INTERVIEW: UnREAL star Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman gushes about RuPaul's influence on his life and career
UnREAL star Jeffrey Bowyer Chapman is passionate about challenging the cis-gendered, white, heteronormative standards with his work
'UnREAL' star Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman is a force to be reckoned with – a beautiful person, oozing with talent and a vision for the future to boot.
Not just his own, but for the country and the world. He envisions a world where the others are part of the mainstream, with he himself creating the stepping stones for this utopian world with each project that he takes up.
He credits a lot of this interest and passion to the example that RuPaul Charles has set in the world of showbiz.
With his role as Jay Carter, a gay producer on the fictional show 'Everlasting' within 'UnREAL,' Jeffrey broke many stereotypes, but as it turns out, he just had to be himself to be play a role that he claims transformed him "both personally & professionally."
Calling it the role that affirmed his intentions to play "thoughtfully written, queer characters in the mainstream & to have a hand in normalizing what that means," Jeffrey also adds that professionally it opened "doors for myself & other queer identifying actors to simply be ourselves while walking through casting directors doors… to provide them with options that are outside of the status-quo."
The role of Jay, which was initially supposed to be a womanizer, was transformed into a gay man, in accordance with Jeffrey's personal life.
"I didn’t have a hand in consciously convincing the creators to change the character of Jay, it was all done through me being myself on set between takes, getting to know the creative team on a personal level & them vibing with who I am as a human being and wanting to incorporate that into who they had originally conceived the character of Jay as."
In fact, even the original pilot episode featured Jay as originally conceived, but as Jeffrey points out, they were "blessed to be able to re-shoot the original pilot episode, which provided the opportunity to rewrite Jay & make him who he is today."
His role has been credited as a groundbreaking one, because it showcases "a queer character who isn’t defined by his sexuality." It adds an important and interesting layer to the 'UnREAL' universe.
However, Jeffrey realizes that Jay is but one character on one show and that while he is an "important representation to our audience members who fall outside of the status-quo, I know we as an industry, culture & society still have a very long way to go."
He knows this because he has been a young boy who found representation within the industry in one of the biggest entertainers of our generation – RuPaul.
In Jeffrey's own words, "RuPaul Andre Charles has been one of my greatest inspirations to acknowledge & celebrate the parts of myself that make me different. His brand of joyful, wise irreverence is one that I subscribe to & his message of self-love is one that fuels me through my daily life."
In fact, RuPaul is also the inspiration behind one of Jeffrey's latest ventures - 'Conversations with Others.' It is a podcast where he speaks with some of the "others" in the industry.
He defines these "others" as “any of the worlds races that are not white. That includes myself & the majority of people in my life. We’re so conditioned to seeing the same things presented to us in mainstream media as being the thing to aspire to, and often that message of aspiration is cis-gendered, white, heteronormative standards."
He adds, "I wanted to create a space to celebrate the people who have been great inspirations in my life & bring their stories of personal authenticity & greatness out of the margins of society & into the forefront where we belong."
So far, Jeffrey has had an impressive list of celebrities on the podcast, including Aubrey Plaza, Michelle Visage and Jussie Smollett.
The seed for 'Conversations with Others' was sown when Jeffrey himself appeared as a guest on RuPaul's 'What’s The Tee' over a year ago.
"The producer of that show pulled me aside & asked if I ever wanted to do a show of my own. After taking some time to get clear about what podcasts and conversations that I listen to and have made the deepest impact on me that I came up with the premise of 'Conversations With Others.'
"We started recording the show a few weeks later & it all flowed organically. I knew I was on the right path for myself," he explains.
As someone who wants the "others" to be part of the mainstream, "inclusivity" means "everything" to Jeffrey, who passionately elaborates, "It’s what has been so confusing to me about the current divide in this country. I’ve always known that ‘others’ and marginalized communities of people who generally lean to the left (politically speaking) place inclusivity, equality & connection at the top of the list of importance, while the other side seems to be focused on exclusivity."
After all, the tagline for his podcast is “Celebrate Yourself and Love Each Other”
The 'UnREAL' star also knows what has led the country to the point of them and us. It is "the fear of the loss of privilege, specifically white male privilege. Once the systematic oppression of exclusivity has been dismantled, that’s when I believe we will be able to recondition ourselves to see the world as it is, without borders, inhabited by one race. The human race," he explains.
Hopefully, legal acknowledgments like "inclusion rider" would help better the imbalance in representation with Hollywood at least. Simply put, this stipulation within the contract of an actor or actress would demand that a film's cast and crew have a certain level of diversity. Jeffrey, too, is optimistic about the inclusive rider, which he thinks is a "wonderful place for us to start."
This clause first got international attention when Frances McDormand mentioned it during her Oscar speech. To refresh, she said, "I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider."
"The call to action during her Oscar acceptance speech was aimed specifically towards the people in the room that night...the studio heads & executives, the powers that be who call the shots at the end of the day. Hopefully the message will spread across industries worldwide, but it starts here with us," says Jeffrey.
With films like 'Black Panther' and 'Wonder Woman' it is already being proven that communities that necessarily did not have a big voice or presence in the past are proving to be huge box office hits.
Jeffrey, who voiced Black Panther in the animated series 'Iron Man: Armored Adventures,' always believed in this. In fact, making 'Black Panther' into a feature film is something he had dreamed of ever since he was a child.
"It never seemed impossible or improbable to me. I’ve always been highly aware of Black buying power, queer buying power and female buying power. So, whenever a project specifically tailored to any of those demographics has been a major success, it has never shocked me," he says, adding, "What’s shocking is when the status quo chalks it up to being a fluke. We are not a fluke, and neither is the money in our bank accounts that we are willing to spend on art made for us by us."
And, of course, one of the biggest success stories of a niche content becoming a worldwide phenomenon is 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' the reality show conceived, produced, hosted and judged by RuPaul, and which has also acted as a launching pad for the career of many a drag queen.
Jeffrey has been closely associated with the show, having even appeared on the recent 'All Stars 3,' which was one of the most entertaining seasons of all.
"It’s my favorite show on television and I’m endlessly impressed and inspired by how it opens minds and brings families and communities of people together who may not have ever had exposure to drag or queer culture," says Jeffrey, who also improvised with the already fan-favorite queens on a show called 'The B*tchular,' a comedic parody of 'The Bachelor.'
"Having the opportunity to improv with the queens was so much fun. To make a scathing commentary on how ridiculous reality TV dating competition shows are & what they turn the contestants into was right up my alley," says Jeffrey, who also got to cradle Ru and walk away into the sunset as part of a gag.
To that end Jeffrey says, "My love for RuPaul is real & runs deep. I will whisk him off into the sunset any day, any time."
Of course, we can't speak about 'RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 3' without talking about the biggest face-crack of the century – Ben De La Crème's self-elimination. Jeffrey, who claims to understand where she was coming from, says, "I was shocked but respect her choice. She was an All-Star this season and proved that to the world with every episode. She had already won on her own terms."
However, ever the staunch supporter of the show and Ru's choices, Jeffrey hails Trixie Mattel as the true winner of the season. He says, "Trixie Mattel served it to the children every week on the show & has proven herself time & time again over the years since first appearing on 'Drag Race'. I think her win was absolutely deserved."
You can listen to Jeffrey's podcast 'Conversations with Others,' on iTunes. Meanwhile, you can watch his turn as Jay in the multiple-award winning 'UnREAL' on Lifetime every Monday. at 10 pm ET/PT.