Why Darryl Stephens refused to address his sexuality while he was on ‘Noah’s Arc’

Why Darryl Stephens refused to address his sexuality while he was on ‘Noah’s Arc’

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Darryl Stephens | Photo Credit: Getty Images

It’s been nearly two decades since the slice-of-life dramedy Noah’s Arc premiered on Logo, quite literally changing the TV landscape just by daring to put the stories of Black, queer men front and center.

And it changed star Darryl Stephens’ life, too.

In a new Black History Month interview with Buzzfeed, the groundbreaking 49-year-old actor looks back on his journey with Noah’s Arc and opens up about his reticent to publicly discuss his sexuality at the time.

In the early 2000s, Stephens was a working actor with a few credits to his name—including MTV’s steamy anthology, Undressed, which also featured future stars like Pedro Pascal and Chad Michael Murray—but when he signed on the the lead role in Noah’s Arc in 2005, he knew he’d be introducing himself to a whole new audience.

Stephens says he was immediately excited about the project as a fan of creator Patrik-Ian Polk’s landmark film Punks and was eager for the opportunity to a bring story of Black, queer friendship to the TV screen. The only issue was: He had truly never seen it be done before and would have to figure out how to play this character for himself.

“My biggest focus was figuring out who Noah was,” he tells Buzzfeed. “I’d never seen a character like him on screen. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to be playing him. If you look at earlier iterations of Noah, [I played] boyish and sex kitten versions of him… for a long time, I was wondering, ‘Who is this guy?’”

But Stephens would also have to figure out who he was—at least, the version of him he’d want to share with the public. While the show was on the air, the actor was very clear that he would not be discussing his own sexuality.

Even as he racked up credits playing other openly gay characters in notable queer projects—including the sex worker drama Boy Culture and the wacky spoof Another Gay Movie—Stephens set very clear boundaries for himself.

In 2006, when the gay-focused publication AfterElton asked him about how his experiences as a Black, gay man influenced his performances, Stephens remained tight-lipped:

“I don’t discuss my sexuality with the press,” he said at the time. “For me, it’s a matter of you can see the work and make your own assumptions. But because of the stage I’m at in my career, I don’t see any relevance in talking about my personal life.”

Reflecting on that moment with Buzzfeed, Stephens shares that his team back then—including an agent who was gay himself—cautioned him about being out, warning that he cost him roles.

Image Credit: ‘Noah’s Arc,’ Logo

And, when Noah’s Arc came around, the actor remembers Patrik-Ian Polk sitting down with the cast and telling them, “None of us are gonna talk about our sexuality in public.” The decision wasn’t so much intended to keep them in the closet, per se, but to avoid press around the show being entirely focused on everyone’s sexuality.

“[I think it was] because of what [he’d] seen with shows like Queer As Folk,” Stephens continues, “in terms of how much press and attention the straight actors were getting for being [quote unquote] brave enough to play gay characters. There was always that fear of if they find out [I’ll] never work [again].”

Gradually, Stephens’ began to see things a little differently, citing filmmaker Q. Allan Brocka (who directed him in Boy Culture and the ’08 Noah’s Arc movie Jumping The Broom) as a major support system as he navigated a career after coming out. He says getting approached to be part of Out‘s Out 100 list after Noah’s Arc ended was all the push he needed to embrace his sexuality in the public eye.

And, surely enough, work kept coming Stephens’ way, racking up parts in films like Beyond The Lights and Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, and countless TV roles like Desperate Housewives, Good Trouble, and Lovecraft Country.

These days, he’s able to look back at Noah’s Arc with a full heart, and total awe at the opportunity to be a piece of Black, queer history—a piece that’s still finding an audience with younger generations today.

“I hope my legacy is that queer folks, Black, brown, and everybody else, feel seen by the work that I’ve done and that it inspires them to be their full selves,” Stephens shares with Buzzfeed. “Ultimately, I want us to be as free as we can be.”

Next up, Stephens is reuniting with the Noah’s Arc crew for a reboot of some kind, which he confirms has already been filmed, but is awaiting a release seemingly delayed by the writers and actors strikes last year. We’ll can’t wait to jump back on board the Arc!


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