In 2014’s Neighbors, Pete (Dave Franco) was your stereotypical frat bro. He chugged beers, wore button-downs, khakis, and sandals, and at one point got revenge on his best bud Teddy (Zac Efron) by sleeping with his girlfriend. (He also did an amazing penis party-trick, but that’s neither here nor there.)
In Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, though, the now-graduated Delta Psi alum is in a relationship with another man (30 Rock alum John Early), and he’s about to get hitched. It’s a surprising twist for the sequel to the testosterone-fueled comedy, but it’s a welcome one.
Director Nicholas Stoller first started thinking about evolving Pete’s sexuality in a future sequel while making the original Neighbors. He was particularly inspired by the climactic scene that found frat mastermind Teddy insisting that his bromantic sparring partner Pete flee the scene of a crime — a firework-ravaged party house — so that Teddy could take full responsibility. “I love you,” Pete wistfully tells Teddy before darting off.
“Clearly, we’re playing with the homoerotic tension there, and I was like, 'He should just be gay,’” Stoller told us last month during a visit to his Hollywood edit bay. “Then in this one, it came up again. [Co-writer] Evan Goldberg brought it up, and he said, 'I think he should be gay, and part of [his arc] should be the proposal.’ It was kind of all of us coming to the same conclusion.”
Stoller admitted his decision was also influenced by an inquiry from a reporter at the press junket for Neighbors, who asked the director why he’s never had any gay characters in his films. (Stoller also helmed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, and The Five-Year Engagement.) “I was like, 'I don’t know why. I literally don’t know. I have no good answer for that,’” the director said. “So this seemed like an organic way to have that happen.” [Editor’s note: We couldn’t find you on the internet, but if you are that reporter, you should take a bow.]
Despite the fact that the aforementioned homoerotic tension was mutual in Neighbors, Stoller said they never considered having Efron’s shirt-hating Abercrombie model Teddy be the character who comes out in Sorority Rising. As the title implies, the sequel pits the first movie’s married couple Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) against a wild new chapter of co-eds. “A lot of Zac’s motivations in the first movie, especially with his girlfriend and stuff, seemed pretty straight. It felt like it might seem like a stunt if we made him gay. But it seemed to just work with Dave.”
Franco’s role is considerably smaller in Neighbors 2 than it was in the first, but he is nonetheless elated about his character’s arc. “I was so excited,” he told us at CinemaCon. “Even though I’m not on screen for a significant amount of time, hopefully it will be very memorable. And of course I was excited to try something new with the character while still maintaining his essence.”
Neighbors won’t be the first movie series to reveal one of its characters is gay in its second installment, though it’s still a rare occurrence. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 just made a similar move with Joey Fatone’s comical cousin Angelo. And surprisingly, there was a similar twist in the animated hit How to Train Your Dragon 2, which slyly outed the Viking Gobber thanks to an ad-lib from voice actor Craig Ferguson that director Dean Dubois left in the picture.
Stoller actually had planned a gay character in one of his earlier movies that never came to fruition. In 2014, he told The Daily Beast that he had originally written Sean Combs’s record mogul in Get Him to the Greek as “this hardcore gangster who was gay and had only recently come out of the closet.” Puffy was game, but accordingly to Stoller, the character ultimately morphed. The director’s LGBT-friendly view might best be encapsulated by what he told Vulture on the subject when asked whether or not working with Efron and Franco ever made him question his own heterosexuality. “I mean, come on: At the end of the day, we’re all bisexual,” he said. “A hundred years from now, there’s not gonna be gay or straight. There’s gonna be everything.”
‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’ opens May 20. Watch the trailer: