When starting her engines, every queen deserves a king along for the ride.
The new Netflix series AJ and the Queen, co-created and executive-produced by RuPaul and Michael Patrick King, stars Ru as Robert/Ruby Red, a double-crossed drag queen traveling across America from club to club in a rundown RV with a 10-year-old stowaway. Josh Segarra puts those wheels in motion as Hector a.k.a. Damien, a hunky swindler who preys on older queens like Ruby.
Segarra, 33, has made pit stops on shows like Arrow, Sirens, and Orange Is the New Black. But as he tells NewNowNext, AJ and the Queen brings his own queer journey full circle.
How did AJ and the Queen come about for you?
I got a call and auditioned. It was as simple as that.
It’s probably not often you get an audition to play RuPaul’s boyfriend.
I know! I was excited. My manager sent me the script and I read it right away. The opening scene, with all the queens backstage after a show, had me laughing my ass off. Then the first scene with Hector/Damien is that very sweet, intimate scene in the restaurant, but you quickly find out that there’s a darker side to him. I knew that was something I wanted to sink my teeth into.
It’s such a pivotal role. I wondered if Ru had to approve you.
[Laughs] I don’t know, but I think maybe that’s how it went down. My callback was with Michael Patrick King, so I’m sure they had a conversation. I’m just so proud and honored that they let me be a part of this. I knew it was going to be special.
What was it like working with Ru?
It was incredible. It was great just getting to create these characters together, bouncing ideas off of each other. He brought 1000% every day, which was so admirable, and I really respect him for it. There’s a reason he’s an icon, you know? Right after I got the job, I was walking into a bar in Amsterdam—I was over there with a few buddies—and there was a 10-foot mural of Ru at the entrance. I was like, Wow, he’s worldwide!
Were you a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race?
I’d watched a couple seasons, yeah. I remember the first Drag Race episode I saw. My old roommate watched, and one day I walked in the apartment during a library scene, where they’re all getting read. Then they’re sewing, they’re lip syncing for their lives, and I remember asking my roommate, “How do you win this show?” He was like, “You have to be good at everything.” That’s when I fell in love with Drag Race.
So you knew some of the queens who made cameos in AJ and the Queen.
Yeah. Getting to hang out and laugh with some all-stars along the way was a very cool experience.
Now you’re definitely qualified to be a Drag Race guest judge.
Yes! Oh, I cannot wait until Ru lets me be a guest judge.
Have you ever done drag?
I haven’t, but I’m waiting for the right moment.
What would your drag name be?
Hmm. Well, I know Porkchop is taken, so maybe Beef Steak?
She sounds pretty.
Or Mofongo, because I’m Puerto Rican. I played Emilio Estefan on Broadway in On Your Feet!, so I feel like I may have a couple Gloria Estefan numbers up my sleeve, where I can get on my feet and shake my body.
Damien’s sexuality is never explicitly labeled in AJ and the Queen, but he doesn’t want people thinking he’s gay. What’s he going through?
He’s been putting on an act for so long, but now that he finally feels accepted and loved by somebody, he’s questioning things, wondering why he’s pushing that away. He reacts violently while trying to figure out his emotions, what he’s really feeling, how to communicate, and you see this battle going on inside him. I love playing a character that you can’t quite figure out at first.
Do you know macho guys like that who try hiding their true selves?
We all know those guys we look at and think, C’mon, buddy, it’s 2020. I just try to show those guys love, and I hope that one day they won’t act that way. And if they are gay, and if one day they come out, I’ll love them just the same.
Regardless of his sexual orientation, Damien may have real feelings for Robert. It raises the question of whether people fall in love with a person, not their gender or sexuality.
Yeah, that’s one of the things I loved about the script. People are more than one thing, and you see that in Damien and in so many of the characters. I hope the show sparks some of these conversations about who we really are and why we care so much about labels.
You had some steamy scenes with Ru. Were you nervous?
Of course I was nervous to kiss RuPaul—that’s Mama Ru right there! I wanted to be respectful, but I also wanted to impress him! I didn’t want him walking away, like, “That’s the best he’s got?” So as with any character, I jumped in headfirst.
Is Ru a good kisser?
I don’t kiss and tell. [Laughs] Ru is such a great scene partner because he’s so supportive and trusting, but I think he was a little nervous, too. I remember on the days we had to be steamy, we were both giggling, making small talk, because it felt like we were about to go on a second date.
Damien is obsessed with his body, which helps him get what he wants. Fitness is also important to you, and looking good is part of your job. Could you relate to Damien’s stress about his physical appearance?
