We’re in London, ahead of the launch of their second season, and the Fab Five are damn-near effervescent—introducing themselves simultaneously, talking over each other while never giving you the feeling that they’re cutting each other off. It’s almost conversational harmony, and their comfort is infectious. Within moments, before one question is asked, Tan has reclined back into Antoni’s shoulder as Antoni in turn puts an arm around him, nuzzling his cheek briefly into his friend’s hair.
In the first two seasons of Netflix’s Queer Eye, the Fab Five—Karamo Brown (culture), Tan France (fashion), Bobby Berk (design), Jonathan Van Ness (grooming) and Antoni Porowski (food)—are, from episode one, the guardian angels of It’s a Wonderful Life born anew, gliding into the lives of men and women who need help to understand that they’re more valuable, and have more potential, than they had known. Not every transformation was drastic, not every story made you cry, but each one was affirming, and each person walked away feeling better about themselves and what they can offer the world than they had before the Five arrived.
The show was not just about each episode’s subject, or ‘hero’, as they call them. Over those two seasons, filmed back to back, we’re also watching five people, each with a different expertise, become the family sitting in front of me, who one by one gave more of themselves to the show than they initially imagined, and more of themselves to each other. The result is that this show, and this Fab Five, have the sort of life-affirming magic that only seems to find its way to the small screen once every decade or so.
“How long did it take you to feel like the Fab Five?” I ask.
“One day,” says Brown.
“Literally a day,” says France.
“In the first five minutes, Tan and Karamo and I were right next to each other. Karamo was already covered up in Tan’s jacket because he’s always cold. By the end of the day, Antoni and Jonathan had already created a group text called the Fab Five,” says Berk.
“It was immediate for us,” says Brown.
“And we hadn’t been cast,” says France.
We hadn’t been cast!” echoes Brown.
“We didn’t even know for weeks later!” says Berk.
“This was all a hunch,” says Porowski.
“This was all a hunch!” echoes Brown.
“A deluded hunch that really worked out,” says Porowski.
“It would have been really bad if we weren’t,” says Brown.
According to Berk, around 60 to 100 guys were brought into the audition process at once, all broken up into groups of five, each with the potential to become the ones finally cast on the show.
“I think that was one of the beautiful things about our group in particular, in this group of 60 to 100 guys that were there, a lot of them were treating it kind of like the Hunger Games. Casting saw that we were already working as a team and we had just met each other,” says Berk.
“When we went into the audition process, I wasn’t trying to compete with these guys. There was a part when we had to go out in the room, and do something, and come back out, and I recall very distinctly each of us coming out of that room and telling each other and the other people in the room what just happened. Some of the other guys would be like, I can’t tell you, sorry! Because if you succeed, I succeed. So great, let’s go for it! That allowed us to not have any discomfort or have the need to argue,” says Brown.
“We didn’t think we were actually going to be the Fab Five, but we felt like we were close enough that even within a day we thought we were going be life long friends,” says France.
“Karamo did,” says Porowski.
“I did! I’m sorry. I knew! I knew, I knew, I knew. You could not mistake Jonathan’s comedic timing. You could not mistake this beautiful Brit over here with this amazing past,” Brown says, gesturing to France. “You could not mistake the gorgeous good looks of freaking Antoni. Bobby was talented as heck. I was sitting there after the first day and I was like, oh girl, we might get this. No ego but…”
“No ego!” Porowski laughs.
“It wasn’t ego because we still did our best,” says Brown.
It was positivity,” says Berk.
“I was like, we could get this. This could be the group. It was diverse! I was like, yeah,” says Brown.
Since that first day, the group has stayed positive, and stresses that, while they do disagree, they never compete with one another.
“Our only debates are only about how we help the hero, and I love that we’re really passionate about that. That can spark some really heated discussions with us, because we want to do the best we can for the hero,” says France.
“When you have one common goal, when you have that to focus on, it’s really not about us, it’s figuring out how to make this person’s life better. It’s really hard to argue about anything petty when we’re here to help people in a very short amount of time, and then we leave, and we’re gone. You have to make best of the little amount of time that you have,” says Porowski.
And the more that they give of themselves, the better the results have been.
“It’s so real. We really are in the moment with these people that you forget the cameras are there and the lines go away,” says Berk.
“I learned early on in the show that when I tried to act cool, those made for the least effective scenes, and the ones that really worked were either when the person was really open and I could ask questions and they answered them in a really honest way, or when they weren’t, it was me sharing my story. The more that I shared about myself, the safe it made a space for them to share a part of it too. It’s a little strange, but the more you give of yourself, the more you get in return. That became a habit for all of us. The scenes that reflect the best part of my brothers, my cast mates, are the ones where I learned the most about them,” says Porowski.
I don’t tell them, before we end the conversation, how I never expected to connect with this show on the afternoon that I idly put it on back in February. I don’t tell them how hard I sobbed during its best moments. I don’t tell them that this show helped me, too, reminding me that there’s no one way to be a man, that it’s never too late to try to save yourself and get better, that you can have a tremendous effect on others if you let yourself, and that you matter more than self-doubt lets you believe. I don’t tell them, but I don’t need to—this is their moment, I’m just lucky that I was able to share it with them.