Johnny Sibilly's Number One Was Always Britney Spears

The 'Hacks' and 'Queer as Folk' star on the culture that inspires him.

johnny sibilly, britney spears, noah's arc
Design by Mallory Rosten for Thrillist

Right now, Johnny Sibilly really has it made. The 34-year-old actor is starring in two of the gayest shows on television, HBO's Hacks and Peacock's reboot of Queer as Folk. When you ask Sibilly about acting on two series that are exactly what they are and unapologetically queer in every aspect of their DNA, he immediately lights up. "That's one of the things that I've been saying about this new influx of queer content," he says. "It doesn't feel like, 'Here's the ABCs for cis heterosexual people to understand what it's like to be us.' It's more like, 'Here we are, if you've got to Google, Google the sayings or the things,' but it's really refreshing."

Sibilly, in general, is really proud of his filmography: For many of the roles that he's gotten to play, as Costas on Pose or even Wilson on Hacks, for example, he's been able to portray characters who are challenging him as an actor and helping to change how media portrays queer people. His biggest role to-date in doing just that is Noah on Queer as Folk, an accomplished lawyer who, in the aftermath of the shooting in their community, struggles with losing his boyfriend and addiction.

But that's not all to Noah's story, which is a large reason why Sibilly was excited about being part of the reboot. He remembers seeing the first episode and afterwards approaching creator Stephen Dunn in tears. "I was like, 'It just feels like I've never met these people before.' They don't feel like composite characters, they feel fresh and new and it doesn't feel like there's a box being checked. It just feels like these people exist in the world." That's clearly something incredibly important to Sibilly, and when he talked to Thrillist about what pop culture he saw himself in growing up, characters who broke the norm were always his beacon.

Pedro and Danny from The Real World

I think the first time that I saw a queer gay person on screen that I was like "we are special people" was Pedro Zamora from The Real World. And then Danny from The Real World: New Orleans.

I knew that they weren't playing a character. It was someone that went home to a family that had to have the same kind of discussions I had to have. So that, and then Wilson Cruz and Darryl Stephens in Noah's Arc—those were the first ideas of representation that I saw that I was like, "Oh, this is like me." A lot of times, with [the original] Queer as Folk and things like that, it was a lot of white cis gay men, which I also related to, but not in the ways that I related to someone like Darryl Stephens in Noah's Arc because our experiences are very different, even within the community. And then the Rupert Everetts of the world in My Best Friend's Wedding.

It's a testament to see how even those small crumbs are really impactful on a queer young person when you have no people in your day-to-day life that you can look to and be like, "Oh, that's me."

Noah's Arc

They did an online reunion and they asked me to be a small little part of it. The young adult in me was like, ahhhhhh! I remember I had moved into my first apartment and watched it, but Noah's Arc for me is the closest thing. I grew up in Miami where it was a lot of Latinx queer people. And it was the closest I got to what my friends sounded like, the people we dated, the conversations we were having around, HIV, etc. So for me, it was really special. But it was also like, why doesn't this have more eyes on it? And at the time, it was really groundbreaking, even in that smaller arena that it was playing in. Bring it back!

whitney houston
Whitney Houston | Bill Marino/Sygma via Getty Images

The divas

I always say that for gay men specifically, I feel like the divas are the go-tos. I remember being a little kid and hearing "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston in the car. I was crying and my mom turned around and was like, "What's going on?" I'm like, "It's just so beautiful." She should have known then.

But for me, it's always looking at these divas and the power and confidence that they have and the hair and the stage presence. When you're a young queer kid, you look at that and you're like, "I wish that was me. I wish I could walk into school with a wind machine and be like, 'I'm here to destroy the stage.'" I think seeing those women throughout history, from Judy Garland to Beyoncé, all of these women really presented a special place for me. And not only for me, but a lot of people in the queer community. Also, I will say, it's not lost on me that a lot of the people behind the scenes pushing these women to be great or greater than they are queer people. Whether it's their choreographers, hair stylists, creative directors, they're always part of the conversation. So knowing that, I found comfort in their confidence without realizing that a lot of their confidence is also part of queer culture.

Britney Spears

Britney was always my end all, be all because she was one of these humble Southern girls. And when she got on that stage, it was like," I'm going to eat you all alive." I try and instill that in my own life of being kind to everyone, but letting people know you are not to be fucked with when it comes to what you're good at. It really goes to show what a strong person it takes to go through what she endured in a conservatorship. I don't want to draw parallels to the queer experience, but when you are living under someone else's rule for so long, and you finally get to break free. And then you get an Instagram account. All of her postings and stuff—people are like, "Is she okay?" Imagine what that feels like! You're going to do whatever you want, and you deserve to.

Heartstopper

I was watching Heartstopper on Netflix. I remember just pausing it at one point and being like, "If I would've had this understanding of what it meant to be queer at that age, I probably would've gotten in a lot less trouble." If I had had a Heartstopper, maybe I wouldn't have put myself in situations that were unsafe for me.

Even doing press for Queer as Folk, I'm being asked, "What was your relationship with the original?" I was like, "The original was something I should not have been watching at the age that I was watching." That's not a child's show, but watching something like Heartstopper where sex isn't in the mix, it's just that little butterfly feeling that you have at that age. I would have really understood myself a lot easier without feeling the burden of taking on sexuality so soon.

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Kerensa Cadenas is the Editorial Director of Entertainment at Thrillist. You can follow her @kerensacadenas.