When Jonathan Van Ness hopped on the phone back in early May, the Queer Eye star was in the middle of a whirlwind 24 hours. They’d spent the day before getting ready to co-host Live From E! for the Met Gala, then actually co-hosting, then getting down at Dua Lipa’s afterparty — all only to get up early the next day to finish recording a two-hour interview for their podcast, and later fly to Alberta, Canada, to speak at the Leading Change Summit. So when Van Ness tells Bustle, “Basically, it has been busy,” it feels like an understatement.
Five years after Queer Eye first launched, Van Ness now finds themself juggling their Getting Curious podcast, their third comedy tour, their JVN Hair product line, and a ton of speaking gigs. “Everything that's happened career-wise is so far beyond my expectations,” says the 36-year-old nonbinary hairstylist. “But there's a lot of behind-the-scenes pressure and stress that I didn't necessarily anticipate.”
Amid all this change, Van Ness has learned to be their own support system — an ethos they bring to Queer Eye. “If you don't have a solid relationship with yourself, you don't know when you need support,” they say. “You might not even know why you're feeling the things that you're feeling or what's going on because all of our personalities have so many different kinds of layers.”
Van Ness and their crew are helping more people learn to care for themselves in the seventh season of Queer Eye. They say the new episodes are as good — maybe better — than ever, partly thanks to this season’s locale. “New Orleans has a unique tapestry that is so diverse and so dynamic that this season was some of our best work,” Van Ness says. “Everyone really brought their truth, their authenticity and their vulnerability to the table.”
Below, Van Ness shares what brings them joy, how they stay balanced, and why they’ve fought with Queer Eye producers over a makeover.
How has your life changed since Queer Eye came out in 2018?
My life is very different. The thing that has stayed the same is that I still love doing hair. I also still love the other boys, which is great. Even though it's been five years, I'm still learning how to balance the pressure and how to navigate my way through such a public-facing life. But I'm so glad that I get the opportunity to [do it]. It's all good things, but it's a lot more than I thought it would be.
What helps keep you balanced when you’re feeling overwhelmed?
Whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed in my career or my life, I always try to invest in my relationship with myself [by] doing things that bring me joy. If you don't know what brings you joy, try new things because even that is confidence-building. That's been something that I have consistently done in the last few years to give myself something else to focus on when I'm really overwhelmed. Then, therapy is another thing that really has helped me.
That advice falls in line with the work you do on Queer Eye. Is there a moment from Season 7 that stands out in your memory as especially meaningful?
Everyone will be able to see aspects of themselves in our heroes’ stories, but Mary's story is just incredible. I think a lot about when we turn the things that have been the most painful experiences in our lives into [something] positive or impactful — like turning your pain into passion. Mary is an example of taking something that was unfair and so incredibly hard, and using it to make her community safer and to help lift up more people who have been through what she's been through.
You teased that this season has one of your biggest makeovers. Who were you referring to?
That was Mary because she went from having locs that were like three and four feet long and we [cut them above her shoulders]. My friend Quentin came in, but it took Quentin, myself, and three locticians four hours to comb out her locs even after the haircut. She was ready for that change. She felt like so much of her time incarcerated was wrapped up in that hair, so to speak, and she wanted to let that go. She wanted to let in new energy in her life.
When has it been challenging to find the right haircut or style for someone on the show?
The only fights I ever had were if someone wanted me to do a bigger change than maybe what the hero and I felt they wanted. Sometimes, makeover shows would do really big changes just for the sake of doing them, and I always ask myself, “Does this make them look better?” It can't be a change just for the sake of changing. It needs to make sense for them and their lifestyle. Especially now with Instagram, you can see if [the heroes are] vibing or not [with their makeovers] once you leave, and that was totally the case with Ted Terry from Season 2. I did not want to cut his beard off, and [the show’s producers] made me cut that beard off. I hated it. I was so upset. That happened [again] in a subsequent season where I didn't want to cut Tony’s beard off, and then they had the hero end up cutting his own beard off. Years later, Tony was like, “I really didn't want to cut my beard off.”
I love our producers, and our crew is just fabulous. But I'm pretty strong-willed with what I want to have happen. Obviously, they have their own ideas and opinions, too. Ninety-eight percent of the time, my vision happens, and I just told you the two times that it didn't.
Finally, what’s bringing you joy these days?
My husband and all of our babies. We have five cats, three dogs, and seven chickens. My garden brings me so much joy. I'm writing a new show; it’s my new tour, “Fun & Slutty.” I have so much fun processing the world around me through writing my comedy.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.