slay ride

Philemon Chambers on queering holiday romance in ‘Single all the Way’

Single All The Way. Philemon Chambers as Nick, in Single All The Way. Cr. Philippe Bosse/Netflix © 2021

Of course he’s the son of a preacher man.

The “he” in this case would be Philemon Chambers, the handsome charmer making his feature film debut in the new Netflix holiday rom-com Single All the Way. The film arrives on the service December 2.

For Chambers, the film represents something of a breakout and a comeback. Having grown up taking modeling, commercial and bit acting roles on television, the Los Angeles resident opted to take a long hiatus from acting work. He waded back into on-camera work in 2019 with the short film Hearts and Castles before landing his first film role in Single All the Way.

Single All the Way casts Chambers as Nick, the writer roommate of the neurotic Peter (Michael Urie). Peter invites Nick back to spend Christmas with his family on the east coast in hopes that his parents (Kathy Najimy and Barry Bostwick) and eccentric aunt (Jennifer Coolidge) might not hound him about another yuletide season without a boyfriend. Little to Peter and Nick realize, but Peter’s mom plans to set him up with a handsome local (Luke McFarlane) named James. The sudden introduction causes Peter and Nick to look at their own friendship in a way they never have before.

We snagged time for a rare in-depth interview with Chambers to talk about the film, the emerging queer holiday genre, and the life-altering ramifications of stardom. Single All the Way arrives on the service December 2.

So this is your first feature, your first leading role on screen. How excited are you for the world to see it? What’s the state of your life?

The state of my life at the moment is very much random spurts of energy and nerves, but not bad nerves. Good nerves. I’m so happy, I feel like I’m on cloud nine. I’m just happy to be doing these interviews and have a platform to stand for something and articulate myself. And yes, this is my first feature film.

Single All The Way (L-R). Michael Urie as Peter, Jennifer Coolidge as Aunt Sandy, Philemon Chambers as Nick, in Single All The Way. Cr. Philippe Bosse/Netflix © 2021

Did you have to audition?

There was an audition process. This happened in 2020 when everything was still COVID-based. Nobody was going in to audition rooms. It was very random. I received the script from my agent, did the self-tape. John Buchan, the casting director, reached out to my team and wanted to have an interview. I didn’t know what that meant. I was like, did I do something wrong?


They were like, no, this is good. I got on the phone with him and he was like, I’m John. Who are you? Where have you been? I know everybody, but I do not know you. A brief background: I started when I was younger, when I was 13. I was featured in shows like Criminal Minds and An Ordinary Family. I was commercially successful, but I left the business for a good five years. That wasn’t planned.


And I came back in 2019, did a show called All Rise, then did Hearts and Castles, which was my short film debut. Now I’m making a feature film debut.

Career momentum, good thing to have. Now why the break?

Well, since I was doing this since I was 13, I didn’t really have a childhood. Most of my teens were spent on set, going to auditions or in acting classes. I didn’t have a childhood. I didn’t go to parties. So I left the business to explore and live my life. I also got into a relationship; that also kind of took me off the market. I lost myself in what I wanted to do, and I wasn’t happy. I had to redefine myself. The person I found wanted to go back into acting. At the top of 2020, I signed to an agency and thought everything was going to be great. Then COVID hit, and it slowed down everything.

Oh lord.

So when the audition came for Single All the Way, I went for it. I took liberation in it. I had fun, and it panned out.

That’s fantastic. Nick is a creative mind, and we don’t learn too much about his dating woes, as opposed to Peter’s. What kind of backstory do you develop with your director, Michael Mayer?

You know, when the script came to me, I just wanted to figure out who Nick was. He’s very similar to me in a lot of ways: loving, caring, thoughtful, supportive. So I actually talked to Chad Hodge, our executive producer and writer, Michael, our director, and even Michael Urie. They kept me very much involved in the process because this was a black, gay character. They wanted and valued my input. Coming into this project as a rookie among veterans, I was just like, I’m here, let me know what I can do. I didn’t want to step on any feet. But they made me feel so welcome and part of the team.


Again, I just wanted to figure out who Nick was. He wasn’t that different from me. That was a beautiful part of telling this story: in a sense, I was telling part of myself. In that—and I have said this in other interviews—I’ve accepted myself more because of Nick.

Really? How so?

It’s just very unapologetic. Nick and Peter, the world they are in is so accepting. There is so much unconditional love, so much support that is in this film. It made me feel as if these stories can happen. In my real life, my parents and family are very accepting. I’m very fortunate to have that. But I am aware not everybody does have that. So it just speaks to what can be. And, having it come out on Netflix—we’re going to be in 190 countries and 214 million homes.

Single All The Way (L-R). Philemon Chambers as Nick, Michael Urie as Peter, in Single All The Way. Cr. Philippe Bosse/Netflix © 2021

Oh my goodness.

I know! David, I’m telling you. It’s one of those things where I realize, you know what? I am what I needed when I was younger. I am what I needed when I was younger. A lot of people ask the question “What would this have meant to you if it came out 10-15 years before?” And I say it all the time: I would have genuinely accepted myself a long time ago. I wouldn’t have suppressed myself. Now we see gay characters portrayed in a positive manner with families accepting them and there is no homophobia. It’s understanding at its purest level. I’m still super grateful. I thank Netflix, I thank Chad, I thank Joel, I even thank you for having this conversation with me, to let me have a voice.

It’s my pleasure.

It really means a lot, David. Thank you.

Related: Husbands Ben Lewis And Blake Lee on finding queer romance at Christmas in ‘The Christmas Setup’

Truly, the honor is mine. Now this is, as you say, is a big deal. You will be in hundreds of millions of homes.

It’s insane.

