TV

Netflix’s “Say I Do” Will Give You Just What You Need—A Good Ugly Cry

The show's hosts talk HIV stigma and homophobia while planning show-stopping weddings. NBD.

The new Netflix reality series Say I Do is being described as Queer Eye for weddings, which would make sense since it’s from the producers behind Queer Eye. But instead of Tan France, Jonathan Van Ness, and the rest of the Fab Five, Say I Do features a lovable if not troublemaking trio: interior designer Jeremiah Brent, fashion designer Thai Nguyen, and chef Gabriele Bertaccini, who surprise couples by planning their fantasy wedding all in one week.

And just like Queer Eye, the Say I Do hosts get their subjects to open about their pasts, their dreams, and their relationships, so yes, there are plenty of tears.

Jeremiah, Thai, and Gabriele spoke to NewNowNext about the emotional moments from the show’s first season, Gabriele’s decision to reveal his HIV status, and if we should expect to see Thai’s wedding when the series returns for Season 2.
 

I really loved the show, but I want to know what the chemistry test was like when you first met and hung out?

Jeremiah: I think it was instantaneous for us. This is the one area that I feel comfortable talking for the group collectively. We all felt really comfortable and familiar very quickly. I think we each have our own interesting energy that we move through the world with, and we’re each very different, but we had a lot of fun together. It’s very passionate, pious, just complete and utter joy. Blakey moves through the world; Thai just makes us all lighten up and laugh. And I basically just sit there and cry continuously. The way we started is the way we continued. And we all just found a lot of refuge in one another that first day. And as you can see, it’s such a vulnerable position to be in when you’re asking people to share a truth. And then also showing feelings for them. I mean, nine times out of 10, we would finish our day of work, sit at the dinner table with a glass of wine, and just stare at each other, like “What’s going on?” So we were really lucky.

Speaking of opening up: Gabriele, you reveal your HIV status in the first episode. Going into filming, did you think that would come up?

Gabriele: No. Listen, this is the thing, the show is so non-prescriptive, it just comes naturally. The moment there with Marcos, I was definitely not expecting that. Marcos has opened up about a very big part of his life: being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. What happens when people open up about their story is that they allow and give you permission to open up about yours. And that’s kind of where we meet in the middle. With Marcos, when I first sat down with him, here’s this giant, big, beautiful Black man, all masculine. And here you have me with the squeaky voice, and I can barely speak English. So I’m trying to figure out what we have in common. And then all of a sudden, his story made it very clear for me. We both went through an outpouring when it came to our health and how we approach our daily lives. It was so spontaneous, and I am so thankful for that particular moment. I’m most thankful to Marcos, who gave me permission to open up about my own story. And that’s really what I think what this whole show is about. It is about human ability, it’s about stories. It’s about being able to open up about who we are and being ourselves and [finding] love in that process.

Have you heard from viewers who thanked you for talking about being HIV-positive?

Gabriele: It’s something that I was not expecting. I’ve been bombarded actually—in a very good way—by messages all over the world. Last night, this very young man messaged me saying, “I’m sitting here on the couch and watching Episode 1, I had no idea what this show’s all about. And I am extremely talkative, I haven’t told my family and my mum’s watching this show with me and she is here next to me. I didn’t have the courage to come out to her as an HIV-positive man, it’s already something hard for me to accept, and I thought that this show is giving me the strength and the pride of coming out as an HIV-positive man to my family first and foremost.” That is just one message, but I receive so many. What’s important about that moment, it’s not so much about me coming out. It’s about what HIV looks like in 2020. We have still so much stigma connected to the pandemic of the 1980s.

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Jeremiah, you mentioned all of the crying. The episode with Essie, when she got her IQ test results—I sobbed. It seemed like her story really affected you. Why?

Jeremiah: Essie had this strength underneath the surface, but she was almost living a life that wasn’t really authentic to her, which obviously resonated with me because I spent the first 23 years of my life lying to everybody about who I was at any moment. And what was really interesting about her experience, as we started to open up, was that she had the confidence to trust us and she really started listening to herself in a different way. And we watched, over the course of this week, this woman who had been through so many terrible things, kind of rise out of the experiences and see herself in a different way. Because I think that’s a really beautiful thing about having somebody there that will listen to you, that they care. We were three strangers, but we saw her the way she wanted to be seen.

In Randy and Skyler’s episode, you’re all at the bar with people up on stage telling their own coming-out stories. Thai, what was that like being in that room? And what made you decide to get up on stage and tell your own story?

