Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, the cutie you may recognize from Lifetime’s Unreal or the judging panel on the first season of Canada’s Drag Race, has traded the frosty winters of the Great North for sunny Hawaiian beaches.
Bowyer-Chapman is a series regular on the new Disney+ series Doogie Kamealoha, M.D., a reboot of the classic dramedy Doogie Howser, M.D., starring Neil Patrick Harris. In this 21st-century update, Lahela “Doogie” Kamealoha (Peyton Elizabeth Lee), is a 16-year-old prodigy juggling a budding medical career and life as a teenager. Bowyer-Chapman plays Charles, one of her hospital colleagues and friends.
The former Canada’s Drag Race judge spoke with Logo about playing an out gay doctor on a Disney+ series, if he hit up any Honolulu gay bars while filming in Hawaii, and if there are any plans for him to return to the RuPaul’s Drag Race mainstage.
Hi Jeffrey! I’m excited to talk to you. So, I thought Doogie Kamealoha was so cute. First off, what’s your history with the original Doogie Howser? Did you watch it growing up?
It was such a staple in my house when I was growing up. Doogie Howser was on heavy rotation in our house. Obviously, at the time I had no idea that Neil Patrick Harris was queer, but there was always something about him that I really connected to and resonated with. I loved it as a kid.
In the few episodes I’ve seen, Charles seems like a fun character, but you don’t get to know too much about him just yet. So, can you tell me about Charles and what’s in store for him?
Sure, yeah. He’s such a fun character to play. So, Dr. Charles Seller, M.D. is a Midwest transplant. He’s from Chicago as we’ll come to discover. He is fresh out of medical school and is doing his residence in Oahu. I think it’s the first time that he’s left the mainland. I think he had a very protective upbringing. And him being out on his own in the world for the first time so far from everyone and everything that he knows, I think it’s an opportunity for him to discover new sides of himself. He is so fun and so quirky and so optimistic and naive in the best of ways. He’s really smart when it comes to medical jargon. He’s very, very book smart, but I think that he’s very wide-eyed and very naive in the ways of the world in many respects. He is one of Doogie’s best friends in the hospital. He has a tremendous amount of respect for this little 16-year-old genius and her mother who is his boss, who he really looks up to. But he also gets to serve as a shoulder to Doogie throughout the course of the season, and offer his wisdom and guidance and support and love to her. I think that something that’s so special about this show and was really special about Unreal, the last show that I was on as a regular, is that it really is about female empowerment. That’s something that I connected with immediately. Women have always been the most important figures in my life, whether it’s my mother and my sisters or my agents and my best friends. I love nothing more than being part of a project that celebrates and puts the female narrative in the spotlight in the way that Doogie does.
Yeah, the show definitely passes the Bechdel test.
For sure. Thank goodness.
You mentioned medical jargon. Do you have scenes where you have to spout out some medical terms?
I do. We all did. I thought that I was going to be going under some crazy medical school bootcamp prior to it, but because of COVID and restrictions that wasn’t the case. We just had a doctor who would be there for us every day on set joining the hospital medical scene that would help us with pronunciation and just certain technicalities, like how to hold certain medical instruments and scalpels and such. It was very much on-the-job training.
Does Charles have any love interests over the season or any personal storylines outside of the hospital?
You’re just going to have to wait and see. I think it was something that Disney and Kourtney Kang, the showrunner and creator of the show, was very much aware of — that in 2021, it’s important to show three-dimensional human beings and characters no matter where they may have come from, but specifically when it comes to marginalized individuals. And so, it was top of mind. Like I said, I can’t give away too much, but it’s not lost on me for a moment the blessing and the privilege of being a Black gay man playing an openly gay character on a Disney+ series. As a kid growing up, I had such a love for all things Disney and yet, I never had the opportunity or the privilege of seeing anyone like me, seeing reflections of myself on the screen being reflected back to me. So, just the very fact that I have the opportunity to be, for millions of young queer kids out there in the world, what I didn’t have the opportunity to see myself as a kid, it’s a huge win. I mean, from myself playing this character to Billy Porter playing the fairy godmother in Cinderella. I mean, we’re seeing more and more examples of Black queer representation in a really positive manner in children’s programming. But I think that that in itself is a win. And the fact that, hopefully, we will be able to dive into Charles’ personal life and romantic life is just going to be a cherry on top.
Yeah, it’s a big deal. How was it filming in Hawaii?
A dream come true.
It was so wonderful. I was there for about four and a half months, from January to June, so it was in the midst of COVID. When I left Los Angeles, I think the cases were over 40,000 a day. Then we got to Hawaii and the cases were less than a hundred a day, so there was a sense of normalcy that returned to all of our lives there that we didn’t take for granted for a second. Not only that, but the writers chose to veer away from COVID being a part of the storyline at all. Because we are a hospital-centered show, I think that if we had incorporated that at all, it would have been kind of all-encompassing. So we were living in this fantasy world where COVID didn’t exist. It was so wonderful, but being on the island of Oahu was paradise. It’s magical. Not only the weather and the beaches and the people but there’s a real reverence for the Indigenous people of the land, there’s a real reverence for the spirituality of Hawaii, there’s a real reverence for people of color in general that I rarely ever have experienced on the mainland. It was, truly so many of us can relate to, after a year or a year and a half of really challenging times, being in a place that was filled with such positivity and a real sense of community and respect for one another, it was a gift. It was a gift that, like I said, none of us took for granted for a second.
