“That’s the process of unpacking something, as opposed to just being like…” James continued before imitating the sound of a busted pipe. “That's overwhelming.”
We can view Monday’s season 25 premiere of The Bachelor as the first step in opening up the metaphorical suitcase that is Matt James, a complete newbie to the sprawling Bachelor Nation universe. As we see in “Week 1,” James wants viewers to recognize him as a man of faith from the very beginning. He kicks off the Bachelor Night 1 cocktail party with a religious prayer in place of the traditional toast. As James confirmed to Refinery29, he is a Christian.
“Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for bringing us all together healthy. Give these women the courage to get through these next few months,” James says in the premiere. “You say that you work all things for the good of those who love you and are called according to your purpose, Father God. And I feel like that’s why I’m here and I feel like that’s why these women are here, Lord.”
Nevertheless, James is his own Bachelor Nation lead — and his outlook on religious “dealbreakers” is totally different, as he suggested to Refinery29 (when he wasn’t dishing on his Queen’s Gambit binge watch).
Refinery29: You’re not from the Bachelor “system.” How did you prepare to lead the season?
Matt James: “I reached out to a bunch of alumni whom I respect. People who it worked out for and some that it didn’t work out for. I just wanted to get their feel on what to expect and if there’s anything they would have changed about their experience.”
Who were your favorite Bachelor Nation tutors?
“Everyone I talked to gave great advice. Me and Hannah Brown have an incredible relationship. I talk to her almost every day. I reached out to Rachel Lindsay. Sean Lowe. Wells. Becca. Peter. Colton. I talked to everybody. Ben Higgins! Tayshia. JoJo. Everyone gave me great advice. The net of that was to just be yourself — and don’t try to please people. As someone who’s a people pleaser, that was difficult.”
We’re both people of color. I’m sure you grew up in white spaces. Do you feel like we tend to "people please" to fit in?
“It’s a fact. You’re having to disarm who you are constantly so people are comfortable around you. A big question that I’ve been getting is like ‘What’s your experience as someone who’s biracial?’ Well, I don’t really project as my mom being white. So I had to tell people growing up that my mom’s white. And then they’re like, ‘It’s cool. He can come in — his mom’s white.’”
You start your season off with a cast prayer. What was it like to share your faith so early?
“It wasn’t difficult. Because that’s something that’s extremely important to me. But, I’ll say this: My brother and I have very different religious views — and I would die for him. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my brother. That goes to say, just because I don’t share the same religious view as somebody doesn’t mean I see them as any less of a person I could be compatible with. But I think it’s important that they know where my peace comes from and where my decision making is rooted in.
“We’re both trying to figure each other out. If that’s a dealbreaker for them, then I’d rather them know that about me so that I’m not wasting their time.”
Tayshia basically told us that faith is a huge part of life — of course you’ll talk about it during dating. Do you feel the same way?
“[The women and I] talked about it a decent amount. But, we talked about a lot of things … As you can imagine, something like that, something like race, something like any topic that is at the forefront of our country, is something that we’re going to be talking about.
“Nothing was a dealbreaker. It’s just important that you know where each other stands so that we can talk about it. If there’s no conversation then there’s no resolution. You can't expect someone to understand something they’ve never been educated on or talked about.”
You’re very honest about your anxieties around feeling pressure to pick the “right” person as a biracial man. What was it like to be vulnerable about that?
“It’s a real thing. I would be lying if [I said] it was something I wasn’t super nervous about. Because, again, being a people pleaser, I’m trying to make everybody happy.
“The more comfortable I got with not worrying about pleasing everybody, the easier my time was enjoying the company of these women and focusing on things that I’m actually looking for in a person. For me, that was represented through all the women who were there. What I’m looking for isn’t specific in a certain race. It could be anybody.”
“Of course I watched Queen’s Gambit. I just talked to somebody about how that was one of my favorite things I binge-watched over quarantine. It’s so impressive to watch someone who’s skilled play chess, because I’m not. It’s cool how they put something that most people discount as not being cool and made it this movement of like, ‘Yeah I play chess!’ 'You don’t play chess, like, what!’ That was dope.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.