It’s very odd to think that it’s only been four months since we were introduced to Queer Eye’s Fab Five. The first season of the emotional makeover show, which hit Netflix in February, was an instant hit, turning Jonathan Van Ness, Antoni Porowski, Tan France, Bobby Berk and Karamo Brown (L-R as pictured above) into people who get mobbed in the street and turned into countless gifs. As they return for a second season, we met them (minus Jonathan – can you believe?) in London to talk fame, feelings and being a phenomenon.
The first season was a bigger hit than anyone could have imagined. How have things changed for you?
Antoni: “I can’t believe it’s been out for [four] months. So many things have happened, from encounters to praise to covers that come out. I feel like I don’t get to enjoy it because something else always comes along.”
Tan: “My husband gives a good example. He said a few weeks ago, ‘I want to get excited about it but I can’t digest it quickly enough, because every day something new happens that tops the thing that was blowing our minds the day before’. You just can’t keep up.”
Karamo: “The supporters are the most amazing people. To go from obscurity to being known around the world. We can’t even walk around here in London without people saying how much they love us. We’re not actors, so when they say that they mean us, and it feels nice.”
Bobby: “Our show definitely attracts good people. If you’re a crazy psycho you probably don’t watch Queer Eye. People who watch Queer Eye are really great people who are just looking for something positive and loving out there, to give them hope in a political climate that nobody really enjoys at the moment…The other day I was in Mexico and I may as well have been Brad Pitt. It was crazy.”
“Every day something new happens that tops the thing that was blowing our minds the day before” – Tan
The first season was all cis men. This season you change things up with the first episode focusing on a woman and the fifth on a transgender man, Skylar, who has just gone through surgery. Do you feel like you’re covering new ground?
Antoni: “Everybody needs our help; it’s not just straight white dudes. So we’ve certainly expanded on that conversation.”
Karamo: “What I’m most proud of, being in this cast with these guys, is that we don’t mind having the hard conversations with ourselves and with others. Two years ago I don’t think you would have seen this conversation about transgender people on television, certainly not in the very positive, real way. Tan and I are opposite ends of the spectrum. I have many trans friends and am exposed to the trans community. Then Tan is another gay man who has none. I think it’s very powerful to see that that’s ok, that experience is a spectrum.”
Tan: “I think that’s part of the beauty of our show. We represent so many versions of gay men. The original show, as much as I love, only pushed one version, which was the stereotype.”
Karamo: “I have to relate to season one. The episode with the cop, who had never seen what it was like to be a person of colour and interact with a police officer. We get messages all the time from people who say, ‘Now I understand what it feels like for my friends of colour’. I think the same thing will happen with Skylar.”
“People who watch Queer Eye are really great people who are just looking for something positive and loving out there” – Bobby
When you started the show, did you understand that each episode was going to be this big emotional journey, not just making someone look better?
Bobby: “No. When we went into the show, we thought it would be just like the original… When we all got down to Atlanta, we had a discussion about how we want to make it our own and bring it into 2018. That meant having conversations that would never be had on the original, not just about our heroes but also about ourselves. If you look back at the original, people were OK with gays being on television if they were hairdressers and designers and cooks. Not husbands and fathers. Now Karamo talks about his kids. [Tan and I] talk about our husbands.”
Karamo: “Antoni will hopefully soon also have a husband. I’m pressuring him and he hates it. We had both been in our relationships for the same amount of time and I’m engaged now, so I’m like, GET ENGAGED!”
Antoni: “[clearly wanting to move the conversation on] It’s way too early to be talking about that.”
The show is very emotional. Do they dredge up sad memories for you?
Bobby: “Many was the time I’d cry myself to sleep.”
Bobby: “Episode one of season two dredges up a lot of painful stuff from my childhood, with the church. My entire life was religion growing up. I’d carry my bible to school. I’d be in prayer meeting at 5am, before school. Church every single evening. Then when I came out, to have everybody in my life who’d told me they loved me unconditionally to suddenly say, no, never mind. To be around those types of people again was very hard. Luckily, Tammy (from season two’s first episode, a woman who is very religious and took time to accept her gay son) was redeeming. She allowed me to see there are still good people in the church.”
“I told [the production company] I will do anything you guys ask, but don’t ask me to go into a church because I won’t do it.” – Bobby
As well as being about the heroes, each episode relates to something that’s happened in your own lives. Did you have to go through big therapy sessions before production so they could find out what from your lives to draw on?
Bobby: “The Tammy episode I actually refused to do. The person we were supposed to film that week had a severe health issue before filming and they had to recast quickly. I told [the production company] I will do anything you guys ask, but don’t ask me to go into a church because I won’t do it. Then the Tammy episode comes along and, well, there was a lot of conversation that happened for that to be ok. But we always have each other…”
Do you ever worry that your heroes will slip back into their old ways after you leave?
Tan: “Maybe they do or maybe they don’t, but they all keep in touch. They’ll send me pictures of what they’re buying in the store. They’ll Facetime me while they’re in the fitting room. I’m like, ‘I’ve got a job. Boundaries’. We’ve shown them a way to be happy, so why would they go back.”
You’re all very famous now. You get mobbed individually, but what happens when you’re all out together?
Karamo: “Insanity. We’re like a boyband.”
Bobby: “People die.”
Karamo: “I think for me, Tan and Jonathan, we’re automatically recognisable. For Bobby and Antoni, it’s not as immediate. Bobby and I went to dinner a couple of nights ago and this girl came up like, ‘Oh my gosh, Karamo! I’m such a big fan!’ Bobby was sitting there, like…”
Bobby: “What am I, chopped liver?!”
Sadly we’re missing Jonathan today, who couldn’t come because of other commitments. What’s it like without him? The Fab Five is down to four.
Antoni: “It’s weird. I walk into the room and I’m looking for the fifth.”
Tan: “Let me leave it on this, it’s a lot quieter.”
Queer Eye, season two is available on Netflix from June 15