Immediately upon meeting B.J. Britt, it’s apparent why the Being Mary Jane actor was cast as the titular suitor of UnReal’s wildly anticipated second season. He's dangerously charming. Clad in off-duty "suitor" attire—white t-shirt, worn jeans, black leather jacket—Britt warmly hugged me in the doorway of a midtown Italian restaurant and started flirting right away, referring to our interview as a "date" and repeating my weirdo name multiple times to make sure he was pronouncing it right. He shines brighter than any of the bachelors in The Bachelor's 20-season run, so of course he's the face of the drama that parodies that show.
For the uneducated, UnReal, beginning its second season on June 6th, follows Rachel (Shiri Appleby) a young producer on a The Bachelor-type reality show, Everlasting, who is pushed by her boss (and her own ruthless drive), Quinn (Constance Zimmer) to make the best programming possible. In season one, that meant cooking up drama and destruction by going to some seriously morally bankrupt levels, like manipulating contestants' mental health, eating disorders and/or undiscovered sexuality. And all of that doesn’t even account for Rachel and Quinn’s off-screen personal dramas, which are full of booze, drugs, and sex. As the most savage pairing on television since Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, season two brings both women a workplace promotion and a thirst to prove to the network that they can create even bigger drama than their “suicide ratings” from the year before.
And that’s where Britt comes in. He’s playing Darius Hill, a pro quarterback who, after calling a female reporter a “bitch” (which he claims was a misunderstanding), needs some good PR. Appearing on Everlasting is his ticket back into the good graces of America, but Rachel and Quinn are getting something out of it too: being known for having the first black bachelor on television.
Rather problematically, UnReal is doing this first, making The Bachelor look even more outdated in the process. The show's second season promises to explore what the national reaction and #hottake media cycle would be like if we had a black bachelor. The fictional reactions provide an up-close look at our nation's discomfort discussing race, while also highlighting the unfortunate lack of POC romantic leads in mainstream media. On the other hand, season two also ultimately holds the horrifying potential of Rachel and Quinn exploiting Darius for ratings—at whatever cost. In talking to Britt, I hoped to find out how he fits into all of this, and what it was like jumping into one of the most meta, forward-facing shows on television.
I watched the first episode this morning at work. I was just gasping and my coworkers, were like, "What the fuck are you watching?" There's so much happening, even in just the first episode!
You saw the first episode, I haven't seen any of it yet, so I might have turn this interview around on you. Tell me what happens in the first—no. [Laughs.]
I have to spoil your own show for you?
I had to basically beg them to send it to me!
I'll let you slide, but this evil stare is because you got to see it before I got to see it.
We're already fighting.
It's our first date, honey. You take care of the bill.
Fine! I’ll get the bill. So tell me about the audition process for this?
The last time I had to go in, I had to meet with producers. My agent calls me, and says, "The next time you go in, they're going to ask you to take your shirt off. Look at you laughing at me already.
How do you feel about being blatantly objectified?
Here's the thing, I work out. So I was like, "No that's fine." So I go in. I read. I take my shirt off. Next day, my agent calls me, he's like, "B.J., yo they loved you, you got the role, but network needs you to start working out." I was like, "Wait, what? I thought I was good." He's a football player. So they need him to really look like a football player, a quarterback. And so everything changed.
So you're shirtless often on the show then?
Exactly. My shirt does come off a fair amount. But it's not only mine. There's a lot of eye candy for the ladies.
It's a very good looking show. During the panel yesterday [at Vulture Fest], everything that Constance Zimmer said was hilarious.
Constance is so amazing. Those girls really kill it on the show. When you have your leaders killing it, it makes you step your game up, it makes you come with your A game everyday. Everybody kills it.
Was it intimidating going into UnReal with Constance and Shiri as the new guy?
No, it wasn't intimidating at all because for one, Josh [Kelly] reached out on Twitter and hit me up. Constance and I both did Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, so we met a couple weeks before I knew I was going to go in and audition for this. I got to meet both the girls [Zimmer and Appleby] before we even started shooting to do early press. And they were like, "B.J. we're going to take care of you, don't worry." They took me under their wing. They literally had their arms around me like, "We got you."
Season two is exploring issues of race in reality television, and it also gets into the creepiness of men's rights activism with Chet. Was getting into these heavy issues appealing?
You have to stay culturally relevant. So many shows are afraid to talk about what's going on right now. I'm so stoked to be a part of something groundbreaking. And hopefully, this season, we'll open more doors for diversity just in this whole industry.
How do you feel your character deals with being the first black suitor?
Darius being a pro athlete, his job is to stay above the nonsense, keep his nose clean. He has to go by the book. His mom always told him the rules will be different for you. So Darius keeps a small circle, mainly his cousin/manager, Romeo, played by Gentry White. He's the one that's pretty much keeps him, so of course Rachel is going to try to get to him to get to me.
So, the relationship with you and Rachel is going to be something, isn’t it?
Rachel and I, we're going to have a really good relationship. I'll start to see that a lot of things that she's saying—I'm trying not to give too much away. But you have to understand that she's there for a purpose. Just like I too am there for a purpose.
You watch the first season, the suitor’s there for a reason, Rachel's there for a reason. And then she totally derails the whole thing.
Rachel's going to be Rachel. She’s hands on: "Listen, this what you need to do to rebuild your image." Romeo doesn't always agree with Rachel says. And so, you have that good devil on your shoulder and the bad one—that's basically how Darius is. But I'm sure you'll get to see it before I will.
That's not true—I have to blackmail people to get episodes.
Are you trying to bribe me? What is this $100 you just slipped under the table?
I wish I had a $100! So, Darius is going to be the pawn between everyone?
He is the pawn between Quinn, Chet, and Rachel. He comes in not even realizing what it is.
Did you watch any reality dating shows for research?
I watched like maybe two episodes of the Bachelor just to see what I was getting into. It's interesting, and it's also two hours. That's just absurd. So after I watched two episodes, I was like, "Okay." And it's so funny because now that I do UnReal, I look back, remembering, "Oh my god, it was so close."
Does it feel weird filming the Everlasting scenes?
It feels so weird. All my boys are like, "I would love to do that. I would love to date 26 women." When I got to the point where I had to eliminate people, I was giddy. They were like, "B.J., you're smiling." I just felt weird. How can I actually part my lips and say, "You can stay. You gotta go home. You can stay." I was so embarrassed.
Do you feel prepared for the response this season is going to get, from both the content that it tackles and all the great hype UnReal has right now?
It's the first black suitor, you want to get it right, it's a lot of pressure. My thing was making sure I got this character right because anytime you do something for the first time and you're the first person to do it, that's a lot on your shoulders.
But honestly, I haven't thought about it until now. You're making me nervous. We've been on set shooting. I'm in my bubble right now. Once it airs, you always want to be perceived by all as good, but you're talking about a lot of sensitive subjects here. UnReal is real. And you don't have a lot of shows like that on TV.
I'm just trying to prepare you for your future!
You just scared me, I hope you're happy. But if we get that response—great. We would love that. Anything that I can add to the show—great. I just want to be a positive influence and not a negative one.