Danny Roberts: The Atlanta Interview
‘Find out what happens when people stop being polite… and start getting real.’
Sound familiar? It does to Danny Roberts. After starring on MTV’s ‘The Real World: New Orleans‘ in 2000, he’s back on television in ‘DTLA,’ a racy, eight-episode scripted drama premiering Wednesday night at 11 p.m. on Logo…
A native of Rockmart, Georgia (he attended UGA before appearing on ‘Real World’) Danny was one of the first ‘straight-acting’ gay reality TV stars who didn’t seem ‘gay.’ On the show he dated Paul, a closeted Army captain at the time, and even brought him into the Real World house on-camera. MTV had to blur Paul’s face, worried he might be discharged if anyone found out he was gay.
Danny says he does keep in touch with Paul, but ‘very little’ and prefers not to talk about his past. I ask his thoughts on the current state of reality TV, as his show was one of the last Real Worlds before the series began introducing hot tubs and more drama into the mix. ‘That genre has highly evolved, or rather, devolved over the past decade,’ he says.
‘The Amazing Race’ is the only reality show
today that doesn’t make my skin crawl…’
‘The Real World was once interesting because it made social commentary and taught young people about people and situations that they probably never would have experienced in their own communities. As reality shows proliferated, they became competitive wastelands that pitch people against each other to bring out the worst in human nature for profit. ‘The Amazing Race’ is about the only one I can think of that doesn’t make my skin crawl.’
After the show Danny became famous – very famous – especially in the gay community, and it hit fast. Dating a member of the military brought on a lot of attention. So did his good looks and Southern charm. Roberts appeared on the cover of The Advocate with the headline ‘MTV’s Real World takes on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ He spoke at schools about sexuality, coming out, and the military’s policy. Danny even appeared on ‘Dawson’s Creek‘ and hosted a DVD collection of gay-themed short films, ‘Boys Briefs.’
His other roommates moved on. Kelley Limp married actor Scott Wolf. Matt Smith, the devout Christian who went to Georgia Tech and often clashed with Danny’s party-boy ways, returned to Tech and became a professional web designer. Julie Stoffer, the first Mormon to be featured on The Real World was suspended from Brigham Young University for being on the show, appeared in Eminem’s ‘Without Me‘ video, and now works for Path-U-Find Media, speaking to young people about morals and ethics.
Danny says he’s ‘still very close’ with one of his Real World roommates and keeps ‘loosely in touch’ with another. I ask of any changed their beliefs about gay people after living with him on the show. ‘I’m not sure either really did. Julie and Matt are still very involved in their conservative church lives. Julie evolved for a while but eventually, from what I’ve heard, she returned to all of her old ways. The cult sucked her back in.’
‘The cult sucked her back in…’
In 2004, MTV aired a special where they revealed his boyfriend Paul’s face for the first time. They moved to North Carolina, but lived in fear and eventually split up. ‘We could not be a normal couple,’ Danny told The Advocate in 2006. ‘We were forced to live underground.’
I ask him the best and worst parts of appearing on ‘Real World.’ ‘The best was the opportunity to travel,’ he says. ‘The worst was being associated with what has, over time, become such a sad and embarrassing piece of morally bankrupt television.’
What advice would he give to young people who want to be on reality TV? ‘What is your end-goal of doing such? What are your long-term life goals? If you think that appearing on TV is going to take you somewhere, you’re most likely wrong.’
Danny returned to Seattle after trying Atlanta, North Carolina and New York City. ‘It’s my adopted home and a place where I fit culturally. I work for an awesome new online real estate company called Redfin in recruiting. It’s a very cool tech start-up environment that I greatly enjoy. We’re just now breaking into the Atlanta market and starting to turn traditional real estate on its head.’
‘The Real World became morally bankrupt television…’
On ‘DTLA,’ Danny plays Waylon, ‘a mysterious character and a bit of a granola guy,’ he says. ‘Waylon is someone you’d probably find walking around Silver Lake in Los Angeles. In the beginning you’re led to believe that he’s Kinesiologist, but in time it will be revealed that there’s much more to this character.’
Danny says he didn’t decide to go back to television, per se. ‘This is just a fun, creative outlet to keep balance in my regular 9 to 5 life, which I don’t plan on changing,’ he says. ‘The producer found me doing his research a couple of years ago and asked me to be a part of the project. I wasn’t really interested, but over the next year or so we stayed in touch. I learned to trust in him as he fleshed out his ideas and eventually decided, ‘why not?’
Danny says he enjoys ‘DTLA’ compared to his Real World experience because ‘I love that it has a great balance of comedy and drama. Gay themed television tends to be predictable, dramatic camp and I can’t stand that. This show has a gritty edginess that is softened by comedy.’
Are there any plans for him to return to Atlanta? ‘Some day it’s highly possible as my family is still there,’ he says. ‘But I need to see some political and economic change first. Atlanta has some of my favorite parks anywhere, namely Piedmont Park. I love biking through it’s more forgotten parts in and around south downtown and southwest Atlanta. I still have a house in Adair Park, which I adore.’
‘Gay-themed television tends to
be predictable, and I can’t stand that…’
Created, directed and produced by Larry Kennar (‘The L Word’), ‘DTLA’ stars a cast of newbies along with TV veterans Darryl Stephens (‘Noah’s Arc’), Leslie Jordan, Sandra Bernhard, Melanie Griffith, and Tiffany ‘New York’ Pollard and more.
‘DTLA’ is the first television series to receive domestic and international distribution funded by Kickstarter, a crowd-sourced platform for funding creative projects. 218 backers donated $33,525 to get the project off the ground. ‘I think that’s amazing,’ Roberts says. ‘It took a lot of hard work, dedication and belief from the public to make this happen. I’m still amazed that Larry and Darryl were able to pull this off.’
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