Simon vs. Simon


By Derek de Koff

Loosely based on Simon Doonan's 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 it's like watching actors portray you, why a co-conspirator is a gay man's 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, it's sort of hilarious and magical, and not something that I ever could have anticipated. Very occasionally it's sad. There are one or two episodes where Simon gets punched in school and that's painful. In general, though, it's quite delightful.

How has your family reacted to the show?
My mom and dad aren't around anymore and my sister's 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. It's 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 there's 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 didn't want to be involved in the production. Jonathan Harvey and [director] Gareth Carrivick are geniuses. I haven't lived in England for over thirty years now, so I don't know if I would've 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 Logo's on such a roll, that's 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, they'll tell everyone to watch this and that. They're catalysts of communication.