In a conversation with Awards Daily, Queer Eye’s Bobby Berk and Tan France discuss how their hit Netflix show has evolved over the past couple of years and what it was like taking the groundbreaking reality show to Japan for the first time.
After over two years, five seasons, 47 episodes, and two international specials, you would think that the Fab Five have seen it all. Instead they are just getting started. How do you keep a show fresh when audiences think they’ve seen it all? The answer is honesty. Over the past two years Tan, Bobby, Antoni, Karamo, and Jonathan have invited everyone into their lives telling some of their most personal stories all in the hopes of connecting people. Connecting the Fab Five to their heroes, connecting the heroes to audiences, and connecting our entire community at a time when division is so strong.
Awards Daily got on the phone with Tan France and Bobby Berk to discuss their whirlwind of a year releasing multiple seasons of their hit Netflix series as well as what it was like taking the show abroad to Japan. We also took the time to find out which heroes they’ve kept in touch with over the years, how the show has evolved, and what direction they see the show heading in these uncertain times.
Awards Daily: In just a little over two years you have filmed five seasons of Queer Eye. As we enter our fourth month of self-isolation is this the most amount of time you all have spent away from each other and how are you guys keeping yourselves busy?
Bobby Berk: We’ll sometimes go four or five months without seeing each other. In times like these we still each other so much like on calls and interviews. It feels like we’re getting together a few times a week virtually. We still get our Fab Five fix!
Tan France: I’m not in a major city, I hope Salt Lake won’t be offended. COVID-19 hasn’t been super tough yet but I’ve been keeping myself busy by baking a lot of baked goods which is one of my favorite pastimes. I’m also eating a lot of baked goods which is my actual favorite pastime. I live on the other side of a mountain, so I’ve been lucky enough to get my fix of outdoor life and go hiking. It’s made me feel a lot more grounded and calm. Being outdoors is spiritual for me. It’s been a moment of reflection for me and I’ve been able to look at what I want the next few years of my life to look like.
BB: I too have been enjoying this extended time at home. We have been travelling a lot over the past two years and its been nice to be more grounded. I’ve taken the time to get back in shape and I’ve lost 35 pounds. I’ve been doing tons of yardwork, so much so that all of my neighbors call me the friendly Los Feliz gardener. I’ve run out of things to do in my own yard and I’ve been mowing, trimming, and weeding everyone else’s yards whether they’ve asked for it or not.
TF: That’s trespassing Bobby!
AD: Now that you are two years into working together do you feel as if the show has progressed or evolved in any way?
BB: I would say it has progressed exactly the amount that it has needed to. I think the progression has been just getting more comfortable with what we are doing. Becoming more comfortable helping people. Getting more comfortable about opening up about emotional issues. The progression has been us becoming more insecure in what we are put here on this earth to do which is to help people.
TF: Agreed. My answer would have been very similar to Bobby’s. We open up more and more every season because we get more comfortable sharing our stories in order to help our heroes. The only other progression is that we have gotten to explore more and more diverse stories and I know that will continue into Season Six.
AD: The five of you have been working together so closely now for all this time. Do you find that you are still learning things about each other at this stage in your working relationship?
TF: Oh yes, I mean I just heard that Bobby is very comfortable trespassing on other people’s property. I didn’t know that!
BB: Hey! Not one person has mined coming out to a mowed lawn. In fact, a few of them have come out and gone “Are you Bobby from Queer Eye?!?” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not up in their backyards or anything.
TF: I bet they think they’re the new Queer Eye hero! I wonder if they look for a crew.
TF: Maybe you’ll disagree Bobby, but I don’t think I’m learning anything new at this point any of you. I feel like I know them all pretty darn well. Maybe I don’t know everything about them at this point but I am never surprised anymore.
BB: Yeah, I would say there might be stories we have never heard, especially when we are trying to relate to our heroes, but as far as our personalities, nooo, we know each other really well at this point.
AD: You call the people you travel around the country to meet your “heroes.” Five seasons in you’ve met at least 50+ heroes. Is there anyone that you think back on the most or that you keep in touch with?
BB: There are a lot that I still talk to often. Rahanna from season five [“Groomer Has It”], her and I talk almost weekly. I’ve continued to give her advice and mentor her on her business. I talk to Jess [Season Three – “Black Girl Magic”] all of the time and I talk to Neil [Season One – “Saving Sasquatch”] all of the time.
TF: For me I find myself DMing with a lot of them including Rahanna. The person I really want to keep in touch with the most (I’m not going to lie I do have a favorite even though I know we shouldn’t) is Yoko from Queer Eye: We’re in Japan!. She is one of the most special people I’ve ever met in my life. I wish that we didn’t have the language barrier because she is someone I would definitely keep in touch with. Whenever anyone asks me about the show she is the first person that comes to mind.
AD: The heroes that you meet are obviously not TV personalities and most of them have never really been in front of a camera before. Do you ever encounter someone that you have a hard time convincing to open up in front of the camera? What do you guys do to make them feel more comfortable sharing their stories?
BB: I would say almost every single one of them. They all start out that way. We usually meet the hero on a Tuesday and within the first couple hours I sometimes think “crap, what are we going to do?” That’s when we learn that the more we share about ourselves the more comfortable our heroes get. That’s why throughout the seasons you learn more about us because we’ve learned that if we’re not willing to open up and be more honest about our lives to them why on earth would we expect them to do the same?
AD: Earlier you mentioned the season in Japan. I’m curious what that experience was like for both of you? Did you feel like the show had to change at all while filming those episodes?
TF: For me, that season was incredibly special and it was a learning experience. The reason why I love those four episodes so much is because they forced us out of our comfort zone. You can get to a point on the show where you know exactly how the week will play out where as with Japan their culture is so different and the way they display emotion is so different that it made it difficult in the most beautiful way.
TF: We had a translator and everything had to go through them and it did make everything more complicated but in the end it made for a much stronger experience between us and the hero. We had to be engaged for every moment or else we would lose something incredibly important whether that be a comment or a movement or the way they carried themselves. I found the experience fascinating. I would jump at the chance to do something in a foreign land again because it really does push you.
AD: Is there a country that you think would make for a particularly fascinating season?
BB: I personally would love to go to Brazil. We have so many wonderful, amazing fans in Brazil. There are also many English speaking countries that would be amazing but one of the points that Tan made was that when we are in a country where we don’t speak the language it takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us more engaged. I would love to go to another country where we work with a translator and where the culture is very different than ours.
TF: For me it would be India even though I am South Asian and understand the culture to a certain extent. They legalized gay marriage a couple of years ago but there is so much tension still between the LGBTQ community and the non-LGBT community, so I think it would be enlightening for people to see our community as normal and worthy of love and affection. I would love to move the needle with the Queer Eye touch in India.
AD: Earlier we discussed how the show has progressed over the past couple of years. Right now we are in really uncertain, and scary times so I’m curious where you see the show going in the future?
BB: It is definitely going to impact it but I can’t really say how yet. So much is unknown. We’re just going to continue to do what we do and change people’s lives. We will roll with the punches and spread as much love, kindness, and self-acceptance as we can.
TF: As far as what I see for the future of a show like Queer Eye my hope is that we are redundant in the next decade. I would love for there to be a point where we don’t have to show the beauty of the LGBT community or any other community that we help out. I hope we will be living in a world that is a little more loving, accepting, and kind and that a show like this isn’t necessary. But let me tell you, I’m sure you know this all too well, a show that is kind and positive is so darn needed.
Queer Eye is available to stream exclusively on Netflix.