From left: Karamo Brown, Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France, Antoni Porowski, and Bobby Berk.
This Wednesday, Netflix will bring back Queer Eye, a newly rebooted version of the reality-TV classic Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, with a new set of experts hell-bent on making straight men (and, in this case, everyone else) as fabulous as possible. In advance of the series premiere, Vulture sat down with the new Fab Five, consisting Bobby Berk (design), Karamo Brown (culture), Antoni Porowski (food and wine), Jonathan Van Ness (grooming), and Tan France (fashion) to talk about their experience shooting the series, as well why it was important to bring the show back. Along the way, the discussion also veered into their experience shooting an episode where they make over a white police officer, which includes a scene where one of his co-workers pulls them over as a practical joke, inspiring some very real, very nervous reactions from the cast.
Why bring back Queer Eye now?
Jonathan Van Ness: Something I realized today was — and everyone really responded to this joke the first time I busted it out — that when you have Republican administrations in power, we need to have Queer Eye on the air.
But even though that’s a joke, it’s serious. I do feel like LGBTQIA things in the United States are not going in the direction that they were in the last eight years. Coming from a town of 30,000 people on the Mississippi River, having Queer Eye in 2003 through 2007 when I was in high school was really important. I looked up to Kyan a lot. I hope someone will look up to me. That is a crazy feeling, but I think it’s a good time, because there needs to be queer visibility on TV.
Tan France: That’s a good point about in America, but also, this is a global show. We have the luxury in the West of being able to say, “Yeah, absolutely, we’re progressive, we’ve moved forward with the gay community.” We haven’t in a lot of other countries. My people from Pakistan — I know we haven’t moved forward.
As side note, yes, it seems like just a makeover show, but you’ll see that there’s so much more than that. I know I’m putting them in some clothes, but during that, we’re working on their insides, and that’s something that Karamo also really pushes forward. It’s not just that we want to make them pretty.
Bobby Berk: We’re not out there just pushing the gay agenda that, “Oh, you’ve got to look this way and act this way and be metrosexual.” We’re like, hey, let’s find amazing things about you and help you see them.
Antoni Porowski: I think it’s also been done in an organic way, which is very surprising to me. I thought that there were going to be much more strict constraints and limitations and kind of like a skeleton of a script.
Karamo Brown: The casting process, we have a really amazing crew who helped with that. But we did have a say in every single other thing you see on the show. For us, that was important, because it allowed us to really show our expertise. What you see on the show is truly what we believe in and what we wanted. The times that we felt stumped, and we had each other to lean on. We had such a great time of saying, “Okay, this one might be a little bit tricky. What can do collectively as a group?”
Did you find that people you were working with that one of you related more to? How did you approach that?
Karamo: What’s most important for me is the unexpected relationships. There is a hero by the name of Corey, and he was a white cop, and for me this is somebody I never thought I would relate to at all, especially in the climate we are with the relationship between African-Americans and police officers. My thought was, This is somebody I will see and never talk to again. What I learned about him was that as fathers we had a lot in common, as businessmen we had a lot in common, but also as just vulnerable human beings. I walked away now having a lifelong friendship with a police officer that I can tell you I wouldn’t have had before.
In the beginning of that episode, another police officer, Corey’s friend, pulls all of you over in the car, and before he reveals it’s a joke, it’s very uncomfortable to watch.
Bobby: Which was real.
Tan: It was. None of us knew what was happening, and honestly, I freaked my shit out.
Bobby: And that was only our second week filming, so we’re like, what’s going on? So it really was real. That’s an amazing thing about the show I’d never expected.
Karamo: That’s a fun moment that’s going to give a lot of people a glimpse into the life of what many people don’t experience. What I think, the beauty with Netflix keeping that scene in, which I’m so thankful they did, is because a lot of people have never seen what it is for people who are marginalized, to see what they feel like when they get stopped.
People now, they’re going to get a small glimpse of that, but then they’re going to get to see us grow out of that, which is phenomenal. Now, if they see that on the news, they can say, “Oh, I kind of remember what they were feeling like. I understand now why Jonathan took out a camera and started recording. I can see now why Tan and Karamo were uncomfortable.”
Tan: As soon as [Karamo] started to get pulled over, I said something along the lines of, “Oh shit, they know we’re in the car.” That is a sorry state of affairs when we have to say things like that. So, yeah, opening up people’s eyes to realize that there are certain things that go through our minds that would never go through the minds of a white person.
Jonathan: I’m sorry. I just — I come from a very little town where the militarization of the police force is a very real issue. They have hurt so many people, and as a white person, my first and foremost concern in that car was to videotape you. I have been concerned about that from a very young age. I have been pulled over as a 16-year-old gay child, with people not of color and of color, and I have very much recognized that firsthand. I don’t feel comfortable a lot of times even speaking on this at all, because I am white, and you guys are people of color, but I really feel very strongly about the militarization of the police force in this country, and what impacts of the wars we are in and how that relates … It’s just, I do think that white people are very concerned about it, and it is very dark.
Karamo: Agreed. Agreed.
Tan: I’m sorry, yes, you are right.
Karamo: This is what I want to pivot with, is that it’s anybody. Women getting stopped, a gay man getting stopped, people of color getting stopped, it hurts us all. But at the end of that episode, we all are having the best time in our loft with them [Corey’s friends], drinking beers, having a good time, and that shows the growth of what we can be as human beings. Right now, we may seem divided and it may feel like some times are really hard, but there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah. I learned so much from him, too; I even say in that episode, I’m like, my stereotypes of police officers are a whole bunch of stuff. That’s real for me. I’m scared of them. In my hometown, you do not talk back, you do not look twice, that is scary. But Corey is an amazing guy. He’s not doing that. He even says in that episode that one thing that happened is not cute and it should have never happened. I learned a lot from him. There’s lots of good people, and that most police officers are fabulous.
Tan: We know, of course we know, it’s not fixed with this one episode. But we hope it at least encourages a dialogue to say, yes, we know that there are a lot of differences but we need to find our commonalities.
One thing that differentiates this revival is that you don’t work just with straight guys — for instance, there’s the episode where you work with one man who wants to come out to his stepmom. Did you have queer men who were models for you in your own lives?
Antoni: I worked for Ted Allen, previous to this job. I was a consultant and a private chef, which was kind of a dream come true when I moved to this city. I remember watching him on Queer Eye. I didn’t know that I was gay at the time, but my two sisters were watching the show and loved it. It was sort of this weird, shame-y, I feel like I shouldn’t be watching this. It’s kind of taboo. I come from a very liberal household where were very accepting and open and loving, but it was still very uncomfortable. Just to see this guy who was this curious journalist who was out here in New York and trying to learn and taking that information and then taking that information and passing it on to somebody else. The universality of that, just the passing on of this information.
Karamo: Mine was RuPaul, not because I ever dressed in drag or anything. When I was in middle school, I used to run home to watch his talk show.
Jonathan: That talk show was lit!
Karamo: For me, as a little boy, to see someone having this connection with middle America being a six-foot-five black guy in drag, I was like, Whatever that is, I think I want to be it!
Jonathan: The first openly gay U.S. men’s figure skating champion Rudy Galindo! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! [Everyone cheers]. And Rupert Everett, honey! Gorgeous, yes!
Tan: See, we laugh too! We don’t only cry.
Bobby: We do it all.
Jonathan: I think I just pulled my neck getting excited about Rudy Galindo.
This interview has been edited and condensed.