Yeah, that aspect of this role was new to me. I’ve had to be shirtless before, but it was more for comedy. Being in shape was a big part of this character; he’s very insecure about his body, which is funny because he’s in great shape. I’ve battled with that. I was a chunky kid and lost weight by the end of high school, but it has still affected me as an adult. When I first got the role, I had a great conversation with MPK about the character, what his body means to him, and it made me feel empowered to take this guy on. I was able to take that little voice in my head about my own insecurities and pump it up.
Did you pump up your workout routine?
Yeah, it wasn’t easy. I was in the gym six days as week. My wife and I had just had a new baby, but I really had to be focused on my diet, and I had to make sure I was getting enough sleep. Work is work.
I can relate to how Damien eats his feelings.
Me too. I’m a Puerto Rican kid from a suburb of Orlando. I love rice and beans. I love ice cream. I like eating cereal every night before bed.
You lay a lot of thirst traps in AJ and the Queen. Do you mind being sexually objectified?
I’ll take it where I can get it, I guess. In real life, my wife and I are at home changing diapers, you know? So if I get to play sexually objectified characters every once in a while, I’m into it. Especially this guy, because yeah, there are definitely thirst traps, but he’s also so layered and challenging.
No butt doubles for you, eh?
[Laughs] If we’re going to do this, let’s do it! If he weren’t really in shape, the joke about his insecurity wouldn’t make sense. The joke only lands if you know that’s really my body.
After Trainwreck and Sirens, this is your third character described as very well endowed.
It’s the best press I’ve ever gotten, man. I don’t know why I keep getting hooked up like that, but I appreciate it.
Growing up in Florida, when did your relationship to the LGBTQ community begin?
I grew up in a Pentecostal church. As a kid, I remember learning that the church doesn’t look too fondly on the LGBTQ community. I had two good buddies in middle school, and I remember wondering if they were gay. It was jarring because they didn’t seem like bad people, but I was learning that something was wrong with that. So my first memory of the LGBTQ community is me trying to find my place in it. Then I found the theater, made more gay friends, but I was still being taught the opposite of what I was experiencing.
Then you got out of Florida.
Yeah, I moved to New York to go to NYU. My parents are great examples of Christians, so I’ll always have a great relationship with the church. But I was close-minded and judgmental about a lot of things, so I had to come to New York, I had to read, I had to learn about other things, expand my mind, meet new people. Now I’m so happy that I can be an example of a married straight dude who supports the LGBTQ community, who defends his gay friends when they feel attacked. My first son is named after his uncle, who is gay. I want him to grow up knowing that the world is a beautiful place because we’re all exactly who are.
I saw you play the hot gay neighbor in The Boys Upstairs at the 2009 New York Fringe Festival. What do you remember about that experience?
I was going to ask if you knew about that! I hold that experience very near and dear to my heart. At the time, I was also doing a web series called Drama Queenz with my friend Kristen-Alexzander Griffith, playing his boyfriend. People have asked me what it was like to play a gay character, but it’s just like playing any character. It was important for me to show that it doesn’t matter, you know? I want to play people who fall in love, who fight, who get their heart broken, and it doesn’t matter who it’s with. Love is love.
And now you’re recurring on The Other Two, one of the gayest shows on television.
I know, right? I love it.
Will we see more of your character, Lance, in Season 2?
I think we will. I think he has more shoes to design.
Lance is not your first lovably dim-witted role.
My mother asks me all the time, “Why do you play such stupid people all the time?” I always say, “Ma, it takes a genius to be this dumb.”
You were recently a bartender on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, just like Cary on The Other Two.
I was thinking of Cary the whole time! Beforehand, I asked my publicist, “Wait, am I going to be shirtless? Should I get a tan?”
Are you aware of your gay following?
Listen, growing up, I didn’t even dream of what I get to do today. So when it comes to my fans, anyone who’s on this ride with me, anyone who shows me love and support, I appreciate it. I love when fans come up and give me a high five or a hug. I love hugs.
I see many more man-hugs in your future.
[Laughs] I lived in Hell’s Kitchen for about six years, and one time I had a buddy from my hometown come visit me. He’s a good-looking dude, so while we’re walking around, he’s getting checked out. He was like, “It’s cool, bro, but how do you feel living in this neighborhood? Dudes check you out?” I was like, “Bro, it’s the best! At least I know when I look good!”
AJ and the Queen is now streaming on Netflix.