Thai: I am proud of who I am, and I really respect who I am and how I live and what I do in my daily life. But underneath I had always avoided it for 30 years until I came out to my parents. Jeremiah really inspired me by the way he lives his life. It’s so beautiful. And I just wished I could be like that. And then when we were shooting throughout the whole journey of the episode with Randy and Skyler, I realized that there are many of us who are not living the way we want to be. It was like a safe zone, it was a family and with the encouragement of Gabe and Jeremiah, especially Jeremiah, who really, really wanted me to share my story. When I shared my story, I was very, very emotional, but I was happy. It was happiness because afterward, I felt so pleased that finally I got to do that. My parents haven’t seen the show yet, but I know they will. I want to watch the show with them and translate it to them. And I want them to see all these beautiful love stories. I just want them to see that kind of beauty. And that’s why I decided to go on stage and share my story.

It seems like you really helped Randy with his own internalized homophobia. Did you see that when you were filming?

Thai: Yeah. I said that a lot of us came out but are not really living out. I don’t want him to be like that. I wanted him to be truly, truly proud of who he is, and stop being afraid because I was afraid for a very, very long time. I wish I’d had someone like that to guide me and share his story with me and say it’s okay to be who you are, it’s okay to celebrate. I’m just so proud that the three of us got this opportunity to be there and celebrate with him and tell him that it’s okay. And the minute that he said that he’d agreed to wear the metallic suit, I jumped up and down, and was like, “Oh my God, it’s so liberating.”

Have you kept in contact with any of the couples since filming?

Jeremiah: I think the majority of the couples we’re all in touch with. It was such a unique experience. And like we said, they were so vulnerable and so honest. What you’re seeing is really the process that we went through.

Thai: They all hold a really special place in our hearts, literally each and every one of them, because we were there for them. They trusted us with their story and let us come into their homes. We truly love them, and we wanted to do the best for them.

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I was a cater waiter back in the day. I know how annoying and stressful setting up a wedding can be, was there ever a wedding in one of the episodes that you were like, “I’m not sure if this is going to happen?”

Jeremiah: Oh my God. I like to think of myself as is Zen Buddhist, which I am 70% of the time. But the day of the wedding… I used to say if you see me wearing a hat shit is going down, like, you should be concerned. [Laughs] It’s hard. The logistics are a lot to navigate. But the stakes were high because we really took the responsibility of telling these people stories through this experience. And we wanted the bride who has not seen anything or the other groom who has not seen anything to walk into that space and really feel seen and have it feel like a true reflection of what they wanted today to be. If you have the chance to get married to the person you love in front of the people you love, there’s nothing like it. So we definitely wanted to rise to the occasion.

Thai: No. I said, we all three of us, we go through different stages throughout the week and for me with the dresses and the outfit, I had to work on that 24 hours before the day of the wedding. And then on the day of the wedding, my job is to make sure they look spectacular. And then I don’t see Jere because he just on the wedding day, you leave Jere alone. You don’t want to mess with that. And then I completely don’t even see Gabe because he is in the kitchen—he was like, “I am making all this food.” We were all so passionate about what we do, we just wanted to deliver. But at the same time, we had so much fun. We were stressed out, but we had so much fun.

Were you all able to let loose at the reception?

Gabriele: Oh my God! Every wedding. At the end of it after everybody eats, after the ceremony—I think that’s really when we kind of let loose. And you can see it in the show. We are dancing at the weddings. We’re having fun. It’s a celebration for us!

What would you three like to see in Season 2?

Gabriele: We want to see more love stories. I mean, if there’s one thing that I think the show really did for all of us here, for Jere and Thai, it’s really opening up our eyes to the many different ways of loving each other. So we’re just, I’m personally just curious, I want to see more, I want to connect more with individuals that otherwise probably I wouldn’t have connected with if it wasn’t for the show.

Jeremiah: I’d love to see the continued evolution and exploration of different love stories. The beautiful thing about the show is that you can connect and see parts of yourself through the eyes of people who you may not have ever thought you had anything in common with. That’s the beautiful thing about listening to one another, and that’s really what this show is about. It’s not about three little gay guys coming in and redoing everything; it’s really an exploration in love and the power love can have, and what it can do to change people’s lives. So I’d like to continue to explore love stories, to look even further away from things people have seen. We’re understanding that the power of television could really open people’s minds and hearts up.

Thai: For me, I just want to learn more because in life and then throughout the meeting these couples, you learn about love. You learn about life, and you learn about their family. Each and every one of them has their own situation in their family, and the world needs to see more of those lessons. We all need to continue to learn—learn to love, and learn to really be kind and stick together as a family. A lot of times people don’t know the value of being together as a family. I think we all need to learn every day.

Jeremiah: And in Season 2, I’d like to see Thai’s wedding.

Gabriele: I completely agree with that.

Thai: We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Jeremiah: You better keep me posted. I know where you live!

Say I Do is currently streaming on Netflix.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
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