EXCLUSIVE: 'UnREAL' Star Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman on the Manipulative World of Reality TV and the Fate of 'Everl
By Stacy Lambe
Photo: Getty Images
In the world of UnREAL,
Lifetime’s hit drama about the making of a dating reality competition, it’s
hard to imagine any of it is based in reality. But co-creator Sarah Gertrude
Shapiro drew inspiration from her own experiences as a producer on ABC’s The Bachelor, and season two addressed real-life
issues such as Black Lives Matter and police violence head on.
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman plays Jay, one of the producers on Everlasting (UnREAL’s show within the show inspired by The Bachelor) navigating the pressures and demands of backstabbing
producers -- Quinn (Constance Zimmer), Rachel (Shiri Appleby) and Chet (Craig
Bierko) -- and the show’s first black suitor (Darius, played by B.J. Britt).
Season two sees his character pushed to the edge as he tries to find the
balance in making history while changing the narrative for people of color on
ET: Obviously race was at the forefront this season. How do you think the show did in handling it? Jeffrey
Bowyer-Chapman: I don't think there's any right or wrong when it comes to
handling such a sensitive subject as racial dynamics in America. The show took
on a very heavy subject matter and explored it in a very brutally honest and
truthful way. A lot of the subject matter that we covered was very
uncomfortable, but it was necessary if we're going to deliver an accurate
portrayal of what it is to be a person of color on a daily basis in the United
States of America.
The show also tackled the Black Lives Matter movement and police violence. Were you surprised that a show about the making of a reality show would address such real issues?
I wasn't surprised. I feel like that's the very nature of
the show, that we explore issues that are sometimes considered taboo. It was
something we, as cast members, were very much aware of coming into this season.
We knew we would be having our first black suitor on Everlasting and exploring the issues that come along with that,
shining a spotlight into the dark corners of reality television and commenting
on the fact that there has yet to be a black suitor or bachelor on any dating
reality TV show. We had a very open dialogue with the writers of the show, the
producers and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro. I knew that we would be delving into the
story line of Black Lives Matter with the character Ruby [Denée Benton]. I knew
that Jay would be constantly challenged, struggling between staying true to his
morals while appeasing his contestants, trying to climb the ranks of the
corporate ladder and please Quinn. At the end of the day, Quinn is a hard
person to please.
MORE: 8 Things I Learned a Non-Actress Learned While Guest-Starring on Lifetime's 'UnREAL'
Do you worry at all about your show -- or other shows -- showing police violence on TV? Does that perpetuate the issue?
I didn't worry about it and I don't think it perpetuates it
by any means. It's an unfortunate reality, which is occurring in America at
this time. UnREAL is commenting on
the insanity of it all. I don't think the writers presented the story line in a
way they claimed that one side was right or wrong. I feel like if we were going
to tackle the massive subject matter of issues that people of color face in
America on a daily basis, it would have been a shame to skim over that story line.
The timing of it all was quite curious. That episode [207, "Ambush"]
was written probably eight months ago, and we filmed it three months ago. It's
just the timing of the airing of the show. Lining up with the unfortunate
occurrences of several instances of police brutality was a direct reflection of
what was happening in the world at that moment. It's not an easy thing to talk about;
it's not an easy thing to look at or to digest. But the reality is, if we don't
explore these issues in a truthful way, these unfortunate things are going to continue
to happen again and again. I feel like, if anything, us putting the story
forward probably is going to help change the narrative a little bit, help
people change their perspective and the cycle of insanity.
There were a lot of twists and turns this season. Which one shocked you the most?
There's so much subject matter that was covered in the
season! From Jay's perspective, I think him becoming the new No. 2, the new
Rachel, was a big surprise I didn't see coming. Jay doesn't have any allies in
the world of Everlasting. Quinn has
always chosen Rachel as her favorite and just recently accepted the fact that
Madison is there and helping her to rise in the ranks as well. Jay doesn't have
Quinn looking out for him or Chet looking out for him in the way that he does
with Jeremy [Josh Kelly]. Ruby was getting kicked off -- that was a big
surprise to me. Watching Darius make that choice was pretty heartbreaking. And
Quinn falling in love with John Booth [Ioan Gruffudd]. That was a total
surprise to see her fall so insanely in love in such a short period of time and
to watch Constance play Quinn from a vulnerable place. That was interesting and
Jay is a very put-upon person, especially by his co-workers and his boss. Are you surprised by how much he's willing to stomach?
