrick can be boring, right? He’s a genius. But I don’t want to be boring.

I always fall in love with side characters and always end up overshooting side character stuff that keeps getting cut out, because we end up having to focus on Luke [McFarlane] and Billy. So, as funny as everyone else is, it still has to serve the story. But, I do try and keep as much fun stuff in for as long as possible, however, I’ll end up saying goodbye to a third of the movie usually.

There are two sequences that were just absolutely hysterical that got big laughs in the test screenings. One was a pride parade where basically, these gay Twitter witches that start to insult Bobby [Billy Eichner] and he picks a fight with them and it turns into a giant pride fight with the lesbians, gays, the drag queens – I remember a straight family gets punched too – it was really funny. It got huge laughs and it took two days to shoot, but it didn’t feel as grounded as the rest of the movie so we had to cut it.

Then there was another sequence where Bobby goes on a Tinder date with a guy who is really into nipple play, and he puts these things called nipple bumpers on. But, they get stuck to his nipples and they have to use lube to get them off, but lube gets everywhere. And, Bobby the whole time is trying to leave… it was honestly one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever shot, but the story didn’t ask for it.

Nick: I visualised that Pride fight as you were describing it and I was uncontrollably laughing. That’s amazing and I wish we could’ve seen that! And staying with the humour for a moment – there are some really sweet and intimate sex scenes in the film, but there are also a few that are hilarious. The standout for me is the ‘foursome scene with Steve’. How do you make sex funny on film?

Nicholas Stoller: Billy and I were always on the same page. We always wanted it to be funny, and my joke with Billy was that the only kind of sex scene I’d feel uncomfortable filming, would be an earnest sex scene! But I think sex is funny already, it’s awkward for two people to be doing that. And it’s funny when you’re honest about it, because it can be adorable, but it can be so funny.

That scene you brought up, that’s called a ‘four-gy’ – I’ve learned that’s what it is called. And funnily enough, that was a scene that we didn’t include in early screenings, and then we were like: “wait, the story actually demands it”! It came through based on a conversation Billy and I had about open relationships because the movie suddenly felt like a movie about a straight couple, not two guys like it should be, so it’s something we added back in.

Nick: To wrap this up – I heard on another interview for this film that Billy and you worked on and conceptualised this movie for over 5 years, discussing each other’s experiences with dating and love and love lost – all things that make this story feel grounded. Was there any thing cathartic for you about past relationships that you were able to share with Billy, and that helped add that authentic feeling to the film?

Nicholas Stoller: You know, I’m straight, and this film is specifically about gay love. So, the things in this film aren’t obviously experiences I’ve had, but the conversations and debates were about is ‘love is love’, or is that just bullshit? Our stories are different, and whether you’re gay or straight or whatever, there’s a billion different, specific love stories on Earth!

I found that the more specific you are with the story, the more universal and relatable the story becomes. I’m a man. I get all the masculine bullshit that men go through because I have gone through that myself. And while there were certainly many things I learned from Billy, even if it didn’t at first, it all made emotional and logical sense. Whether it’s being afraid to be vulnerable, being afraid to feel insecure in front of someone, what makes you a man?

For me, masculinity presents itself as needing to be successful in some way. And without that, am I a man or not? That stuff was relatable to me and I got the central conundrum of the relationship. And it was conversations about that, that helped shape the script.

Thank you so much to Nicholas Stoller for his time and thank you to Universal Pictures for setting up our chat! Bros is in Australian cinemas October 27.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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