But on top of that, you’re working with some very experienced actors here. Michael Urie—Julliard trained. Great stage and TV career. Kathy, Jennifer—national treasures. Barry Bostwick, total veteran. What is it like doing a scene with them?

First, what was going through my head was you’ve got to be friggin kidding me.


My life? No, no, no. I had so many pinch-me moments. Our first day where the cast got together was on a Saturday to do blocking. Because we were in Montreal, we had to be strategic about how we played those scenes. We only had 15 minutes a day, believe it or not, where we could be in close proximity to one another.

What? Wow.

We only had 15 minutes to be within three feet of each other. So we had to be strategic.

That’s a movie unto itself. But please, go on.

My first day meeting Kathy and Barry, Ashley, who plays the sister in the film—and this was my fault—I was 15 minutes late. I confused my pickup time. But when I got there, everyone saw me and started clapping. It was like how nice of you to come.


It was honestly one of those moments where I can’t put it into words. Standing next to Kathy Najimy, Barry Bostwick, Jennifer Robertson—the idea that I’d be there with people I look up to was mind-blowing. And working with Michael Urie, who I worked with every day because we had so many scenes together, he’s a total sweetheart. And I’m glad you brought up Julliard. He and Luke McFarlane, our other co-star, went to Julliard together.

Single All The Way (L-R). Michael Urie as Peter, Kathy Najimy as Carole, Luke Macfarlane as James, in Single All The Way. Cr. Philippe Bosse/Netflix © 2021

Oh that’s cool.

So when we did our camera test day, that’s all Michael and Luke would talk about. And I felt so left out. But honestly, they were so absolutely amazing, so nice, so welcoming and comforting. And what do I learn from them? So much.


Just watching Jennifer Coolidge and how she works. She cracks herself up first before she makes anyone else laugh, I kid you not. Please, Netflix, release some bloopers…

I’d watch that.

She cracks herself up. Her process is so amazing to watch. She doesn’t even know what she’s going to do until she does it. That’s the excitement of watching her every time. Kathy Najimy is the improvisation queen. Every single time she does [a take], it’s different. It’s new and unique. I love it. Barry brings this incredible authenticity. It’s mind-blowing to have one on one scenes with him.

How’s that?

When Barry and I did our scene in the garage together, it was a master class. Thank you, Barry. And I did sing “Time Warp” to him a few times.


Even Jennifer Robertson, she’s comedy gold. Every time she said a line, I was just like how do you come up with this? Jennifer and I were coming back from set one day, and I mentioned it was my first feature film and she was like you’re joking. I would have never known. And Kathy and Barry and Jennifer all said the same thing. I was amazed to be among giants and have them say these things about me.

Seriously, that’s incredible.

You hear horror stories about how things go, but it wasn’t that at all. We built a family bond. And I was just so relaxed with the advice they gave me: have fun.

I hope you guys do a sequel about Nick’s family next year. Nick and Peter go to meet the folks.

You never know. Netflix? I’m just saying…

Now you’ve alluded to this, but only in the past year or two have we seen LGBTQ characters emerge in the Christmas movie genre. I don’t know why they don’t think the queers celebrate, but hey, who knows?

Right? Gays love Christmas.

We do. It’s funny, last year as Hallmark and Lifetime and Paramount and Hulu were all racing to get the first queer-themed Christmas movie out, I covered all the developments for Queerty. One thing that emerged in my reporting was also the lack of African American-themed Christmas movies. Which is another head-scratcher: African Americans also love Christmas. What is up with that? Why is that?

You know what? Honestly, let’s go to the networks and ask them. The beautiful thing now is that in the past five years there are a lot more black stories being told. Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther, God rest his soul. We now have a black superhero. And we now have a black, gay character in Eternals, which was banned in several countries because of that.

Oh yes.

But these stories are now being told. I’m super excited that we now have a voice, not just an anecdote. We are part of it. I feel like Hollywood is becoming more inclusive. Back in the day, these stories weren’t told from a black standpoint or a gay standpoint. And if they were told, there was no sense of authenticity. There were only stereotypes. I never found that relatable.


I’m very glad that Netflix, dong a gay holiday rom-com, including a black character and showing a black queer perspective is absolutely monumental. I didn’t have that when I was younger. And granted, everything takes time. But this story is such smooth sailing. It just happens to be about gay characters going through normal life things. It’s a beautiful thing to be a first, and hopefully, these stories will be more common. I’m just super excited.

Well, and to that point: my mom loves these Christmas romance movies. Last year, she couldn’t wait to watch The Christmas Setup, the Lifetime movie about a gay couple. What struck me was how much it meant to her to watch a movie about gay guys falling in love on Christmas. Representation isn’t just about seeing yourself: it’s about seeing your friends and your family too.

I’m so glad you said that. There are so many levels to representation. In my scene with Harold [Bostwick] in the garage and he says “I always thought you and Peter should be together,” is monumental unto itself. That a heterosexual man could talk to a gay man person to person is so monumental. [It’s a testament] to Netflix to tell this story. It’s not something we have to tiptoe around. Ignorance isn’t always hate. Sometimes, people really don’t know. And yes, feelings can be hurt, but at the same time, why not [have a conversation]?

Last question then. Tell me about gratitude. When do you feel it the most?

I feel it the most when I’m having these conversations. I don’t take myself too seriously, nor do I think about [what I’m going to do next]. When I actually get to have a voice, I feel it the most. Also, the effect it has on you…it means a lot to me. Thank you, Queerty for taking the time to talk to me. And I feel it when I wake up every morning. The past two years have been trying for a lot of us. To have a gift that keeps on giving like Single All the Way is amazing.

I’m sure my mother will be watching.

Single All the Way arrives on Netflix December 2.