Tan and Antoni on the stress of fame, 'Queer Eye' Season 3
Antoni Porowski remembers exactly where he was when he knew his anonymity evaporated faster than you can say the words “avocado grapefruit salad.”
He was sequestered away in a second floor room of his friend Lyle's restaurant. He wanted to be alone, removed from a public space. It was a disorienting time — the first season of Netflix’s popular Queer Eye reboot just hit. Everywhere.
"I also get social anxiety, and I was in the middle of an Italian lesson because I was learning Italian at the time, and I remember like when the news came out that the show was dropped,” he said. “My phone was glowing and I just felt all of this happening as I was looking at my phone and I definitely got a headache from that. I got overwhelmed. I was stressed."
The show’s style guru Tan France felt the same.
”It was weird because it dropped all in one day and, at the end of the day, it was somewhat jarring, with everyone watching. It was a very strange experience,” he said.
I got to meet Tan and Antoni last fall. They were in New York to promote a sponsorship campaign with Excedrin — yup — when the subject veered from sponsored content to an existential kind of migraine that no single pill and gulp of water could relieve. The two were talking about how much life changed in the short time since the show premiered in February 2018.
”I thought it wasn’t going to be as successful,” Tan said. “I thought ‘no way is it going to do well.’ I thought, ‘it was going to be a cute show, the gays would watch. It’ll be adorable.”
Well, they definitely watched. Today — just 13 months since the show first hit Netflix — Season 3 premiered. In some ways, it feels like it never ended. Just head to your social media feeds and Antoni and Tan (along with their co-stars Karamo Brown, Bobby Berk and Jonathan Van Ness) are a constant presence.
Given that so much has changed, what advice would they give their not-so-in-the-rear-view-mirror, pre-fame selves?
”You do not need to answer everything. Process this and know that it’s going to get easier, because, Antoni feels this, you can feel this anxiety every day,” Tan said. “And, just know that you will be able to breathe and live your normal life. It just felt like my life changed in [*cue dramatic snap of fingers *] one day, and now, I find ways to do the things I love and calm the ‘f’ down.”
Antoni recalls having a conversation with Netflix executives before the show’s release. He was told that he and his cast-mates weren’t allowed to do any other work. They were told to sit back, relax, and brace themselves for what was to come.
”It it was like a contractual thing, and also they all encouraged us to like enjoy your lives now. Anybody who was friends of ours who are public and have experienced this sort of like really weird and bizarre ascension, said ‘take a rest, go on an extended holiday, spend time with your family.’ I didn’t do that, I just kept on working and I took up Italian, for example, and I was doing that for a bit four times a week with a tutor and reading and watching Italian television and learning a new language and other hobbies. I was cooking all the time, which I loved doing and I tried to take all their advice and take a moment to relax, which is hard to do, because we didn’t know if it was going to be a success or not,” he said. “I kept thinking, ‘but is anyone going to watch? Is anyone going to notice us? Is anyone going to even care?’ We knew we were part of something special but we had no idea about the gravity and the impact that it would have.”
Antoni explained that some of the guys on the show were more confident than others. In fact, he thought he was going to be “forgotten on the show” because he said he is the “more quiet one.”
”So, I thought, ‘oh, I wonder if anyone is going to notice me?’ And then, it happened, they noticed — everyone. It’s very strange, there’s no way to prepare for it,” he said, with a somewhat nervous laugh.
Is there pressure to always be ‘on’ for social media?
Tan says, not anymore.
”I post when I want to post, if I have content, I don’t put as much as I used to,” he said. “I still care about my social and I enjoy it, but it’s so much work,” he said, rolling his eyes.
For Antoni, it’s cyclical — sometimes he embraces it, at others, he tries to put the phone down and back away from Instagram slowly. Easier said than done, especially when it comes to maximizing off the viral popularity of the show.
”I don't know how long this is going to last, and there’s always going to be advice, again advice that I got from a public person, ‘someone is going to replace you so just enjoy it,’ ” Antoni said. “But I took that as ‘someone is going to replace you, so you need to work as much as humanely possible to maximize this, because I’m going to be gone — literally tomorrow.’ ”
He said on other days, he takes a calmer approach. Whatever happens will just happen. That’s that.
”I’m not a religious person, but it's like whoever god is, it’s her will, it’s not mine,” he added. “I’m not in control of this, so I’m just going to enjoy my life, and just be chill and drink water. And I get really good at it, and all of a sudden I forget that. Then I start stressing out and think ‘no, I need to work a lot more.’ ”
What can we expect from Season 3 (for those who haven’t started binge-watching yet)?
“There’s so much more diversity this time. We are now in Kansas City, a very different city to Atlanta. Geographically, it’s different, but also socially different. Their experience are different to people in the South. Their exposure to people like me is different, to gays is different. So much difference in the people in general. But, it’s light-hearted, it’s fun, it’s good people,” Tan said.
Antoni added that ITV, the company behind the show, “has gone above and beyond to find the most beautifully heartbreaking, wonderful personal stories of heroes who really deserve and need our help and our attention and our love and they’ve just, I think blown it out of the water.”
”They’ve done such an amazing job and I can’t wait for people to see it.”