Whether it’s being a part of the RuPaul’s Drag Race family or bewitching us on American Horror Story, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman brings positivity, truth and a sparking personality that simply radiates through his performances. As he becomes part of the Disney+ reimagining of a classic, Doogie Kameāloha, M.D, Bowyer-Chapman remains steadfast in his mission to bring queer storytelling to the forefront. I sat down with this endlessly dazzling performer and we chatted about the ‘Doogie’ legacy, his Canada’s Drag Race experience, toxicity & unhealed trauma in the LGBTQ community, and why something Maya Angelou remains a touchstone for him.
Michael Cook: How have you been thriving in a new close to post-pandemic world?
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman: Life is good, all things considered, truly. I got to go to Hawaii and film for four and a half months. I have been in Los Angeles, and after living in New York for so many years to have this contrast & comparison and point of reference, I realize how incredibly blessed I am to have been in Honolulu and Los Angeles during quarantine.
MC: Doogie Kameāloha, M.D.is so much fun and different, and sticks with what Disney+ has been doing with creating and releasing amazing content. What made you want to be a part of the project?
JBC: Really it was the show runner. So many of the projects that I choose to work on have everything to do with who is running things behind the scenes, from writers to producers to directors to show runners. The show runner on this project is Kourtney Kang, someone that I have known for personally for several years, but only on a person level and never from a professional perspective. I just always had this incredible dynamic and rapport with her, and had the utmost respect for who she is as an individual human being. She is a mother, a wife, and an incredible friend. She is just so joyous and loving and open hearted. After working on such adult focused projects for so many years like Unreal, and American Horror Story and Spiral and more psychologically dark projects, do be part of something so positive and kind and uplifting, and be a part of a brand like Disney+, I just knew that it would be so great for my heart and soul to sign onto a project like this.
MC: Doogie Kameāloha, M.D definitely does lighten things up, which is much needed today. How do you think you are the most like your character Charles and the most different?
JBC: I am the most like Charles definitely with his wide eyed naiveté, optimism and open heart; that is definitely who I was when I first left home at was eighteen years old and started modeling. I went from small town Canada to major cities all over the world. I realized that for people to see me as a human being apart from my race and sexuality, I had to present a level of disarming energy and really just bring my open hearted self into every room that I walked into. Sometimes, it’s not necessarily the safest or most ideal thing to do to have to be the first one to disarm situations by bringing your most vulnerable self. Whether or not it was a protective mechanism for me in my youth, it is what is helped me through the world. it is very much how Charles navigates his way through the world.
The thing about Charles is that I have the least in common with is that he’s a doctor (laughs)! He graduated med school. I graduated high school by correspondence just barely, and left and started modeling. I have never been great in classroom settings. I am incredibly curious and such a seeker, always wanting to know why and more. The things that I have learned that have been most helpful in shaping who I am and who I am in the world are just the things that I have naturally gravitated towards. Literature, art and the lived experience of other human beings through art; its not necessarily biology and science and math.
MC: The legacy of Doogie has taken on a different layer with the LGBTQ advocate and trailblazer that original series star Neil Patrick Harris has now become. Do you think it is surreal now to be an out gay man on this show, with it coming somewhat full circle?
JBC: I can’t say that it is surreal because it really is the manifestation of every intention that I had becoming an actor in the first place. it is the reason that I became an actor. I had so few, if any examples, to reflect upon when I was a kid. Turning on on the tv, I never saw reflections like myself; I didn’t see positive representations of black men, of queer people. Very early on in my career, it was one of the first pieces of advice that a director gave me; there is a void in this industry and I am here to be one of many souls to fill it. That very much set the intention at the beginning of my career to exclusively or primarily play queer characters. It is definitely obvious to me after being in this industry for the past fifteen years, that there is an abundance of queer representation in comparison to where we were when I was a kid. As far as we have come, we still have a very long way to go. The fact that I am playing an openly queer character on a Disney+ series, a family friendly series, and his character development is very much about who he is and the way that he makes his way through the world. He doesn’t focus primarily on his sexuality or the struggles that he may have faced because of his sexual orientation or identity. It’s a big step…a huge step.
MC: Through so many of your own projects and your career as a whole, you have gravitated towards projects that many times showcase strong and powerful women. is that intentional or is it something that has ended up just being part of your own career path?