This is something I've had a discussion with Sarah Gertrude
Shapiro about numerous times. Just kind of questioning, if Jay sees all these
horrible and radical inequalities occurring on a daily basis, why does he sit
back and accept it? Why does he remain in the world of Everlasting? And we've come to the conclusion that Jay is in a
similar position that Sarah found herself in when she was working as a producer
on The Bachelor for nine seasons. She
signed a very blanket contract with a reality production company, and she found
herself working on one show and was manipulated and pulled into the world of The Bachelor with really no way out. She
signed away all of her rights and her soul and it was very difficult to get out
of. She was there and forced to do all of these things for the sake of her job
and the sake of a paycheck. I feel like that's really the only way I can justify
why Jay is there. He doesn't really have a choice in the matter.
Some of the things Quinn says to him or calls him are pretty ridiculous. What’s it like working with Constance Zimmer in those scenes?
Constance is one of my best friends in real life. We have
such a beautiful relationship -- one that is the polar opposite of what Jay and
Quinn have. So, it can be kind of challenging at times, to get through scenes
like that where we don't burst into hysterics. Constance is just so good at her
job. When she steps into hair and makeup and wardrobe, she really does become
Quinn. Once we are in character and on set, we have to let our real lives take
a backseat. It's always real fun to do those control room scenes. A lot of what
Quinn says in those scenes is improv-ed. It's endlessly entertaining because
you don't know what's going to come out of her mouth next.
Do you have a favorite Quinn zinger?
Oh, so many. From the last episode [209,
"Espionage"], in the control room when she says to Coleman [Michael
Rady], "Hot Rachel just sh*t her pants on national TV. Boom, drop the
mic." "Boom, drop the mic" was an improv from Constance. She had
just been at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner a few months before and she
had seen Barack Obama do the same thing when he finished his speech. So it was
a shout-out to him.
Every character on this show has his or her own agenda. Ultimately, what do you think Jay's agenda is?
As much as he's trying to protect himself as he tries to
break through the glass ceiling people of color exist under in the world of
reality television, he is also, in his heart's core, wanting to [make] impactful
television and change the narrative that's been so damaging for so many years
around the people of color or LGBTQ-identifying people. It is a constant
struggle because he has everyone around him telling him to do the opposite of
what he wants to do in his gut.
What will the finale mean for the fate of Everlasting? Where does the show go from there?
I don't know what it means for the future of Everlasting because I don't have the
scripts for season three. I truly have no idea where the writers plan on going.
We as producers on the show -- Quinn, Rachel, Chet and Jay -- are producers in
a reality production company, so we have the potential to go anywhere and do
anything really. We don't have to stay in the dating competition show. We're
not married to the world of Everlasting.
The season finale is one of my favorite episodes for sure.
What do you want for Jay in season three?
I want Jay to continue to stay true to himself, to battle
the inequalities that he sees occurring on a daily basis around him, to help
uplift the contestants and to change the narrative that has been told in the
world of reality television for so long. It's a constant daily struggle for Jay
not to sell his soul to the highest bidder when he's surrounded by such
What about a romance for Jay?
It's a definite possibility and one that's very important
that we explore. It was something that we had discussed with the writers for
this season. Going into the season, we were thinking Jay would have a love
interest. But as time went on, we felt like it was too soon and the character
we were looking at for Jay to potentially have a love story with, it just
didn't quite make sense. There's such power and incredible importance in the
gift that the writers have given me in playing an openly gay character on a
television series. It's really important to not desexualize gay characters in
television and film in order to make them more palatable for a mainstream
audience. The writers are very much aware of that. It's important and necessary,
and we'll get there when the time is right.
The UnREAL season two finale airs Monday, Aug. 8 at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime.