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UnREAL’s B.J. Britt on Being TV’s First Black Bachelor, Getting in Shape, and Watching Reality TV With New Perspective

B.J. Britt is having trouble separating from his UnREAL alter ego Darius Beck, the new suitor in the Lifetime series’s fictional reality show, Everlasting. Darius is both a big flirt and a gentleman, and wooing 26 single women looking for love is at times overwhelming for him. It can be a bit much for Britt, 34, too.

“Twenty-six ladies! I had to learn all their names,” Britt laughs. “You call out names, you stand on a line, you pick girls. It’s like, Oh my God, is this my life right now? No, it’s not my life. It’s Darius’s life. It’s a little hard to shut him off sometimes.”

In the second-season premiere viewers learned that Darius, an NFL quarterback, has agreed to be the next Everlasting suitor to rehabilitate his image after he and a female reporter exchanged some heated words on live television. But that’s only the first of many turns UnREAL will take in season two, which began Monday night. Vulture spoke to Britt (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) on the Vancouver set of the series about how he feels being TV’s first black bachelor, and the demanding physical transformation the role required.

Darius loves the ladies. What else can you tell us about him?
Very confident, very cocky, but overall great values. As a quarterback, his job is to keep his image squeaky clean. You know, the rules are different for him especially being the first black football player of his team, and so he gets in a little situation with the media and, um, not the best of situations. He’s convinced by his cousin, who is his manager, to do Everlasting to clean up his image. Little does he know he threw him right into an all-out-war between Chet and Rachel and Quinn.

Had you watched the show before you auditioned?
I knew nothing about the show. It was the last audition I had of last year and I wanted to end the year on a great note. Before I met with the casting, I thought, Let me do my homework, let me watch like one or two episodes and know a little bit about what the show is about. I literally watched all ten in like 48 hours. I was like, “Oh my God! This is amazing! … What’s my role again?” My agent said, “Oh you’d be the suitor.” I was like, “Shut up! That would be so dope. Yo, this is what I want. I want this. I want this.”

What was your audition? What was the scene about?
The media frenzy that I get into. I’m all hyped coming off the field and then the interviewer comes up and she asks me some questions, and I make a little comment that I maybe shouldn’t have made to a female. So you know, she spins it. And I didn’t mean it that way but she spins it a certain way to make it look like I disrespected a female. So I have to go on the show now to show the world, Hey I love females. What are you talking about? I’m a gentleman. I have a mother. My mother taught me that. That’s exactly what I auditioned with. And then when I had to test, they were telling me the network wanted me to take my shirt off at the end. I was like, I work out, that’s no problem. So I took my shirt off.

They didn’t even try to hide that they wanted to see all of you.
No, they’re like, He’s a football player, dammit. He better be on point. It was so funny because I was like, Man, look, I just left the gym. I don’t care. A day later they were like, “You got the role but you need to work out.” I was like, wait, what?!

Were they joking?
They were not joking. Yo, I’m talking about my ego went from here [raises his hand up] to playing kickball with the curb, handball with the curb. I’m telling you. My boy Deon used to play football so he was like, “If you want to get my size you can work out with me.” I was like, fuck you.

Is that what they meant? They wanted you to bulk up?
Yeah. They wanted me to bulk up. They wanted me more defined. I’m a good size now.

[Vulture asked to co-creator and executive producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro to explain why producers told Britt to hit the gym. Her reply: “I didn’t realize how much that traumatized him! He took his shirt off and it was fine but, you know, he’s playing a pro athlete, so it’s just a different level. It wasn’t about being sexy. It was about being in character. We were auditioning real NFL players, too. There was a moment when we thought we might cast an actual NFL player. In terms of being a quarterback, it’s a really intense lifestyle when your body is your living. So we just needed him to get a little bigger.”]

How hard did you work on bulking up?
I worked out with my boy Deon for like two hours a day, six days a week. My meals changed. Everything just changed completely, and I definitely see a difference. I’m not mad at them making me get back in the gym. I eat every two and a half hours. I’m always eating. I used to do abs every single day. Three different sets. Now I do abs once a week, and my abs are so much different and so much more defined.

That was the only note they gave you?
Yeah, that was the only thing I had to change. Loved his read, everything was great, but he’s a little chunky. That’s basically what they said. I was like, Damn, really? Okay. Whatever. I’ll do what I have to do for the role, but it’s definitely made eating and the gym a chore as opposed to it being fun. I die when I see people eating pizza.

The show is using the first black suitor as a prism to discuss racism. How do you feel about how the race issue is being treated?
Everybody has their own story line. Of course, one of the characters is referred to as a racist. I don’t want to make this season just about racism, because it’s so many other different elements that they’re going to bring to this. This is just one of the things everybody is really talking about. Not only is he a black suitor, but The Bachelor has been on for 20-something seasons and they’ve never had a black bachelor.

Did you know much about the reality-show world before you got the job?
I did watch The Bachelor once or twice. I don’t watch too much reality TV. I don’t even really watch TV. Honestly, I watch Bob’s Burgers. I like cartoons. Really, I do. I like Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, stuff like that.

Has the way the producers deal with the contestants surprised you?
Yeah, but it’s funny now when I go back, now I want to see about reality shows. It rips the covers off of reality TV. I’m like, Oh my God. I know she was prepped for that. They set her up. They so set her up. It just makes me look at it closely now. I didn’t even realize they build these sets on reality TV. I didn’t even know that. I was so naive. I thought all that was real because it’s reality TV, but our reality TV is basically scripted, too. There is no reality TV.

Yeah, they’re building stories.
One thing about UnREAL — it deals with a lot of things that are going on right now in the world, in a pop cultural kind of way. It talks about racism, or not eating, suicide. It talks about all these different things that reality shows don’t touch on, but it brings it to light and it does it in a way where you can talk about it at the dinner table, and [it’s] not a bad thing to bring up. It makes you have a conversation about it. Especially in this season with Darius, being the first black suitor. Being the first black anything or just the first anything makes it that much bigger. UnREAL is doing things that people haven’t done on TV before. It’s just a great project to be a part of. They’re breaking ground on stuff that’s just been talked about behind closed doors. Now it’s bringing them to light.

What can you do to ensure that Darius comes back for season three?
Probably more shirtless scenes, I’m sure. I was going to take my shirt off but …

No, don’t. This is not Jersey Shore.
[Laughs.] Okay! Watch the show then.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

B.J. Britt on Being TV’s First Black Bachelor