Whether he’s playing the devilishly wonderful Jay on the hit Lifetime show Unreal or guest-judging the dames of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman is doing it his way.
From day one he committed himself to playing roles he connected to and taking on projects that resonate with him, and that shows no signs of stopping. I recently sat down with Bowyer-Chapman, who Drag Race fans will remember from “The Bitchelor” episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3.
Together we spoke about the Drag Race family and his new podcast called Conversations With Others, and he even drops some true inspiration for the children.
HORNET: After guest judging and participating in a challenge on All Stars 3 you’re like an extended member of the Drag Race family.
BOWYER-CHAPMAN: I am, and I cannot tell you what a blessing it is to have been welcomed into both the Drag Race world and into Ru’s family, and as a child of Michelle Visage! I am the quintessential Drag Race super fan. To be able to walk in that world with them, I cannot tell you how much it means to me.
Was drag always something you were attracted to?
It wasn’t until I started watching Drag Race that I found a true appreciation for drag queens. In my early 20s I first started going to drag king shows. That was my first real introduction to drag. I was so taken by it and really loved the idea of playing with gender and genderfuckery. It is so empowering, and it was the perfect proof that both gender and gender roles are all just a story that we tell ourselves. We are all born naked, the rest is drag.
It sounds like you feel Drag Race is truly a tipping point for us as a community.
Absolutely it is. Seeing the cultural shift that Drag Race has made, since moving from Logo to VH1 and reaching a brand-new audience, as well as seeing the choices Ru made in his own career. During the Bush administration he ducked out. It was a “I’m gonna take a break” kind of thing. This time around with our current administration he is making a completely different choice. He is going full force and representing our community in a way that no one else can. There is such power in that. I see progress. I see an evolution taking place. It may not be happening as quickly as people would like, but change is being made.
Have you ever questioned your own decision about only taking gay roles? Your role on Unreal [an out gay man] is one of the most talked about on the show.
Absolutely not. I started working as an actor at 21, and after working as one for the past 12 years and being very clear with myself and my team that I only wanted to play queer and gay characters, I see the progress we have made and the amount of queer content that is being produced, developed and shared with the world now as opposed to 12 years ago.
In terms of playing Jay on Unreal, it has been incredible playing an openly queer character who is similar to me in some ways. I do think Jay and I navigate our lives in very heart-centered places. I think that is why Jay has been dubbed the moral compass of the show.
You now have a podcast titled Conversations With Others. People like Aubrey Plaza and Jussie Smollett are very cerebrally smart people with so much to say. What made you want to share these conversations with others?
These are the conversations that I have with my friends every day. Luckily for me I was able to call on a few dozen of my close friends who I have had these really thoughtful, deep and irreverent conversations with over the years, and ask if they wanted to come on the show. The first season really is people who are my close friends and have had chats off-mic with. There are times I have a conversation with Aubrey Plaza and we both will say, “Shit why weren’t we recording this?!”
You have taken your platform and started a scholarship for LGBT youth, haven’t you?
Yes, I have! I was very blessed when the BGB Studio here in Los Angeles approached me and asked me if I would like a hand in opening doors for new LGBT actors of color to help them on their way. They heard a speech I had done for the HRC a few years ago, and that is what inspired them to ask me to start the scholarship. I could not have done it without them, and to me it is a perfect and beautiful example of the power of allies.
The LGBT community truly feels under siege right now. How do you continue on such a positive and truly out path in today’s world?
I truly feel that in 2018 it’s easier than it ever has been. I have only embraced and accepted my otherness. I have known that I was gay since I was 3 years old. I have never struggled with it. But when I turned on the television growing up I did not have truthful or accurate representation of queer characters or any positive representations of black men. For me to be able to embody that and to offer that as some type of service to the world, that is the place I go back to that serves as the fuel to keep me going
I think it was Kerry James Marshall — he is this really beautiful artist that I love — who said this quote that stuck with me: “I think we need to remember that a lot of energy was put into changing things to get us to the point where we are now. But being where we are now doesn’t mean that we don’t have to put in the same kind of energy to get us to a place where we ought to be.”