The casting director is thrilled to be nominated again for a new batch of Queer Eye episodes.
There is something pure about Netflix’s incarnation of Queer Eye, and it has to do with both The Fab Five and the people they help in every episode. A lot of reality television focuses on drama or feels overproduced, but Queer Eye‘s narratives always revolve around helping people. It isn’t hokey and there is no cynicism. Casting director Danielle Gervais is there from the very beginning. An Emmy winner from last season, Gervais knows exactly what she and her team are looking for when casting the people that The Fab Five helps, and the results always bring laughs, and, of course, tears.
Casting, in any form, is a fascinating practice. To be able to see something special in a potential hero is an art form that not a lot of people can say they do well, but Gervais has a keen eye to find people that will benefit most from The Fab Five’s guidance.
Awards Daily: You guys won last year, so this has to be crazy for your team.
Danielle Gervais: It’s surreal for all of us. I can’t believe we get to come back…again! It’s just a dream for a casting director. The way the show has been received, I’ve never seen anything like it.
AD: I don’t remember a reality show that has grown like Queer Eye.
DG: It’s doing so much good and changing minds.
AD: I’m sure you get this a lot, but are you trying to make us cry every episode? Are you in cahoots with a tissue company?
DG: It’s funny that you say that because we actually make an effort to make people laugh. We lead with humor and heart. The tears just happen to follow. We don’t ever think, ‘This is going to make people cry!’ We actually steer away from that, because we want people to feel the heart first. Every single time you end up crying, though.
AD: Since the show keeps getting bigger, do you have more and more submissions every season?
DG: Yes, we have an inbox. We definitely do a ton of proactive outreach in whatever city we are going to for that particular season. When we kicked this off in Season One, we had nothing, and we couldn’t even say ‘Queer Eye’ initially. And once we could, people did know about it, but some people still didn’t remember the original show. We get submissions from all of the country.
AD: I imagine people just accost you once they learn you are involved with the show.
DG: They definitely want to meet The Fab Five!
AD: What you guys were able to capture with the first season is insane. You rightfully won the Emmy last year because you created this chemistry unlike anything we’ve seen on reality television for a long time. What’s it like to see The Fab Five grow more into their roles?
DG: It’s such an exhilarating feeling. I really mean it when I say that they were strangers when they met. We brought them in with about, I think, 45 other people to a hotel in Glendale and we had narrowed it down from hundreds of hopefuls. They really are good friends—they’re magic. From a casting perspective, it’s a dream come true.
AD: You do get this happy feeling when they rush around a new person’s house and you start seeing them interact with a new hero for the first time. It’s lightning in a bottle, honestly.
DG: They really take each hero and they take their job so seriously. Everybody works so hard, and every season we want to elevate it so much more.
AD: I think we as audiences members really feel that you guys are not trying to make just reality television. You are there to help guide the heroes to a better place. It’s very genuine.
DG: Thank you.
AD: And, I have to say, that I didn’t know that you referred to the people on the show as heroes. I think that’s a very lovely thing. What qualities do you look for in a hero?
DG: For our heroes, we literally have what we call ‘the hero checklist.’ Ideally, in a perfect world, it’s someone that never in a million years would see this coming. We tend to go after people who come from nominators. People do write in about themselves, but we tend to respond more to people who are putting somebody else up for it. We do look for people who still have a very hopeful perspective even though they may have had things happen in their lives. They look at life with a glass half full. That hope. That’s huge for us. One of the biggest things we look for is the why now. At this point in their lives, why are they ready for this ship to make their life better. Certainly we have to think of the five verticals. We have to make sure that the guys have something to help them with. Is there a component with food that Antoni can help with? Do they not cook at all or do they need help with something with clothes? That’s where Tan can work something with.
AD: You have cast a lot of reality-based television. What sort of challenges are in place that differs from a scripted show? What’s the most challenging thing about casting reality TV?
DG: The vast majority of my work, believe it or not, is in unscripted. I think the reason I have always leaned that way is that I have a journalism background. I like highlighting their stories in a way they never would have. In the scripted route, the casting is a process in and of itself. I like getting to know regular people and working people who have never been on TV. It gives them an opportunity to share their story. I love that so much.
AD: I think Queer Eye does that so admirably. I think a lot of other reality TV doesn’t have the care and love that your show does.
DG: If I could work on a show like this all the time, I would. You don’t always control what gets greenlit. This is one of those shows that feels so incredibly fulfilling. I hope shows like this continue to get off the ground. We need shows like this in the world.
AD: Do you keep up with the heroes after the shows debut? A lot of the people have these fans afterwards. Or do you like to keep your distance afterwards?
DG: I have an incredible team and four of them are nominated with me. We are the ones at the very beginning talking to them and interviewing them. We do form that bond and everyone involved with the production—like the directors—wants them to do well. We are invested in people like The Jones sisters. Just look at them. Some people do want the normal life again. It depends on the person.
AD: What would you wish people would remember about the casting process?
DG: That’s a really good question. In terms of the heroes?
DG: I think for us, we are always trying to make sure that we are presenting different stories. What stories haven’t been told? What unique POV haven’t we highlighted? In this country, who deserves this platform? That is a constant question that we are asking, but also who is going to make us laugh? We want to elevate every single season. We want you to fall in love with the next season’s heroes. We want to do the show justice. The first version of the show, created by David Collins, was so brilliant, and we want to live up to that. It’s a great show at the end of the day.
AD: And it really was a calling card to a lot of people. The original came out right around when I was personally coming out, and it was a great thing to have in the world. This new version is only going to help us evolve as people and help people empathize.
DG: It’s all about timing, right?
DG: One of the reasons the show resonates so much is the time we are living in. Where we are as a country, we realize we all have more in common than we think we do. That’s the magic of the show.
AD: What was the most satisfying episode from this last season for you?
DG: It’s like asking me to pick a favorite child!
AD: I was just writing down some of the heroes. Jess had such a moving story and Rob was dealing with the death of his wife.
DG: This is such a terrible, PC answer, but it is really hard to pick a favorite episode. I will always have a place in my heart for Tom Jackson from Season One, Episode One. Probably because it was our very first season, and I love that story. But, my God, Jess’ story about how you choose your family. That was incredibly powerful. The Jones [sisters] is obviously one of my favorites. I can’t watch Rob Elrod’s tape without bursting into tears and what an incredible father he is. They’re all so special.
All episodes of Queer Eye, all four glorious seasons, are available on Netflix. Grab your tissues.