In 1999, the original Queer as Folk debuted in England and forever changed the way the LGBT community was portrayed in media. Frank and explicit, the drama showcased gay life in Manchester at the turn of the 21st century with joy and honesty that was rare at the time.
After a successful American version that ran on Showtime from 2000 to 2005, the series is back, this time based in New Orleans and focusing beyond the “G” in LGBT. Now with a cast that includes trans, nonbinary, and disabled members of the queer community, this Queer as Folk is rougher, messier, and more determined to entertain and enlighten audiences across sexual, gender, racial, and class spectrums. Digital Trends talked with the cast and creators of the Peacock reboot about the legacy of the original, how the reboot is more of a reimagining, and why Queer as Folk is more vital in 2002 than it was in 1999.
Digital Trends: Why reboot Queer as Folk in 2022?
Jaclyn Moore (writer/executive producer): That was a question I asked myself when I was first offered this job. And I think the answer became pretty clear once I started looking at the pilot script that Stephen [Dunn] had written. And it became even more clear as we started to tell the stories. And that’s that Queer as Folk was a defining TV show twice over about what queerness meant at a certain time. Queerness looks very different now than it did then. Or at least what we’re willing to put on TV looks very different now than what they did then. And I really wanted to be a part of telling what a modern, queer, and obviously trans story looks like.
Stephen Dunn (writer/director/executive producer/creator): The original Queer as Folk changed my life. Honestly, it was the first time I saw myself reflected. As a queer person growing up in like a small town in Newfoundland, it was my first exposure to queer culture in general.
But also I just felt like so much has changed in the last 20 years since the show existed. And literally the word queer itself means something different now than it did back then. I really wanted to work in TV and tell queer, marginalized stories that often don’t get to see the light of day. I wanted to show what it is to be queer and empowered now in 2022.
How familiar were you two with the previous versions of Queer as Folk before you started on this reboot?
Jesse James Keitel (Ruthie): Queer as Folk is iconic. I’ve known the legacy of the show for the majority of my life, but I wasn’t introduced to the actual series until college.
CG (Shar): And I didn’t know much about it before I went on the audition except for the heightened feeling that Queer as Folk existed in pop culture. I had the opportunity to dive deep into the show when I knew that I was auditioning and when I knew I was going to be a part of the cast.
Johnny Sibilly (Noah): I was definitely familiar enough to know that when I was a kid, I could look at one of the characters and think ,“Ooh, that’s me.” And then as I got older, being able to revisit it in my own space was very exciting.
Devin Way (Brodie): I was less familiar with the show. I stumbled upon it when I was younger when I was googling boys kissing. And so that’s how I found clips of it. But I never really got to watch the whole show in its entirety until much later.
Fin Argus (Mingus): Not at all. The show came out when I was one year old, so I wasn’t the target demo.
Ryan O’ Connell (Julian): I was almost too familiar with the show. I was 12 years old, closeted, going to my local Blockbuster, and renting it for the “storylines.” It was sort of an awakening for me. It was groundbreaking, it was important, but I also personally didn’t see myself represented. It was 1999. They weren’t representing the queer disabled community [just yet].
Did you rewatch the previous versions to kind of get a sense of what came before? Or did you just try to put some distance between the past and the present versions?
Keitel: If this were a cut-and-dry reboot where there were characters and storylines directly pulled from previous versions, I probably wouldn’t have watched. 2022’s Queer as Folk really is a reimagining. Our characters are very different from any of the characters from previous versions, and it definitely was a fresh take.
Sibilly: As soon as I knew that I got the part, I didn’t refresh my memory because I knew that these were going to be brand-new characters in a brand-new world. But when we wrapped, I went back and watched the U.S. version because I missed filming [our] show.
Way: I ran to them. I immediately watched the U.K. and the U.S. versions because I was so excited to get to be a part of this legacy.
CG and Jesse, how did you develop your characters’ relationship? Was it just it was on the page or did you both rehearse before shooting?
CG: Jesse and I first met for a callback on Zoom and we instantly trusted each other. As we shot this show, that trust developed even more. Coming from a place of knowing that we were so right on camera, there was no forcing anything. We didn’t have to put on airs in order to be in this relationship. It was just there. So, yeah, to have that kind of ease and to develop a relationship like that, it’s a gift.
Keitel: We really trust each other as partners, friends, and co-workers. Working with someone who you can trust so deeply, it became easy and second nature. We have to tackle some really, really vulnerable and intimate things on the show. Getting to do that with someone I trust as much as I do was irreplaceable.
Ryan, what attracted you to your character?
O’ Connell: I really liked Julian because he felt different from the character I was playing in the Netflix series Special. He’s a little spiky, he’s a little bitchy, he’s a little dry, and he has very specific hobbies, notably cruising in bathroom stalls, hanging out at the mall, and loving airplanes. I just thought he was a really specific person and a delight to portray.
What was your favorite scene to film?
Keitel: If I had to pick just one, it would be the finale just because it was so heightened and special, and it was a dream come true shooting that scene.
CG: Mine is the sip-and-see time where everybody comes over to see our characters’ babies. I think it’s the first time that we shot a really big scene together with a bunch of moving parts that were happening all at once. And my character gets to see Brody and Ruthie interact with each other for the first time. It was pure chaos.
Argus: All the drag scenes. They were so much fun. The performance in the season finale is my favorite. It’s such a stellar performance. It was really tough to film, though. It was so emotionally draining because it was me sobbing and breaking down.
What do you want viewers to take away after they’ve watched this version of Queer as Folk?
Dunn: Honestly, if there’s anyone out there that feels seen and a little bit less alone after watching the show, then I think our job is done. We made this show to give visibility and empowerment to members of our community, who I think sometimes often get left out.
Moore: I want people to see queer and trans people being complicated. I want them to see them as three-dimensional people who make mistakes, who lie to their spouses sometimes and go out when they shouldn’t. These are the things that we all as humans do. I’m obviously a trans woman. I am surrounded by queer and trans people in my life all the time. We’re all messy because everybody’s messy. But queer and trans people aren’t allowed to be messy in public. We’re not allowed to be messy on television and in stories. Instead, we are so often simplified to be funny sidekicks or put-upon saints.
The world is really hard. I was molested on my way here through TSA. I have been the victim of violence in the street before, but that doesn’t mean that’s all my life is. My life is also dating, and having friendships that fall apart, and having friendships that are beautiful, and getting to tell all of those stories, the nuance, the complication of that. I want people to see queer and trans folks reflected in that way and in a way that feels much more true to life than I think the oversimplification we’ve often been given in media.
Sibilly: I want viewers, specifically queer viewers, to remind themselves that our stories are valuable and that Queer as Folk is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to telling our stories. I hope that they see a lot of our characters for the first time, and they see pieces of themselves. I hope that people of different abilities and gender identities see each other in the show. I hope that cis heterosexual people watch the show and want to be part of our world because we are a very inclusive and fun-loving bunch. But I really hope that people just get to watch the show and enjoy what we’ve created.
Queer is Folk is now streaming all eight episodes of its first season on Peacock.
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