With the world weary wit of a gay man who’s seen it all, the character Oliver Grayson commands the fashion department at the fictional Scarlet magazine on Freeform’s intersectional series The Bold Type about young women traversing life, love, and their careers. From episode to episode, Oliver fires off pointed missives to his protégé Sutton — on style and perils of working with nonprofessional models — with zingers like “bring me a kombucha… and an Ativan.”
Oliver is not the first gay male fashion maven to be depicted onscreen (Stanley Tucci’s Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada is a standard bearer). But as portrayed by theater, film, and television veteran Stephen Conrad Moore, Oliver is a trailblazer in terms of representation for same-gender-loving men of color on the small screen.
“There really is something to seeing yourself on TV. If you don’t see yourself on TV in a main character, that kind of carries on in life,” Moore says. “You don’t feel like you can be president, for example, or that you can run a company, because all you see on TV is that you’re the best friend, you’re the sidekick, you’re the person who, you know, should be grateful for this.”
“Life does imitate art, and so for my job I want to create the art that is going to lead us into where we need to be,” he adds.
A Yale School of Drama alum, Moore has appeared in tough guy parts on prominent TV shows like Chicago P.D. and Empire. But it wasn’t until he landed Oliver on the forward-thinking The Bold Type — which also features a biracial, bisexual lead character and TV’s first lesbian Muslim character — that Moore, who is a same-gender-loving man of color, got to play someone closer to home. Previously he enjoyed a run portraying a married gay man in the Susan Stroman-helmed 2016 off-Broadway play Dot.
Of that transition, Moore says, “I realized just how much more of myself I can bring to the game. This is the luxury that straight actors have had... forever. Being able to bring their full humanity to the table. It’s a luxury and a freedom I didn’t fully know I was missing.”
It turns out that some of what Moore brought to Oliver was built into the character. They’re both artists, and while Oliver hails from Oklahoma, Moore grew up just a state away in Kansas City, Mo., the son of a schoolteacher and a pastor. Also, both he and his character are big fans of drag.
“If [Oliver] did a death drop, I don’t think he’d get back up,” the actor quips. “I would love a scene [with Oliver] because Stephen does this in real life, there’s a song that I’ll videotape myself lip-synching to it. Not like in a big, extravagant way, but just telling a story... I think Oliver does that with a glass of wine sometimes in the mirror; he’s just lip-synching to Carmen McRae or something.”
Meghann Fahy (who plays Sutton) and Stephen Conrad Moore
The TV landscape has long been barren in terms of depictions of LGBTQ people of color, although with shows like The Bold Type, Empire, and Pose, more are seeing themselves represented in ways that resonate. And in some cases, as with Moore playing Oliver, same-gender-loving people of color are stepping into those roles.
“I feel so honored to be part of the spectrum of Black LGBT representation for the next generation so that people can see themselves in scripted television,” Moore says. “They may not necessarily relate to me, but maybe. There’s Kid Fury out there with his TV show that’s coming out. There’s Tituss Burgess [Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt].”
Now in its third season, The Bold Type kicks off a storyline that finally peeks behind the curtain of the fashion department head who delivers self-effacing witticisms like, “I can’t control models any more than I can control my moods.” Without giving the goods away, the series delves into Oliver’s personal life for the first time when someone from his past returns in need of help. And while the story The Bold Type writers have fashioned for Oliver is likely to pleasantly surprise some viewers, it's really another piece of his character that Moore recognizes from people he grew up with and knows.
“I am now more aware of how many more truthful colors I can bring to playing any character. I have been given an opportunity to lend more of my self to a role, in a way that I had not given myself permission to do in the past,” Moore says. “They say you have to bring yourself to the role, that’s where you start. With roles like Oliver, I am reminded of and have a deeper understanding of that lesson.”
Watch our interview with Stephen Conrad Moore below.