'Queer as Folk' Revival Cast on Those Many Sex Scenes and Nods to Past Series (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
After two successful iterations, the groundbreaking LGBTQ drama Queer as Folk has been revived for a third time. Now streaming on Peacock, the latest U.S. version moves the drama from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to New Orleans, Louisiana, where it follows the many, diverse and overlapping lives of modern queer characters. This time, their stories pick up as they all are learning to love, laugh and hope again after a mass shooting at a local gay nightclub has upended their lives.
As the cast, which includes Johnny Sibilly of Hacks, Special creator and star Ryan O’Connell, Big Sky breakout Jesse James Keitel, as well as creator Stephen Dunn tell ET, this sexy yet serious series very much stands on its own while also paying nods to the previous installments of the franchise originally created by Russell T. Davies.
When it comes to the previous two versions, the first of which premiered in 1999 in the U.K. followed by Showtime’s American adaptation in 2000, Dunn says it was the first time he saw himself onscreen. “It changed my life,” he says. And now, in the 17 years since the U.S. series ended its run after five seasons, “the term queer itself has changed and evolved so much since then,” he continues, explaining that “with everything going on in the world, queer storytelling feels more urgent, more necessary than ever.”
There’s a real need, Dunn says, to “show real, authentic, empowered queer people onscreen.” And that’s definitely what this revival does.
For CG, who plays Shar, a non-binary professor who has just given birth to twins with their partner, Ruthie (Keitel), a transgender, semi-reformed party girl struggling with the responsibilities of parenthood, they felt the character’s description was spot on. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is probably one of the closest characters that I have been offered to myself. And it would allow for less acting and more just being,’” they explain. “So, just our similarities is what really drew me in.”
Echoing that sentiment, Keitel says she immediately fell in love with Ruthie. “Right from the get-go, reading her character description, I was like, ‘OK, this is literally me,’” she recalls, adding that the opportunity to play a queer character whose flaws and mistakes are not driven by her transness “was a very exciting prospect for me as an actor.”
What drew Devin Way to the character of Brodie, a charming commitment-phobe whose return home shakes things up for his ex-boyfriend and successful lawyer, Noah (Sibilly), as well as his adopted family, including his brother, Julian (O’Connell), a pop culture nerd with cerebral palsy ready to step out on his own, is that there was so much overlap with his own experiences. “It was really cool to get to, for the first time in my entire life, see a character who has so many of my own traits represented,” he says of not only being from the South but having been adopted in real life.
Julian, meanwhile, could easily be seen as an extension of O’Connell’s character on Special. But the actor, who also serves as a writer and co-executive producer on the series, points out that he’s “a little thornier.”
“Like, there was a little bit of arrested development,” he continues, referring to the fact that Julian wants to escape the overprotective nature of his mother, Brenda (Kim Cattrall). “But he’s also someone who really, clearly knew who he was and what he liked. And I just liked playing someone who was a little saltier and playing a character whose journey is letting those walls come down and become more open and soft.”
When it comes to Mingus, an overly confident high school senior and budding drag queen who falls for Brodie early on, “they’re at a place where they’re already self-assured and very confident in their queerness,” says Fin Argus, who notes that it’s rare to see a young, queer character like this who is not navigating a coming out narrative. If anything, they’re just trying to figure out a way to prove they’re mature enough to get Brodie to like them back.
“For me, it was really exciting to finally get to explore characters that are queer and unapologetically so,” Sibilly says. “So, I was, like, chomping at the bit when I read the script.”
Those Many Sex Scenes
As messy and dramatic as the show is at times, it’s also very sexy and intimate, continuing the tradition of bringing queer sexuality to the screen in ways not previously seen before on TV. “That’s part of the reason why the original versions of the show were so groundbreaking,” Keitel says.
While the original version was noted for showing two men having sex face-to-face, the Peacock series is less concerned about new positions and more interested in showcasing all body types. “Now, we got to do in 2022 with people with different types of disabilities, people of different trans statuses,” Keitel says, noting that this is a “representation of queerness that is still missing in television and film.”
