Billy Eichner signs on to play Paul Lynde for ‘Man In The Box’ film

He wants to see more gay actors playing gay icons.
July 21, 2020 6:13 p.m. EST
July 23, 2020 12:01 a.m. EST
Quarantine has brought with it plenty of production delays, but also plenty of exciting project announcements — clearly, we have some epic films to look forward to on the other side of this. Joining the (ever-growing) list of must-watch future films is Man In The Box, a biopic about beloved actor, Paul Lynde, who was stigmatized for being gay throughout his career. Deadline announced Tuesday, that Billy Eichner, who will be developing the film alongside Tom McNulty, plans to portray Lynde’s iconic character. Fans might recall that Lynde first found fame following his role in Bye Bye Birdie, which preceded his guest turns as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched. Later, he joined the Hollywood Squares game show and established himself as one of the most prominent and beloved gay actors and comedians in the business.Although Lynde never specifically addressed his sexuality, the iconic TV star never bothered to deny it either, and he was often noted for his "barely-closeted" lifestyle which, at the time, was uncommon. And although fans adored him, it became apparent that he was‘not on the same lists for roles as straight actors — his overt embrace of his sexuality was groundbreaking, but it also impacted his career. Speaking with Deadline, Eichner explained the importance of the project, and the ways in which the industry really hasn’t changed, as gay actors are still often excluded from straight roles. In some cases, he illustrated, they’re even excluded from playing gay roles. “There’s some overlap, between Paul and I, in that we both had our breakthrough in the industry, as performers, presenting a rather larger than life, flamboyant, gay persona on screen,” Eichner explained. “Even though I was always very out, Paul was never technically out. But he was as out as you could be, at that time, in that he was clearly leaning into a flamboyant persona. Unlike Rock Hudson, and Tab Hunter, and Cary Grant, and all these other actors, he wasn’t pretending to be straight.”[video_embed id='1999229']RELATED: Denzel Washington & Julia Roberts will reunite onscreen for first time since 1993[/video_embed]Through his work on this film, Eichner shared, he hopes to bring visibility to the struggle experienced by out and closeted gay actors in Hollywood, and help to de-stigmatize major roles for queer stars.Continuing on, Eichner said, “One of the main reasons I want to do this is… because gay actors are never, hardly ever, I should say, allowed to play our own gay icons. Harvey Milk, Freddie Mercury, Elton John. Where are the gay actors? And it’s not to take anything away from those performances, which were all excellent. But why don’t we get to tell our own stories?”Eichner, who is known for hosting Billy On The Street, voicing Timon in last year's The Lion King, starring in Friends From College and several seasons of American Horror Story, also noted that although he has a lot of friends who are openly gay, successful actors in Hollywood, the scale is still far from balanced. “When it really comes to some big project about a gay icon, the one everyone’s throwing awards at… we love the spectacle of rewarding a straight actor, for quote unquote, transforming himself into a gay person. I don’t think there needs to be a rule, like straight actors can never play gay, but it is so lopsided.”In Man In The Box, Eichner hopes to leverage his intimate understanding of the "nuances, idiosyncrasies, and emotional complexity of playing another gay person," to effectively convey Lynde’s "complex" and "complicated" character while bringing his experience to life. Eichner and McNulty have reportedly optioned a script by Edwin Cannistraci, and are still in the process of finalizing the rest of the production team for the film. [video_embed id='1850073']RELATED: Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner may have stolen 'The Lion King' from Beyoncé[/video_embed]

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