Bobby Berk is a hugger. This surprised me when I met him—I thought of Berk as the most reserved of the new Queer Eye guys. Then again, being the “most reserved” member of a cast that includes Jonathan Van Ness is a little like being the shortest giant.
But Berk is not reserved. The Texas-born, Missouri-bred interior designer, who has his own line of furniture and accessories, , is open, effusive, and as dishy and funny as his four teammates on the Netflix makeover show, a reboot of the beloved early aughts hit, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I realized while talking to Berk that he hadn’t been holding back during the eight episodes of season one—he’d been busy. The other guys get their subject a haircut or take him to the gym or help him make an avocado toast; Berk renovates an entire house in four days, which means he can’t join for department-store field trips or dance lessons.
The 36-year-old is aware that his on-screen presence wasn’t as robust as his fellow cast mates. When I asked him the biggest challenge he faced in season one, his quick answer, delivered with laugh, was “Making sure I’m actually on the show.”
I sat down with Berk to find out how he pulled off season one’s incredible transformations, what’s in store for season 2, and what really happened that time the guys got pulled over by the police.
Do you actually do all that renovation and redecorating work in just a week?
I see the space in advance. I need the measurements, I need to pull up the carpet and see what’s there—I have to have a plan. I would usually get the house at 4 or 5 p.m. on Tuesday and we had to have it done on Friday at 9 a.m. And I also started in Atlanta a full-month ahead of filming. The loft that we were in, I found that. That brick on the wall was paper, 3D pressed paper. The walls were brick but it was ugly orange brick. The landlord said you can’t paint it, but what was there would have clashed with everything. I cringe because you can see the seams in certain scenes.
I think anyone who’s ever done a renovation will marvel at the fact that you actually do the work in a matter of days.
Well we were really lucky in Atlanta. We found a contracting company that had TV experience. The contractor is amazing—she has perfect nails at all times. And she understood the way TV design works. And I had furniture connections so I could call in favors and have things pulled from stores. But we have to be strategic abut what we do. We can put in new flooring, but I can’t redo old floors. That has to sit for a day, which is too long.
And what really was your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is honestly just time. We’re working on three to four episodes simultaneously, so we have to balance that.
I really tried to make sure that I found things out about the guys before I made any plans. I would get a one sheet about them in advance, but that usually wasn’t that helpful. For seven out of eight of them, when I asked what’s your favorite home store, they would say Walmart. The hardest part of my job is making sure the space is right for the person. I want to make sure they don’t hate it when I leave.
It’s like a little Hollywood there. More filming happens there than California. For us, if we went to New York City, it would be like the old show. We’d just be making over a series of tiny apartments. We wanted to do something more this time around, to offer some healing, something that would make you feel good. We wanted to be an antidote to all the bad news, the fact that you turn on the TV and want to cry. We make you cry but for a different reason.
Yeah, a lot has been written about all the crying. And the fact that you guys are unafraid to have some really big conversations with the subjects on your show.
We wanted to work with people who would never interact with people like us. And that we don’t usually interact with. Like someone who lives in a house with a Trump sign out front. That episode ended up being on of our favorites because we felt like it really led to some healing.
That’s the one that started with the police pulling you over.
Yeah, I was the only one who knew that was going to happen. I had been at the house earlier and seen the police car and was part of the conversation with producers about having the police pull us over. But I was supposed to be driving—and then Karamo fought me for the keys that day. He really wanted to drive and it was his turn. I finally gave in.
That was a tough scene to watch. Karamo seemed genuinely upset and I think viewers were upset for him, that he’d been put in that position.
Yeah, that night he was not very happy, with good reason. And we talked about editing it out, but because of the conversation it created, Karamo was the one who fought for that scene to stay in. Scenes that happened after wouldn’t have made sense and he felt they were really important.
Were you a fan of the original Queer Eye?
Oh I definitely was. I remember watching the first episode, sitting in my friend’s apartment in New York. It was groundbreaking. Here were five guys who had no shame, who were proud of who they were. It was a big time for the “it gets better” movement, and these five guys had great careers and were happy.
How are you guys different?
Well, we’re much more open about who we are. The first time around they were hairdressers and cooks and designers, but they couldn’t have husbands or children. The world was OK if five gay guys stayed in their lane. Now that’s different. Karamo is a father of two and we all talk about our personal lives. They weren’t allowed to talk about who they were.
And why drop “For the Straight Guy” from the title?
One of the first things we said was how was how pompous of us to assume we know more than you do just because we’re gay. Straight guys are way more on point than they were in 2003. Metrosexual became a whole thing and we don’t want to label people that way. That’s just self care. This time around we’re working with all different kinds of people—you’ll see that a lot more in season two. And we’re just five guys who are experts in the fields that we’re in. I’m an interior designer who happens to be gay.