Courtney Act’s groundbreaking new dating show is being praised by fans for representing the bisexual community.
The Aussie drag star - the alter ego of Shane Jenek - says she hopes The Bi Life, where a group of bisexual Britons go abroad to find love, changes people's perceptions of dating someone who's bisexual.
Courtney Act spoke exclusively to BT TV to answer our 7 Questions...
BT TV customers can watch the first episode of The Bi Life now on the BT Player. You can also watch E! on BT channel number 321/386 HD, one of the extra entertainment channels available for BT TV customers.
1. How did the show come about and how did you get on board?
I was talking to Monkey Kingdom, who produce the show, about some other stuff and they were like ‘Hey, we’ve got this show that we think you’d be perfect for on the E! Network. It’s called The Bi Life and it’s a bisexual dating show.
I was really excited because queer themes in the mainstream [media] are few and far to come by and I just thought it was so cool to have this show on the E! Network, the home of the Kardashians. This is as mainstream, as pop culture as it gets.
Then I was a little bit apprehensive because reality television and dating shows, look at Love Island and Ex On The Beach, [they are] maybe not the best representation of stuff. I think when you are a straight person on say Ex On The Beach, if you behave badly - and that’s subjective but I’m pretty sure people would agree that does happen - when that does happen, you don’t think ‘all straight people behave badly’, you just think ‘those straight people [on that TV show] behave badly’.
But when it’s a member of a minority, whether it’s race, sexuality, gender, ability… people tend to judge the actions of one as being representative of the entire community.
So putting this show about bisexual people on the E! Channel did come with fears, understandably, but then when I spoke to E! about my fears, and what I thought was important, they were also thinking the exact same thing.
We consulted with GLAAD who are the big gay and lesbian organisation and worked with them to make sure the messages were in line with how the bisexual community needs to be represented.
Honestly, it turned out so wonderfully. I’m proud of it. I don’t know, it was weird, because I hoped that’s how I would feel but I just didn’t know. But when it finished I was like ‘I’m really proud of this show’. It’s adorable more than anything. I’m so invested… it’s like Dawson’s Creek!
2. What made you decide to shoot in Barcelona instead of London? And did you film anywhere in the city that stands out in your mind?
Whilst I would say that this summer [in the UK] has been lovely weather to go on dates in, I don’t know whether London is known for its fantastic weather when you’re filming outdoors. It’s a bit bleak being under an umbrella in a park, it’s a bit awkward.
Also Barcelona is cool because it’s not London. All of these people live in the UK so we really want to take them away from the expectations of the world that they live in and the people that they know so that they can just be themselves in another place.
I know when I was 18, I moved from Brisbane to Sydney and I just didn’t feel like I could be myself where I grew up, with all the eyes watching me.
I mean not only were eyes watching them in Barcelona, it was being broadcast to millions of people around the world, so there is that… [but] you can throw off the shackles of your pre-existing identity and just be a more authentic version of yourself I think.
On the second day of filming we filmed at the Axel Hotel, which is a hetero-friendly hotel in Barcelona. We filmed on the rooftop there, and it was the first night that I was all dolled up and the cast were all there, and it was just cool to feel the vibe.
3. Were you involved in the casting at all? If not, what do you make of the line-up?
I didn’t get a choice in the casting. I met the cast and I loved the cast, but I wasn’t involved in the casting2. I saw little videos and a brief bio of each person first, and they’re a really lovely bunch. They’re all genuinely likeable and there’s a real camaraderie in all of them now in the wake of the show.
4. Is there a scene coming up that you’re most proud of in terms of challenging stereotypes?
There’s lots of great conversations. I’ve only seen the first episode so I don’t know what’s included but I know I had some great conversations with Ryan about his struggles of dating with women as a bi man, and how often women don’t understand, and therefore it kind of shuts down a lot of his opportunity for emotional connection with women.
A conversation I had with Irene about her attraction to cis and trans people I thought was great. There were so many great conversations. There’s a conversation with Michael which I’m really looking forward to.
Do you know what actually, just watching that first episode, I think some of the most exciting parts are bits that I wasn’t there for, it was when they were on the dates with people that maybe didn’t understand what bisexuality was… the guy that Daisy went on a date with, Adam, he was like "Oh yeah if you want to bring women in that’s fine by me" and she was like "Yeah that’s not what I’m talking about".
5. Were the general public deliberately not told their dates’ sexuality so you could get their authentic reactions?
Yeah, we wanted to get that authentic reaction [from the general public]. They knew obviously the gender of the person they were going on a date with.
It was interesting because there were some of those genuine reactions [from people] we got to see, like "Oh, OK, right..." and they had to sort of process that.
For the most part, people were pretty OK with it. I think for people who are bisexual, having fears about coming out to the people they are attracted to, hopefully the show will show that people are maybe more open-minded than we thought. If so, it will at least open some minds with this show.
6. We can’t talk about E! without talking about the Kardashians. What do you make of Caitlyn Jenner?
Caitlyn has really blown up the conversation about trans identities around the world. There was trans visibility beginning to occur. Laverne Cox was on the cover of Time magazine, that was a transgender tipping point, and then obviously Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair was such a big moment for trans identity.
I think it’s wonderful that so many conversations have been started. On I Am Cait [also on E!], she was on a bus journey with so many prolific trans women who I’ve looked up to and admired, I’d read a bunch of their books actually, and it’s cool that those other voices were brought into the story and the conversation. I think that there’s so much positivity from Caitlyn coming out.
7. You’ve won Celebrity Big Brother and now you’re hosting The Bi Life. What’s next for you, TV-wise?
I’ve just finished working on my variety Christmas special for Channel 4. It’s like old-school Sonny and Cher, musical numbers, dancers, costumes, the whole kit and kaboodle. It’s not just sitting on a couch chatting to people. It’s very exciting!
The Bi Life continues Thursdays at 9pm on E! (BT channel number 321/386 HD).
Images: E! / PA