JBC: Oh no, I’m aware of it. It is just the law of attraction, it is a foundation of my life. Being raised by a single mother and having three sisters around me as a kid to all of my best friends and closest confidantes being females. To the very small and select group of individuals that I turn to for guidance, my advisory boards in life, have always been female. My agents who have helped guide me in this career from modeling to acting have always been female. From a very ‘hippy dippy’ perspective, I have had psychics tell me that it is all female spirits and energy around me. My grandmother, my aunts, females that have passed who have been really impactful in my life have energies all around me. It is where I feel safest, it is where I feel that I am able to bring not only one dimension of myself, but all versions of myself to the table and that is the safest thing to do so. I have such incredible love, admiration and respect for feminine energy.
MC: is there any part of you whatsoever that feels like you are missing out on being part of the second season of Canada’s Drag Race?
JBC: No actually. I had the opportunity to go and do a dream job in Hawaii for four and half months, a Disney+ series that is a reboot of a series that I was obsessed with as a child. I am always going to be a part of the Drag Race family. RuPaul’s Drag Race has many different franchises and many iterations all over the world. Ru and Michelle and the powers at World of Wonder, Randy and Fenton are very much my chosen family. There is always room for me to return in the future in some capacity. I know that Brooke Lynn is going to do an incredible job in guiding the queens during Season 2. Sometimes in life you have to make choices and some are harder than others to make. When I was presented with these two opportunities and it came down to having to choose between the two, I had to listen to my heart and my intuition and go towards what felt right and what felt good and what would ultimately be good for my overall well being. I chose right (laughs)!
MC : The internet can be a very hateful place. While Canada’s Drag Race Season 1 was absolutely amazing, you got the brunt of a great deal of negativity online. What do you think you took from that part of the experience?
JBC: I think I took a lot from the experience, but a lot to it was just a reiteration of what I have aways known to be true. As a black queer person growing up in an environment like Alberta where I was the only black person and the only queer person in my community, I have faced a lot of harassment, a lot of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse and bullying. Really atrocious behavior from peers my own age to people who are much older who should have known better; teachers, their parents and authority figures. It was not something that was new to me, the new aspect is that it was coming from my own community, the queer community. I think it allowed for me to see it from a perspective that there is a lot of unhealed trauma in queer people.
I am not the only one, when I say that I have experienced bullying hate and harassment, most of us have. A lot of that trauma has gone unhealed; when there is unhealed trauma, you tend to project that onto other people. Hurt people hurt people. I think it was very obvious to me that there is a lot of pain that has gone unadressed and unacknowledged in the queer community, specifically with white gay men.
I learned to remember what Maya Angelou has said for many years. they aren’t tailing about me, they don’t even know me. They see one tiny fraction of an edited tv show that was put together by a group of strangers trying to get good ratings and good sound bytes. They chose from an abundance of footage, hours and hours of footage. They chose to craft a story together that they chose to craft, and they chose to present us all in the way that they presented us. It’s not the whole or the truth of who we are. I just have to remember that; it didn’t feel good to hear the things that people said about me or the stories that were concocted, but I know myself. I know that I am a good person and I know that I come from a place of love and always with good intentions. I can’t control what people’s options or perspectives of me are. but I know that they are not talking about me. The same way that I know that all of those people who bullied and harassed me when I was a kid and made up all of these atrocious stories and rumors about me, they aren’t talking about me. Because it wasn’t me.
MC: So much of what you say is monumentally profound. Your podcast Conversations With Others has countless hours of knowledge and conversations with truly revolutionary people, thinkers and visionaries. Do you feel a responsibility to the community to one one of those people who is going to exalt some of the knowledge that you have onto others?
JBC: You know, I really just do it for myself, I really do. In saying everything that I say in the conversations that I have on my podcast Conversations With Others, it is all a reminder to focus on what is real and important. The show really started when I did an episode of RuPaul and Michelle Visage’s podcast What’s The Tea? After a two hour conversation, the producer pulled me aside and offered me my own show carte blanche. He said that “the conversations that you just had, these are the types of conversations that need to be had. These are important and impactful, and conversations people can relate to. they aren’t the superficial fluff and bullshit in Hollywood.” I was so aware after being an actor for so many years and being interviewed and asked the same bubble gum questions again and again how boring that was. And that I wasn’t really doing any good; how am I being impactful by sharing what my smoothie ingredient list was? I found no depth in it. I knew that the questions I wanted to ask and the conversations that I was always having with my friends around me which are already very deep and impactful in some capacity. I didn’t feel a responsibility, I almost feel like it is therapy for me to bring forth all the the lessons that I have learned and in doing so, remind myself of what is most important.
MC: When do you feel the most authentically yourself in your life?
JBC: It may be hard for people to believe, but I am incredibly introverted. I really thrive on spending time by myself. In the evenings, sitting in my back garden starting at the night sky. Being with myself, as corny as that may sound.
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