Four years ago, Miss Benny (born Ben J. Pierce) was a makeup-obsessed YouTuber with a few minor TV credits, working photo shoots and various odd jobs, when a call came in about starring in a new series. The main character: a makeup-obsessed YouTuber.
“I remember thinking, ‘OK, if I don’t get this, then I’m never going to get anything because this is the most me it could possibly be,’” they recalled. (Benny identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.)
In the new series, “Glamorous,” which premiered Thursday on Netflix, Benny stars as Marco, a gay Latino man swept away from his job at a mall makeup counter and into the world of luxury cosmetics when he waits on a supermodel turned mogul, Madolyn Addison (Kim Cattrall). Madolyn likes the kid’s style and offers him a job as her second assistant. With knowing shout-outs to “The Devil Wears Prada,” the series presents a queer twist on a tried-and-true story: the neophyte plucked from obscurity and thrust into a high-stakes, pressure-packed new world.
In addition to his high-maintenance boss, Marco also must contend with her haughty sales director son (Zane Phillips), two potential love interests (the jockish Graham Parkhurst and nervous co-worker Michael Hsu Rosen) and the gnawing feeling that he isn’t good enough for his new gig. The tone is light workplace comedy; the makeup, to be expected, is fabulous.
“Glamorous” took a twisty path to Netflix. There was a pilot shot for the CW, which didn’t get picked up, then extensive rewrites and then Covid-19. But a fun result is that the show is arriving on the same day that Cattrall’s old “Sex and the City” castmates are back with a new season of “And Just Like That …,” which Cattrall pointedly declined to join. (She has a brief cameo in the new season though.)
We spoke with Benny, 24, from their Los Angeles home, where they discussed landing their dream job, growing up gay in the Bible Belt and the virtues of YouTube. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How has “Glamorous” changed since its inception?
It was originally supposed to be this sort of fresh-out-of-high-school, very flashy kind of show. Now, the show’s a little more mature and a little broader. Before it was very streamlined about Marco’s experience stepping into the makeup industry, but now it gets to be about relationships and friendships and family and just a general coming-of-age experience, which I am so happy about. I felt like it was ready before, but I feel so glad that we had that time to keep improving it because now it feels super tight and super special.
How and when did your passion for makeup begin?
We had a lot of costumes in my house growing up, and we made a lot of home movies because we had a lot of time to kill. My older sister was always dressing me and my brother up, and I had to be Padmé Amidala from “Star Wars.” That required a lot of makeup, and I remember thinking makeup was so cool and transformative. At night, when everyone was asleep at my house, I would steal that costume makeup and my mom’s makeup, and I would hide away in the bathroom and do all my makeup. And then I would wash it all off and go to church the next morning hoping no one could tell that I had makeup on the night before.
How did getting made up make you feel?
I would feel amazing. As I got older it became a constant for me to express myself and express my femininity. But as I got more comfortable with makeup, I became more aware of the fact that walking around in the world when you wear makeup as somebody born male is not as easy as you would hope.
It was really transformative because I wasn’t particularly comfortable with being perceived as masculine in any way. So makeup was a way for me to proclaim to the world that this is how I am and this is where I’m comfortable. It always felt like I was putting on my super suit and getting ready to go out because I felt like my best self when I had time to do my makeup.
You’re from Texas, just outside of Dallas. What was growing up gay in the Bible Belt like?
My family was very, very religious, and my parents home-schooled all of their kids so that we wouldn’t see anything secular. But I knew that I was queer as early as when I was 6 years old. I had a crush on one of my soccer teammates, and I remember we would pick flowers by the goal post and give them to each other.
I actually thought the word “gay” meant “ugly” for the longest time because I’d heard it said on Xbox Live when my brother’s friends would play. I remember thinking, “They’re saying it to insult somebody, so it must mean ugly.” At the time, I knew that I was queer and having these attractions, but I didn’t know they were bad. Then when I was around 11, those ideas were connected to me through what I was being taught at church. That was when I went into shelter mode. Those couple of years were probably the hardest. I was very lucky to get out and move to L.A. to pursue acting when I was 14. From that point on, my whole world opened up, and I suddenly was able to figure myself out.
You have had a big presence on YouTube, including comedy sketches and music videos. What has the platform meant to you?
YouTube was the first place I ever saw happy queer people. When I was a kid, all of the representation I was able to find was on TV or in a movie, and it was usually either at the expense of a joke or somebody going through trauma. If you saw a queer character on TV, usually they were facing the horrible process of coming out or at the end of their life. There was nothing in between.
Then I found a couple of queer YouTubers who were just so happy. They were just talking about going to the store and going on first dates and going to concerts. And I remember thinking: “These people don’t seem miserable at all. This seems like exactly what I want in my life, so that means I can have that.”