Earlier this year, the Universal-backed Bros hoped to go where no major studio comedy had gone before by becoming the first LGBTQ rom-com starring two out gay actors — Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane — to top the box office charts. Despite critical acclaim and sold-out screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival, though, the movie had to settle for fourth place during its opening weekend and a cumulative gross just shy of $15 million.
Eichner — who also wrote the movie — didn’t shy away from expressing his disappointment in interviews and on social media. In a since-deleted Twitter post, he suggested that “straight people… just didn’t show up for Bros,” potentially contributing to the film’s financial woes. (Some conservative commentators made similar arguments after Walt Disney’s new animated adventure, Strange World — which featured out gay comedian, Jaboukie Young-White, as the company’s first out gay teenager — underperformed in its opening weekend, reportedly costing Disney upwards of $100 million.)
Flash-forward a few months, and Universal’s specialty label, Focus Features, is releasing its own LGBTQ love story with out gay actors front and center: Spoiler Alert, produced by and starring former Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons. Based on the memoir by TV journalist, Michael Ausiello, the movie strikes a very different tone than the proudly raunchy R-rated Bros, recounting the story of Ausiello’s romance with his husband, Kit Cowan (played by Ben Aldridge), from their first meet-cute in 2002 to Cowan’s death from cancer in 2015. It’s a sweet, funny and sad love story in the tradition of past heteronormative hits like… well, Love Story — with a dash of Terms of Endearment thrown in via the presence of Kit’s loving parents, played by Bill Irwin and Sally Field.
Asked whether he’s concerned about Spoiler Alert meeting the same fate as Bros as it launches in theaters, Parsons is understandably hesitant to see both films as part of some larger trend about the kinds of LGBTQ-themed stories that mainstream audiences will or won’t go see.
“I certainly hope [they see it] for the sake of the film,” he tells Yahoo Entertainment. “But there are so many factors involved with why people go to see something or don’t. I’d have no confidence pinning the sexual orientation of the characters on the success or failure of it. It’s a mystery why people turn out for things or don’t a lot of the time; I don’t know that the homosexual aspect of it has very much to do with it or not.”
For his part, Parsons says he was specifically drawn to Spoiler Alert because it afforded him the opportunity to portray one-half of a gay couple that doesn’t get to live out a picture-perfect “happily every after” story. Even before Kit’s cancer diagnosis, he and Michael have a sometime-tumultuous romance that includes secret affairs and even separate living arrangements.
“It shows a very realistic view of what it is to live a life together,” notes the Emmy-winning actor, who married his longtime partner, Todd Spiewak, in 2017. “I feel like I’ve spent so much of my life seeing movies that depict that, but they’re not normally about a gay couple. Both as a viewer — but especially as an actor — the chance to be a part of these scenes with these subtle complications at times was really rewarding.”
“And to go through that experience with Ben, another gay actor, was even more of a profound experience that I expected it to be,” Parsons continues. “I’m very happy that at the heart of this film is a relationship that spans a long time and does go through so many machinations.”
Parsons also has experience grieving the loss of a loved one that he was able to draw on for the more tragic parts of Michael’s story. (Besides losing Kit, Ausiello’s mother and father both died while he was still a child.) In 2001, the actor’s father died suddenly in a car crash and that experience shaped his interest in stories that wrestle directly with mortality.
“I do have that realization that eventually we will all be gone,” he muses. “Part of that is just who I am, but I do think it’s also affected by having lost my father at a fairly young age — I was in my twenties when he passed. You can’t help but get a different view of life when you’ve lost people who were so close to you. Even if you live a long life, you always know that it’s a limited time that you have here.”
Based on his own experience with grief, Parsons says he still makes a point of reaching out to friends and family members whenever they lose someone. “I remember the feeling of every person who I saw and connected with or reached out to me after I lost my dad,” he says. “I could really feel the specific place in my heart that that person occupied. It wasn’t a wash of friends, and it wasn’t a wash of condolences — it was all very specific. One wouldn’t want to walk around quite that sensitive all the time, but it was a beautiful snapshot of a moment where I felt that kind of clarity.”
“The other thing is that don’t let anybody tell you how to grieve,” Parsons adds. “I say to a lot of people that I shed so many more tears over the death of my dog than I did over my father! And that’s not a commentary about my feelings about my father. You just never know until it happens how it’s going to affect you, and you have to try and make room for that.”
Meanwhile, Big Bang Theory fans still grieving the end of the hit CBS sitcom were surprised to learn how Parsons directly impacted the producers’ decision to wrap the show up after its twelfth season in 2019. Jessica Radloff’s recent oral history, The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit, recounted how things went down behind the scenes, including the fact that Parsons’s choice to step away from the show apparently “blindsided” his co-stars, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco.
“We cried for hours,” Cuoco said in the book about the fateful meeting where Parsons announced his departure, and the producers subsequently announced the end of the show. “We thought we were going to do another year, so all of a sudden your life kind of flashes before your eyes.” Added Galecki: “I just disagreed with how it was handled. We thought we were going into Chuck’s office to talk about renegotiating, and then Chuck tossed the baton to Jim. And Jim was shocked and obviously caught off guard.”
Reflecting on the bumpy circumstances surrounding his departure now, Parsons says he “feels OK” about how he navigated his decision to leave the series. “It’s never nice to hear that you’ve done anything that’s even accidentally made somebody angry or feel bad,” he notes about his co-star’s remarks in Radloff’s book. “But I was doing what I had to do, and that was the best way for me to handle it. To be honest, we weren’t the kind of group that I felt needed to have a group meeting in that way.”
Parsons also reiterates that he had no idea at the time that his choice would result in the show wrapping up. “I can’t say I was surprised, but I equally would not have been surprised if it had gone on,” he admits. “There was part of me that had a sense of delight that it might go on without me! But that isn’t what happened.”
Spoiler Alert is playing in theaters now