Billy Eichner attends The Lion King European Premiere at Leicester Square on July 14, 2019 in London, England. (Samir Hussein/WireImage)
The Lion King star Billy Eichner has said he brought his own sexuality to the table when taking on the role of Timon.
The gay comedian, who plays the meerkat Timon in the new live-action Disney remake, spoke to BuzzFeed about stepping into the shoes of original voice actor Nathan Lane.
Eichner said: “I’m glad that [director] Jon Favreau kept the tradition of Timon being played by a gay actor, with a certain type of comedic sensibility, alive.”
Billy Eichner: Timon and Pumbaa are not a couple
Reflecting on the famously close and ambiguously queer-coded relationship between Timon and Pumbaa, Eichner said: “Timon and Pumbaa are different species — I don’t even think that’s ethically correct, you know, that they would be a couple in some way.
“I didn’t think about [Timon] being gay so much as I thought, ‘Well, I’m gay, and I have what some may consider a gay sensibility, and I’m going to bring that to the table’, just the way that Nathan did.
“I’m certainly not going to shy away from it. In fact, I lean into it more in my performances than I even do in my everyday life.”
The star acknowledged that “gay people always had to sort of search for the closeted gay character [in animated films], because there were no openly gay characters, and we were so thirsty for them.”
He added: “I think the way to correct that is to actually put gay characters in animated movies. I’m actually in the very early days of working on a project like that.
“One of the last frontiers for LGBT representation is animated family films.”
No LGBT+ representation in The Lion King
A handful of Disney films including Toy Story 4 and the live-action Beauty and the Beast have included hints of LGBT+ representation over the past few years, but none have opted to show unambiguous same-sex romance on par with the treatment of straight characters.
Eichner continued: “I want to see actual gay people that are not a mystery. The way to move on from all those debates is to just create openly gay characters in children’s programming and family entertainment.
“I think we’re on the verge of that.”
However, The Lion King does not include any on-screen LGBT+ representation.
However, Sir Elton John has returned to pen a new track for the film.