I interviewed Murray Bartlett for The White Lotus a few weeks ago, and he spoke about filming in Hawaii and how every day after shooting, they would go down to the beach and swim together. Did the cast do anything like that?
Well, so many of my cast members are so much younger than me so a lot of them were in school when we weren’t filming, so we could only spend so much time together. But there was a day where myself and my cast members, Mapuana Makia, Emma Meisel, and Matt Sato, all rented kayaks at Lanikai Beach and kayaked out to these two little remote islands called The Mokes. And the water was so rough that day that I got so seasick on the way kayaking that I was just like a beached whale when we got to the little remote islands. It was magical and so beautiful when we got there and we went hiking all through the island. The thing about Hawaii, which is so magical is that it’s so safe. You can like go hiking through the jungles and there are no snakes or leopards or tigers or anything that are going to come out and get you. There’s this real sense of freedom to explore and a real sense of safety. So, being on The Mokes is wonderful, but I found a way back, I got so seasick again that one of my cast member’s who I was sharing a kayak with had to drop me off halfway at one of the beaches, Lanikai, and I had to walk all the way back to our cars. I love looking at the water but put me on it and it’s a whole different story.
I’ve had some fun times in some Honolulu gay bars. Did you hit up any gay bars while you were there?
Everything was closed while we were there.
Prior to going, Brooke Lynn Hytes let me know that Scarlet is one of her favorite clubs on Oahu that she’s performed at before, but everything was closed for the most part while we were there, which was in some ways disappointing, obviously, because I didn’t get to dip my toes into LGBTQ scene on Oahu. But on the other side of things, it just explained why there were only 100 cases a day of COVID on all of islands of Hawaii, because they took it seriously. It wasn’t a joke. They really shut down all non-essential businesses. There was contact tracing in every building that you walked into and hand-sanitizing stations. They really nipped COVID in the bud and kind of cut out all the excess fat of everything that wasn’t truly an essential service. I’m hoping that in Season 2, we can go back and I’ll be able to dive into Scarlet and see some drag shows and really soak up the culture.
Speaking of Brooke Lynn, when I talked to you and Brooke Lynn and Stacey [Mackenzie] for Canada’s Drag Race, the three of you had such great chemistry. How are you feeling about not returning for the new season?
Well, I feel a lot of things. I love Brooke Lynn and I love Stacey so much. And I think that our connection and our chemistry is something that still exists to this day. I loved the show and I love the experience that I had on that show. I have such respect and love and admiration for all of the queens that took part in the first season of Canada’s Drag Race. it wasn’t an easy decision to make to walk away from Canada’s Drag Race. But at the end of the day, it truly just came down to timing and circumstances. The productions of Doogie Kamealoha overlapped with Canada’s Drag Race, and because of COVID restrictions, I couldn’t leave the island of Oahu and go back and forth to film. And there was a two-week quarantine in Canada, so I wasn’t able to make it in time. I think I just really had to keep going back to my original intentions as to why I became an actor in the first place. That said, I’m still very much a part of the Drag Race family and world. You haven’t seen the last of me. I love and have just the utmost respect for Ru and Michelle [Visage] and Ross [Mathews] and Carson [Kressley] and Todrick [Hall] and World of Wonder. I mean, it’s a dream come true for me to have been invited into that family and onto that panel as a judge, and you haven’t seen the last of me.
So maybe you could return to Canada’s Drag Race as a guest judge or something?
Well, that’s not in the plans as of now, but like I said, Ru and Michelle are very much my family, so I will always be making appearances in that world in some capacity.
I love the running gag on Drag Race of you and Ru in this like romance. What’s that like on set with Ru, when you’re doing Snatch Game of Love and carrying him off the stage?
Well, obviously it’s so much fun for us to be able to play up the humor of that. I mean, the truth of it is that I feel very, very blessed to have such a deep and real and authentic relationship and friendship with Ru. We have a very platonic relationship and that’s very much been our dynamic since the date of met. Our friendship was really solidified and based on that of telling the truth of our lived experiences and speaking of spirituality and mental health, and we very much just speak the same language. We know that we’re safe with each other. And because we know that we’re safe with each other and we don’t sexualize each other or judge each other, we know that we can find the fun, witty banter and play little scenes like that in a way that we’re both super comfortable in doing so. It’s always fun. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be carrying the original Supermodel of the World in their arms? I love Ru very, very much. And I think it’s just a fun dynamic that we’ve been playing and I’m glad that the audience responds to it. Our chemistry is real and it’s natural and it was totally immediate.
Well, Jeffrey, like I said, I really enjoyed the show. I’m excited to see where Charles goes throughout the rest of the season, and hopefully when Season 2 rolls around you can hit up those Honolulu gay bars.
You got it. Thanks so much, Chris.
Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. is streaming now on Disney+.