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Tan France of ‘Queer Eye’ on returning to Kansas City, a place that feels ‘like home’

The stars of Netflix’s ‘Queer Eye’ have a blast at sold-out library event

Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Tan France, Karamo Brown and Jonathan Van Ness are wrapping up filming of season three of Queer Eye in Kansas City. They talked about their show, their new book and about Kansas City at the Kansas City Public Library.
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Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Tan France, Karamo Brown and Jonathan Van Ness are wrapping up filming of season three of Queer Eye in Kansas City. They talked about their show, their new book and about Kansas City at the Kansas City Public Library.

Tan France hasn’t stepped foot in Kansas City since October, and he’s anxious to reconnect with the place he called home for five months while filming season three of “Queer Eye.”

“The things I remember are always food places. I love me some food; I love me some baked goods,” France says. “I know I’ll be going to Messenger (Coffee) for one.”

The rebooted Netflix series of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” has already earned three Emmys, and it might be the catalyst landing him on the best-seller list. France’s autobiography “Naturally Tan” hits shelves this week, prompting his return to KC on Friday during a nationwide book tour.

France (born Tanweer Wasim Safdar) reveals in “Naturally Tan” the challenges of being raised within a traditional Pakistani family living in the provincial city of Doncaster, England. He traces the bumpy journey that led him to the U.S., where he married a “Mormon cowboy” from Salt Lake City. And how a lack of onscreen experience didn’t prevent him from becoming the first openly gay Muslim man on television.

Alongside fellow cast members Bobby Berk (design, and who grew up in Missouri), Karamo Brown (lifestyle and culture), Antoni Porowski (cuisine) and Jonathan Van Ness (grooming), the 36-year-old fashion expert has gone from honing his skills in relative obscurity to resurrecting a pop culture phenomenon while gaining millions of followers on Instagram.

Calling from Manhattan on the day of his book release, France discusses the new hardcover’s thorny revelations, vital style advice, his connection with KC and the heroes (don’t call them subjects) who made the latest season so special for him.

Q: Do you keep in touch with any of the heroes of your Kansas City “Queer Eye” episodes?

Almost all of them. There are very few we don’t, and that’s usually because they’re not on Instagram. I don’t really use my Twitter, and I don’t use Facebook. Those are the only ones I don’t keep in touch with.

Q: What’s the most common mistake men make when it comes to fashion?

Not caring. Thinking that it’s insignificant. Thinking that it doesn’t matter. It’s not their actual choices, it’s thinking that it doesn’t matter.

Q: So why does it matter?

Because the way you present yourself is how people will judge you. People do take that into consideration when you are going for a job interview, when you are at work, when you are on a date, when you are out with a friend circle. You want to make sure that you look like you’ve made an effort, otherwise people treat you like you made no effort.

Q: Have you ever come across a hero on the show who you thought, “I’m not sure I can help this person?”

Oh yeah. There were a couple of them. I’m actually not going to give you the names. But there were a couple where I thought, “I don’t think that they want my help or will ever understand why my help is important.” But by the end of the episode, thankfully, they did.

Actually, I will give you one because he’s very open about this.

Cory Waldrop — he was the cop (from season one). I thought that he wouldn’t care less about what he was wearing because he didn’t seem to be interested at all when I first met him, but after a shopping trip it’s amazing how much he changed.

He saw himself differently. His wife saw him differently. And since then he started to shop regularly. And he will often show me (on Instagram) what he’s choosing at the store.

Q: Was there any chapter in “Naturally Tan” that was particularly difficult to write?

Yes. I have a chapter in the book which is called “Never Forget,” and it’s about 9/11. That was the chapter that I was probably not going to add.

Well, I didn’t want to add it until the book closed. Then I contacted my publisher and said that there is something missing that desperately needs to be in that I didn’t want to add but I know is important. It’s about terrorism and how people perceive my people.

Q: When traveling around America, what raises the most suspicion: being gay, Muslim or English?

Being a person of color. My skin color. It’s usually at an airport or on a plane. That’s when I’m reminded of the fact that I look different to most, and why I might be seen as a threat.

Q: When compared to your other cast members, what comes across as your dominant trait?

My dominant trait is how forthright I am. I talk about this in “Naturally Tan.” If there’s a tough conversation to be had, it’s always me who the producers come to. The cast knows I’m going to have that conversation because it’s usually a truth.

Karamo has a lot of difficult conversations. All of them do. But when it comes to something that (the heroes) just need to hear, Americans are a lot more passive-aggressive. Whereas English people are a lot more aggressive-aggressive. We’re a lot more comfortable addressing the elephant in the room.

Q: Can you give an example of something that happened during the recent KC season where you needed to be the person who was forthright?

It was the episode with Robert (Hitchcock), the one who was getting married. He was really self-deprecating. We’d been in this home for about four hours altogether at the start of the episode, and then we individually take the hero off.

It came to my turn, and I just kept hearing him make jokes about himself. And it was clear he was trying to beat me to the punch. So at one point, I was like, “I’m so done with this (expletive). Like I need you to stop. I’m not going to comment on anything you think I’m going to comment on. It’s not funny. It’s actually making me super uncomfortable. Like, I don’t want you to comment on your weight again.”

And it was jarring for him to hear that. After I finished the scene, I walked off. The producers stopped me and were like, “Holy (expletive), you really went in on him.”

But it had to be said. I’m not here to play; I’m not here to fake it.

Q: One of the criticisms about the show is that you’re fixing people primarily by throwing money at them. Any truth to that?

That is something that happens: Their house gets a makeover, and I put them in new clothes. But as anyone who watches the show and understands the show, it’s so much more about connection. Human connection. The makeover is absolutely secondary.

I’m not giving them a designer makeover where I’ve got X amount of thousands of dollars worth of (stuff). I’ve taken someone to Target before. I’ve gotten them $1,000 worth of product instead of $50,000 worth of product.

It’s not about getting them new things; it’s about making sure they feel the love that they haven’t felt for so long, the attention that they need and the connection that they so need.

Q: What fashion advice do you have for your “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” predecessor, Carson Kressley?

I have none. I love that he’s creative. I love that he expresses himself through his fashion. He does exactly what I want everybody to do: He makes an effort. We have very different styles. But so do me and my castmates. Every one of us makes an effort to live the life that we want to live.

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From left: Karamo Brown, Bobby Berk, Tan France, Antoni Porowski, and Jonathan Van Ness, inside a RideKC bus. Christopher Smith/Netflix Christopher Smith/Netflix

Q: Personally, what’s been the most satisfying moment while filming the KC seasons?

It made me feel like I was at home because Kansas City very much reminds me of Salt Lake City — where I live — and is the place I love most in this world.

So it was satisfying being in a place that felt like home, and it was satisfying being with people who were just so open and welcoming with us. The city embraced us so greatly. The mayor and his office were heavily involved in the season. So, yeah, that’s what was so refreshing about being in Kansas City. They truly wanted us to be there.

Q: Now when you’re traveling, do you meet people all over the world who say, “I’m from Kansas City.”

Yes! Everywhere I go. It happened literally about an hour ago in the hallway at Sirius XM. Everywhere I go. It’s lovely. They’re always really eager to tell me, and to ask where we ate and where we were staying. It’s really sweet.

Q: So you’re an honorary Kansas Citian, right?

Yes. And I’m very proud to be that.

Friday

Tan France, in conversation with Rainy Day Books founder Vivien Jennings. 7 p.m. $37.50 (each ticket includes one autographed hardcover of “Naturally Tan”). Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47 th St. Tickets available at TanFrance-RainyDayBooks.BrownPaperTickets.com

Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”

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