Shortly after Netflix premiered Queer Eye, its reboot of early aughts makeover series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, it was instantly apparent that Jonathan Van Ness—one of five gay men tasked with making over the shows subjects—was a star. With his Jesus-like tresses and almost criminally jolly nature, the shows resident grooming expert quickly became a fan favorite. He can find the beauty in anybody; his every utterance seems made for meme-ing (“Can you believe?”). And as a bonus, he actually knows his stuff. While his castmate Antoni Porowski, the shows food guru, has been playfully criticized for his simplistic recipes, Van Ness really does give great grooming advice.
While newfound stardom has upended Van Nesss regular life, it also comes with perks—like getting Instagram D.M.s on Easter Sunday from Justin Theroux.
“I was with Antoni cause we were doing a little photo shoot for my podcast, and the Holy Spirit, or Mother Nature—whatever you wanna call her—was like, Girl, check your D.M.s!” Van Ness said in a typically colorful phone interview. “Who was at the very top of my D.M.s? Gorgeous Justin Theroux. And he was like, Love your show, love you, youre super-fun.”
The Queer Eye pair headed over to meet Theroux, who was having a “cute little brunch moment” with some New York-based friends, Van Ness continued. In the Theroux mix was Oscar winner Emma Stone—a big fan of Queer Eye, according to Van Ness. It speaks to both the success of the show and its sheer reach that Van Ness is courting unsolicited D.M.s from the kinds of celebrities tabloids fixate on. In other words: in the two short months since its launch, the explosive success of Queer Eye has deposited Van Ness and his castmates into a new cultural stratum.
“I have like a vulnerability hangover,” the expert groomer said. “I didnt want to be a star-struck weirdo, cause I always appreciate it when people treat me normal. But then I was too normal and did what I always do, which is talked a lot.”
As fans of the show well know, Van Nesss chattiness is part of his charm. But when it comes to sharing details of the upcoming second season, hes tight-lipped. “My middle name is No Spoilers!” he said, though he promises that the next eight episodes of Queer Eye will bring something different from the first batch. Season 1 mostly revolved around the Fab Five giving makeovers to straight men, just like the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. But since the Netflix series lopped off the “for the Straight Guy” label, many are hoping it will branch out and find a more inclusive clientele.
Another thing Van Ness couldnt say much about? Tom Jacksons upcoming wedding to Abby, his former wife and longtime sweetheart. The Southern grandpa was the first client on Queer Eye, who stole viewers hearts with his romantic longing for his ex. After the show wrapped, Jackson kept fans enthralled by sharing updates about their relationship on Twitter, announcing in mid-March that not only had he and Abby reunited, but they were getting married. Van Ness, unfortunately, might have a prior commitment: “I think my dad and him are getting married on the same day, so I think Im gonna be at my dads wedding,” he said. “Hey, is it his third? Yes, but theyre all important. But I would love to be at Tom and Abbys wedding. Hes such a cute man, and I really wish them all the cutest and bestest.”
Though its a joy to watch the new Fab Five bond with their clients, Queer Eyes greatest strength may be the quintets own closeness. While filming the show in Georgia, the group spent plenty of downtime together—lots of “Drag Race and chill,” Van Ness said. And yes: Porowski, the castmate with whom Van Ness is closest, also cooked for the group, and it was, he said, “really glorious.” While the guys sometimes poke fun at each other about the memes the show has birthed—Karamo Browns obsession with bomber jackets, conspiracy theories about Porowskis culinary skills—the group is also acclimating to TV stardom.
Van Ness did have some exposure to the entertainment industry prior to the shows release. Early in his career as a hair-salon assistant, he was regularly exposed to celebrity clientele—which might have been glamorous, if the salon had not been “super-duper abusive” to its employees, he said.
“Im just waiting for the first #MeToo moment to happen from a salon, because the culture of how assistants are treated, especially in salons in L.A. and New York, is, like, truly unbelievable,” he said. “Youre expected to clock out for lunch and never get paid. Youre expected to be there an hour early, stay two hours late. Like, youre not allowed to say no. And for someone who came from a really small town and was really, really bullied, that can be really difficult, especially for an artist to hear. I always feel like Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada. It was definitely like a year and a half where, like, there wasnt one day where I didnt have to excuse myself to the back alley and cry.”
Van Ness then described a particularly bad day in 2010: “This one time, this man who works at that salon—he no longer works there; he works at a different salon now—he asked me to blow-dry the back of a clients hair straight so he could cut it. I used a boar bristle round brush instead of a metal round brush. So he literally threw the round brush at me, and said he—and Im quoting here—hopes I die of AIDS, in front of like five people that work at the salon. Nothing was ever said. Nothing was ever done. Thats par for the course.”
The grooming expert, who has owned his own studio for four years now, said that he strives to shred any trace of Devil Wears Prada energy from his business. “In service industries, we can be so people-pleaser-y that you dont know how to set your own boundaries. As I get older, the more Im like, No—you have to set a boundary,” he said.
He still has yet to find the right boundary with fans who come up to him on the street to ask for photos or grooming advice, occasionally leaning on those people-pleaser-y tendencies. “A lot of people would ask me, Are you ready for your life to change?” he recalled. “I dont think I was all the way ready for it.” But hes figuring it out, one fan selfie at a time. By the time Season 2 rolls around, he might be an expert.
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Yohana DestaYohana Desta is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com.