Lion King's Billy Eichner Wants to ‘Change the Game’ for LGBTQ Representation: ‘We Can Do It All'
"We’re as versatile as straight actors," the comedian, who voices meerkat Timon in Disney's remake of The Lion King, tells PEOPLE
Whether he’s shouting about pop culture on the New York City streets as host of Billy on the Street, or providing laughs as the voice of Timon in Disney’s new The Lion King, Billy Eichner always brings the funny. But for his next project, Eichner, 40, also plans to deliver some romance — and break ground.
The New York City native is co-writing what will be the first gay romantic comedy ever produced by a major Hollywood studio, in which he also plans to star.
“I look forward to making that movie and finding as many openly LGBT actors as possible in gay roles, in straight roles,” Eichner tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “We not only need to start supporting LGBT actors theoretically, but we actually need to start casting them as well.
“In a perfect world, gay actors can play gay roles and gay actors can play straight roles, and straight actors can play straight roles and play gay roles, and we’re all mixing and matching because part of the fun and the challenge of being an actor or an actress is to play someone who you’re not,” Eichner adds. “We can do it all.”
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The comedic actor points out that straight stars often receive praise for playing LGBTQ parts, such as the Oscar-winning performance given by Sean Penn in Milk and the Oscar-nominated performances of Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl.
“I think people really love the spectacle of a straight actor ‘playing gay,’” Eichner says. “You so, so rarely see it work in the reverse. It’s such an uneven ratio right now, and that is what I’m determined to fix.”
“He’s changed the game in our industry in terms of supporting and using openly LGBTQ people in front of the camera and behind the scenes,” says Eichner, who appeared in AHS: Cult and AHS: Apocalypse. “And now I want to take what I’ve learned from Ryan and my own experiences, help to change the game even more.
“I would like to do in comedy what Ryan’s been able to do in all these other genres and help employ more openly LGBTQ actors and not just to play the gay roles, but to play the straight roles too because we’re as versatile as straight actors,” Eichner adds.
The Lion King is out now.