When it comes to a relationship like Shar and Ruthie’s and also seeing them in bed together, that’s something “seldom seen on TV,” Keitel says, explaining that “being a trans woman and being nude on TV was definitely not in my 2022 Bingo. But if normalizing queer bodies and trans bodies is the only legacy of this version of Queer as Folk, I think we will have succeeded in something really special.”
Argus, meanwhile, says, “It was very fun to play a character where I’m, like, kissing a guy. Like, that was crazy.”
“That rocked my world because I’ve never played a queer character before,” they continue. “But I love seeing this type of representation onscreen. It humanizes queer people and queer sex is a beautiful thing. And it’s hot and it’s fun.”
For Sibilly, “it’s super important for queer people to be able to show up in media as they are,” he says, calling out shows like Game of Thrones or “any cis, heterosexual show on TV” that has sex in it. “We should be able to be just as sexy because we are just as sexy.”
Not only that, but the actor felt empowered by the conversations they were able to have on set about how queer people would have sex in real life. “It’s also fun to be able to show up as we do in life and have the conversations with directors, like, ‘Oh, would we have sex like this? What would you do? Would you pick me up here?’” he continues.
Jumping in, Way jokes that there was no question about what Sibilly wanted to do in certain scenes. “He said, ‘Pick me up here. Turn me around.’ This man took all the control,” he quips before adding that “it helped to have people like Johnny [because] Johnny knows exactly what he wants.”
That said, there were intimacy coordinators and other people on set who helped facilitate those conversations in a way that made everyone feel safe and comfortable -- because, this being Queer as Folk, there is no shortage of sex scenes between various characters. “I feel like the communication and the atmosphere that the show created for us to be able to tell these stories was just as important as the stories being told,” Way says.
Nods to Past Series
While the sex is certainly an important part of all three series, fans of the first two shows will be rewarded with certain homages and references to what came before. “There’s a lot of overlap,” Argus says, referring to some of the similar character archetypes, like the relationship between Brodie and Mingus being a modern parallel to Brian (Gale Harold) and Justin (Randy Harrison) before them or Noah’s struggle with drug use later in the season.
“There’s definitely a lot of little Easter eggs to the original,” Keitel adds, hinting that one will leave fans screaming.
Yet, anyone looking for cameos from the likes of Harold or Charlie Hunnam, who played Nathan in the U.K. version, will be disappointed. But O’Connell says, “I would tell them to chill the f**k out.” Because at the end of the day, the Peacock series is more “of a spiritual sister,” Argus says. “It’s a modern take on what Queer as Folk was in 1999. Like, this is a reflection of where we’re at in modern queer society.”
“What we’re doing is reimagining it with new characters, with new storylines, with new queer dialogue that deserves to be told in this time at this space,” Sibilly adds.
“I think fans of the original loved it for their own reasons, and I think they will tune into this and it might feel like a little bit of a different show, but they’re going to love it just the same,” Keitel says. “And for anyone who ever found themselves in the original versions of the show, I hope they can find themselves again here.”
That said, Argus extends “an invitation, if you will, to learn more about queerness in general.”
“For the people who can relate to these characters, it’ll be their first time seeing characters like that onscreen for a lot of people,” they say. “So, not only is it going to be fun for those people to see themselves, but all these other people are allowed to come in and learn.”
And for Dunn, who previously stressed the importance of telling these stories, especially right now, he hopes that this Queer as Folk will continue the legacy established before it and have an “indelible impact on society.”
Without the original, he says, not only would we not have this modern revival, but audiences wouldn’t have any of the other, expansive LGBTQ series that made its way to TV in the decades since. “The impact that it’s had on society is unforgettable,” Dunn says, hopeful that the new installment will “break new ground for new characters and shake things up and change the landscape of what queer characters are now able to do as they take the driver’s seat in stories from now on.”
Queer as Folk is available to stream in full starting June 9 on Peacock.