Going from the stage to screen, The Boys in the Band cast couldn’t have had a more “incredible experience from start to finish,” Zachary Quinto tells ET of bringing Mart Crowley’s 1968 groundbreaking play to life for a whole new generation. “When I watched the film, I was incredibly proud to be a part of it.”
“We had a really wonderful time doing the play,” Quinto continues. “But then to have a year and then everybody comes back. That experience of reconvening and telling the story with a year’s worth of experience and perspective under our belts, away from those characters and that world and that story just deepened our connections to the characters and the material.”
Unfolding over the course of one evening, The Boys in the Band tells a pre-Stonewall story about a group of men gathering at a mutual friend’s apartment for a birthday celebration -- a communal, safe space to be openly gay -- during which the faults in their personalities are exposed and relationships are tested. Parsons plays the increasingly bitter host, Michael, while Quinto appears as Harry, the snarky birthday honoree. It’s sexy, funny and sometimes nasty -- what starts with dancing ends with a brutal parlor game and teary confessions -- but it’s also grounded in reality, making it feel just as urgent and relevant over 50 years later.
“Having discussions about the nuances of colorism, talking about alcoholism, talking about shame, oppression. These are all themes that are still happening today, these are themes that have just gotten more savvy,” de Jesús says. The Latinx actor, who plays Emory, is one of two characters of color in the story alongside Washington as Bernard. “It’s good to look back and go, ‘Things have changed, but they also haven’t changed and we need to be on our toes and make sure we are not going backwards.’”
The importance of looking back but not going backwards is a sentiment shared by the cast and one they hope will connect with audiences. “We said it from the outset, with both the Broadway production and the film, [we’re] highlighting how much has changed and how much hasn’t,” Carver, who plays a trick named Cowboy hired as a birthday gift, says. “Having that sense of history, even if these are fictitious characters, those circumstances are very real.”
“To me, that’s what Boys in the Band really represents,” Quinto says. “It was really an opportunity to generate a conversation about the accomplishments that we’ve made in the 50 years since the play first premiered and also the accomplishments that we’ve yet to make.”
He adds, “The great gift of that piece in particular is to be reminded of the fact that we’re not done, we haven’t finished and we probably never will.”
The adaptation also comes six years after HBO’s version of The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s 1985 autobiographical play about a writer and and his friends who expose the truth about the AIDS crisis as it ravaged an entire community of gay men. The 2014 film, coincidentally enough, was directed by Murphy and starred Bomer, Mantello and Parsons, with the latter two also reuniting on Murphy’s Netflix limited series Hollywood. (Much like Boys in the Band, Bomer says “it’s evident in the streets why [Normal Heart] still matters today.”)
At the time of Normal Heart’s release, Parsons said the film was an important reminder about what the LGBTQ community went through. “You don’t ever want to think that anything would back up too far, but if we don’t stay cognizant of what came before, things, you could get lax,” he said, adding that it’s important for people “to see the horror that was there.”
The Boys in the Band, he says now, is very reminiscent of the way he felt when they did that project: there should be no taking any of this for granted. “We don’t continue making progress by forgetting our history and where we came from,” Parsons explains. “Only by knowing that rich history are we able to continue making the kinds of changes and choices that lead to a more equal and loving society.”
The Netflix film’s release also comes after the passing of a generation of gay storytellers -- Kramer, who died at 84 in May; Crowley, who died at 84 in March, and Terrence McNally, the playwright behind Love! Valour! Compassion! and many other Broadway hits who died at 81 a few weeks later.
For Crowley, things came full circle before his death. The writer was able to visit the Los Angeles set and spend time with the cast, even making a brief cameo in the movie. “The journey of Boys in the Band for him in his life is so significant and such a beautiful journey,” Quinto says. “It was such an experience for him to see it revived on Broadway for the first time, to win the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play, to have it made into a film, for him to be on set.”
While most of the Boys in the Band cast members had their own relationships with the three men, Quinto had spent time with all of them over the course of his career. “It’s a moment of transition,” he says now. “I think we’re seeing these moments of transition in many different aspects of our culture and society right now [and] I think it should be a call to arms to the younger generations to wake up and realize that the future of these paths, whether it’s racial representation, LGBTQ plus representation, political representation.”
He continues by adding, “I think we do well to focus on what they leave behind: their legacies, their work, their inspiration and their integrity. And use those as springboards into the future, do work that is meaningful, both creatively and socially.”