“UnREAL” actor gets real

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Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman photo by Russ Lamoureux
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman photo by Russ Lamoureux
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman on coming out

Model, actor and philanthropist, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman was named one of Canada’s top rising stars by the Hollywood Reporter in 2016. Today he plays Jay, a producer in the Lifetime Emmy nominated series UnREAL, which is now in its third season. He is very busy in his acting career and philanthropic work, but Jeffrey took some time out to give us an insight into his life.

Jeffrey knew he was gay at 3 years old. “I came out to my best friend when I was 12 or 13 years old.” He said. “It was always something I accepted and embraced, but the world around me did not. That was what made it difficult for me to come out. I knew that not only was there nothing wrong with me and that I was full of love, yet the world was sending messages all around that I would be punished and shamed for something that was perfectly natural and far beyond my control.

Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman photo by Leonardo Corredor
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman photo by Leonardo Corredor

“When I told my best friend that I was gay, she said, ‘I know’ gave me a hug, and told me she loved me. I was lucky… not all kids have that experience.”

Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman character on UnREAL 

On the series UnREAL, Jeffrey’s character Jay was originally written as a straight man. Jeffrey said he went out to LA to audition for UnREAL. “Jay was written as a straight, womanizing, hustler and when I booked the role and shot the pilot in Atlanta, the creators and producers had only ever seen me as the character. Through spending time with them on set between scenes, they came to know me as me, and we all got very close very fast.

“When the show was picked up for a series, Marti Noxon, co-creator of UnREAL, called me to say there was going to be some recasting and rewriting, and that they wanted to write Jay after me, including making him an openly gay man. It was a dream come true!”

He said there are some similarities and differences between himself and his character Jay. “We’re definitely both very ambitious. Jay has been deemed the moral compass of the show, and navigating my life from a heart centered place is the only way I know how to live this life, but he is far more cutthroat and bitchy than I am.”

Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman

In 2016, Jeffrey starred in Dirty Grandpa with Robert DeNiro and Zac Efron. “I grew in so many ways over the 3 months of filming that movie.” He said. “That experience reaffirmed to me what I already knew. We’re all only human and legends only become legends by getting back up every time they fall.”

Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman on Drag Race

Besides his films and Lifetime series, Jeffrey played a judge in a Bachelor parody on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars this February. Now living between New York and LA, he said he sees drag performers as viable entertainers. “It’s such a dream come true to be a part of the Drag Race Family! I return this season for All Stars 3 to do a parody of ‘The Bachelor’ playing The Bitchelor. I get to bring my UnREAL co-star and real life bestie, Constance Zimmer along with me to join Ru and Michelle up on the judges’ panel!”

“Drag has not only exploded into the mainstream as of late, but the queens are setting a new standard of talent for rest of us to aspire to! The level of dedication, commitment, artistry and talent that goes into what the queens do is extraordinary. It should make us all reevaluate what we’ve allowed our culture to get away with, in terms of social media celebrity where an entire generation is praised for resting on ‘pretty’. These queens are here to show us how it’s done!”

Next year, he is launching a podcast with the producer of RuPaul’s current podcast What’s the Tee. It will be called JBC Presents: Conversations with Others. He wants the audience to take away some deep conversations from his podcast.

“The greatest lessons I’ve learned in life have come from experiences and deep conversations with my closest friends.” He said. “When you find your tribe and have a person or group of people around you who act as reflections of yourself, that is a priceless gift and opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate your strengths, and also to nourish the parts of you which may be wounded and need healing. I get to have conversations with some of the most inspiring and influential public figures of our lifetime that exist outside of the status quo and fall under the category of ‘Other’. I celebrate them, as they courageous and authentically share their stories with the world.”

Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman started as a model

Before his acting career, Jeffrey started modeling at the age of 16. “A childhood friend of mine had signed to an agency about a year before,” he said. “And when they came home for the summer from a trip to Milan they set up a meeting and test-shoot for me with their agents. I didn’t start acting until I was 21. I was sitting at a restaurant in downtown Vancouver and a director approached me asking if I’d read for his new film. I auditioned the next day and booked the part. I continued to model throughout my twenties to pay the bills, until the acting jobs became steady.”

With all the recent sexual harassment issues coming to light, Jeffrey talked frankly about his experience as a male model. “The very nature of modeling is objectification, so I certainly encountered situations at different times where behavior was inappropriate and I felt uncomfortable being sexualized,” he said. “Models really aren’t protected in many ways. There’s no Models’ Union. So many of them are teenage kids with no supervision from parents or agents while in the studio or on location; with a team of adult strangers, or sometimes it’s just you and the photographer. Sexual harassment is so deeply ingrained in our culture, and unfortunately runs through the veins of all industries, not just in entertainment and fashion. We must find a way to heal the wounds as opposed to just treating the symptoms.”

Jeffrey is passionate about his role in the LGBT community. He is a guest speaker for the Human Rights campaign and he has created a scholarship program for LGBT actors of color, called the Bramon Garcia Braun scholarship. The scholarship grants an actor an eight-week class at the Bramon Garcia Braun acting studio in Los Angeles.

It is an opportunity for “LGTBQ actors of color with a fierce desire to explore and express what is unique about them through their acting,” he stressed. “And the leadership and generosity to use their talent to change the industry’s often limited perception of humanity. The LGBTQ community knows we are just as valuable, and have interesting stories to tell, stories that need to be told. It’s a matter of standing together and using our voices to let little boys and girls know that they are not alone.”

Today he says his life is like a dream, “My life is exactly as I’d hoped it would be, and will continue as so, because life is but a dream, and I am but a dreamer.” Jeffrey is most certainly helping to give others an opportunity to also live their dreams.