Loosely based on Simon Doonans memoir of the same name, Beautiful People became an instant hit the moment it began airing on BBC 2 in October 2008. Camp as a row of tents, the series stars Luke Ward-Wilkinson as a sprightly 13-year-old Doonan (Samuel Barnett plays Simon in the present-day scenes) and revolves around his coming of age, rabid obsession with fashion, and the travails of his utterly eccentric family. As the breezy gay ensemble comedy finally arrives stateside -- it will begin airing May 26th on Logo - we chatted with Doonan about what its like watching actors portray you, why a co-conspirator is a gay mans best friend, and his reasons behind not getting a sex change.
Out So, what's it like watching an actor play you?
Simon Doonan: Well, its sort of hilarious and magical, and not something that I ever could have anticipated. Very occasionally its sad. There are one or two episodes where Simon gets punched in school and thats painful. In general, though, its quite delightful.
How has your family reacted to the show?
My mom and dad arent around anymore and my sisters gay. She lives in Brighton. [Writer] Jonathan Harvey took a lot of her essential traits and gave them to Haley and essentially created a new sister. It would have been odd to have two gay siblings. It would become a gay show that would become unwieldy. Its a show that demonstrates what can happen when a kid is in a supportive environment. But the gayness is secondary. The show takes the gayness and puts it in its place, and theres plenty of other wacky shit in there, too. Being gay can be very defining -- but it can also be liberating, too.
Did the actors playing you meet you face to face and study your movements?
No. When I went to England to launch my book, they all came to my book party and it was so completely hilarious to meet both Simons and get to meet the entire cast. They all came and bought books and they were so, so sweet. We all went to dinner and had a gorgeous time. I didnt want to be involved in the production. Jonathan Harvey and [director] Gareth Carrivick are geniuses. I havent lived in England for over thirty years now, so I dont know if I wouldve been able to contribute anything. They use the book as a springboard, but the essential components are still there.
How has the response been since its UK premiere?
The whole experience is extremely surreal, but the minute it started airing, I started getting great emails from people. They would tell me the show was so validating, so life-affirming The show really has the potential to have a positive impact. I hate to sound like Mother Teresa, but it is a totally gay-positive comedy series. I think Logos on such a roll, thats a good starting place for the show but who knows where it could end up? Logo takes Beautiful People right to its core audience and the people in this community have big mouths. If you have a gay cousin or sister, theyll tell everyone to watch this and that. Theyre catalysts of communication.
What liberties were taken in turning the book into a comedy series?
One of the biggest differences between the book and the series is that they updated the show and cast it in the nineties. I think that was a smart decision because most of the action in the book takes place during the 50s and 60s. The show is going to resonate more with 90s iconography. Instead of Dusty Springfield, you get the Spice Girls. They wanted to play with more current cultural references.
Like the Simon character in the film, were you actually prone to critiquing your teacher's wardrobe choices...?
Yes. One of my earliest memories was being completely focused on style and enjoying that my mom was done up like Betty Grable. I remember one Christmas she gave me a blue and gray checkered scarf and said, Look what Santa bought you! and I said, I dont like it -- you can have it. Santas taste is a bit dodgy. Later that day, she went in to get all her teeth pulled out. She came back with that scarf around her head. When shed sneeze, her dentures would fly out. Post-war England was so dismal; I think they wisely shifted gears into the 90s
You were so lucky to have a gay best friend when you were young.
Well, I realized while writing the book that having a gay best friend is everything: its having a co-conspirator. If youre in a hostile environment, and you cant find a gay best friend you kind of need to move, right? If youve got a co-conspirator Even if its Ratzo Rizzo, a co-conspirator is what everybody in this world needs.
Are you going to make a cameo appearance?
Believe me, I would be there in a hot second but no ones asked. I think when they updated the show, I emailed them and said, If you want me to come over when you do the launch, I will. They said, Its entirely up to you. If I were cast in the show, people would assume I was the kids grandma.
Any upcoming projects?
Im actually working on a book, which is kind of a retail memoir, because Ive always lived in retail. Some English newspaper reporter said to me, I dont get it -- youre a writer but you still work in a store? I said, Listen, madam: maybe if Virginia Woolf had done a few hours at the Saks make-up counter, she wouldnt have killed herself. I realized how much being in retail has informed my sense of seeing the world; I have thirty-five years of anecdotes and gruesome embarrassments so Im playing around with a retail memoir, and my column for the New York Observer, and my boyfriend Jonathan Adler and I travel a lot. Im not having a sex change if thats what youre thinking. I wouldnt make a good girl -- my legs are too chunky.
What aspect of the series resonates with you most?
Well, its a bit of a Dorothy story. Many gay people think they have to find that intoxicating mirage of glamour on the horizon. That mesmerizes gay people -- and then, when you get there, you see that some of it is groovy and some of it is not. Its all about finding out who the beautiful people in your life actually are.
Beautiful People airs on Logo starting May 26. Check your local listings for times and channels.