A version of this story about Jonathan Van Ness first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
“Queer Eye” grooming guru Jonathan Van Ness has come a long way since Funny or Die introduced him in “Gay of Thrones,” a satirical take on the HBO fantasy hit that launched in 2013.
“I used to feel like I got a lot of no’s,” Van Ness told TheWrap. “‘Gay of Thrones’ was the only thing I ever really did. And I definitely had auditions for other hosting opportunities, but everyone was like, ‘I don’t get it,’ ‘No,’ ‘… (or) “Can you just come in and say ‘Where are my dragons?’” he recalls. “I think I used to feel like, will this be the only thing I do?”
And then he joined the new Fab Five in Netflix’s reboot of the makeover show “Queer Eye” — which was nominated for six Emmys this year even as “Gay of Thrones” nabbed its third short-form nom for it’s final year.
We caught up with Van Ness as he prepares for his return to the Emmy spotlight. (The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Has it been hard to say goodbye to “Gay of Thrones”?
I think it’d be harder if I hadn’t booked “Queer Eye.” (Laughs) I definitely feel it was really surreal shooting this last year, because since we started shooting “Gay of Thrones” my life has completely changed. I used to feel like, “Will this be the only thing I do?” And that wouldn’t have been a bad thing, ’cause I always loved doing hair, and my (podcast) “Getting Curious” was an outlet for me. But it was very surreal shooting the last season of “Gay of Thrones” and realizing like, oh my God, I did it. I am gonna get to do other things.
How did starring on “Gay of Thrones” prepare you for “Queer Eye”?
It taught me how to work with a new person … and to bring out the best in people that I’m working with. On “Gay of Thrones” a lot of times I don’t know the people who we’re working with, I meet them for that episode — we’re writing jokes for the person in the chair and you want them to feel comfortable to deliver those jokes and you want them to understand it — and they may never have seen the show before. So I think “Gay of Thrones” prepared me well for being in a lot of situations where I didn’t know how they would play out.
What is the secret to the Fab Five’s friendship?
The audition process was really stressful, and we all wanted it so bad. I’ve heard in therapy about that trauma bond, honey. We all just went through something so intense together. I had literal heartburn for four whole days.
How did it feel to take “Queer Eye” to your hometown of Quincy, Illinois, in Season 4?
It was really cathartic and really special. I went to high school there and I never saw a production of that magnitude. … So to have a show like this come to Quincy, and for all these kids to being able to see producers and sound and an audio person and just seeing what a production looks like — that is something my high school has never seen. And for kids to see there’s people who do this. To go into Quincy with five people in the LGBTQ community … it just was really amazing to get to show my hometown what my life looks like now.
For the kids, there’s a life beyond what you have seen here and it can be so amazing. You can have an amazing life anywhere, you don’t have to leave Quincy to have a great life, but I used to not know what potential I could have so to show those kids that was really fun.
How would baby Jonathan feel to know that you’ve become an inspiration to queer kids who don’t always see themselves represented on screen?
Honestly, that sentence would have had him TKO’d. The fact that Michelle Kwan’s phone number is in my phone — honestly, I feel like he would need a medical crew. If I had to tell 6-year-old me, “You’re gonna interview Shannon Miller when you grow up,” I think I would have just spontaneously combusted.
What does it mean in terms of queer acceptance to see shows like “Queer Eye” and “Pose” become so successful and receive Emmy nominations?
It’s really reassuring. But look at the amount of popular, award-winning television that is cisgendered and heterosexual and heteronormative. Look at the amount of creators, writers, makeup artists, hairdressers, costume designers, actors, actresses that are LGBTQ-identified and how much content that they get that reflects them.
I do think that in general we are quick to congratulate ourselves for having this sense of representation, but having two shows that we can name off the top of our head that have a queer POV is not enough — no tea, no shade, no pink lemonade to you or anyone else. But we have a huge number of LGBTQ people whose stories do not get told. With all due respect, there should be so many more queer shows.
Read more from the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.