‘Real World’ Star Danny Roberts Reflects on Life After ‘New Orleans’ and Getting Closure (Exclusive)

‘Real World’ Star Danny Roberts Reflects on Life After ‘New Orleans’ and Getting Closure (Exclusive)

Over the course of The Real World‘s 30-year history, Danny Roberts is one of the more memorable roommates to appear on the MTV reality franchise. And now, 22 years later, he’s reuniting with his New Orleans castmates — David “Tokyo” Broom, Melissa Beck, Jamie Murray, Matt Smith, Julie Stoffer and Kelley Wolf — for season 3 of The Real World Homecoming on Paramount+.

“It brought up lots of memories and things that had been nicely tucked away in a closet, no pun intended,” Roberts tells ET’s Lauren Zima about the upcoming installments of Homecoming, which may prove to be the most dramatic yet as he and other roommates finally unpack issues that forced them apart over the past two decades. During their time together, he also revisits what it was like to become one of the most popular gay men in America at the time, thanks to the groundbreaking story that played out on the series at the time.

While on New Orleans, which ran for 23 episodes in 2000, Roberts was a fresh-faced 22-year-old gay man from Georgia. As one of seven roommates from very different backgrounds, Roberts faced many opposing views over who he was, as a member of the LGBTQ community, from the Mormon Church, which Stoffer was a part of at the time, and Smith, who was a devout Catholic with a narrow point of view on issues of gender and sexuality.

During his time in the house, Roberts was in a relationship with an officer named Paul Dill, whose face had to be blurred out during filming to protect his identity. He also made history by inadvertently becoming the literal face of President Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that allowed closed members of the LGBTQ community to serve in the military unless they were out.

Although Roberts’ relationship with Dill generated headlines and sparked conversations about the controversial policy as well as much-needed LGBTQ rights, the time New Orleans was on the air and the years after proved to be difficult for the two. “I lived as a recluse for a few years after that. If you saw the original season, I was dating someone who was in the military at the time and couldn’t be out,” Roberts says, explaining that his face was blurred out so his identity remained hidden.

But even after that, Dill was still an active member of the military and the two had to protect him from being outed. “He was still in the military for years after that show. So, you know, I had to assume a recluse identity and stay very much to myself,” he says. “I lived miserably for a few years there and [I was] trapped in what had become a toxic codependent relationship out of the sense of responsibility and something greater than me.”

Roberts adds, “It actually buried me as a young person, who was really just starting to open up to life. And, you know, a huge chunk of my twenties were stolen from me.”

On Homecoming, Roberts admits to having suffered from complex post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of what he went through. “It took years to unravel the story and make sense of it all,” he says, noting that back then they didn’t have the support or the language to “comprehend what we had experienced and what was happening.”

As teased by the series, Roberts will reunite Dill, who pays a visit to the roommates’ house in the Big Easy. It marks the first time the two have seen each other in 15 years after breaking up in 2006. “Without sharing too much right now, it was something that I was actually against originally. I was not interested,” Roberts admits, explaining that he and Dill had “a very close relationship for eight years. I took care of him through cancer at one point. So, we had an intense history together, but it ended on a really sour note and we didn’t speak for 15 years.”

He says, “Even though I was so against it, it ended up happening for various reasons. But I’m very thankful that it happened because it was actual, real closure. And it gave me a new framework to look back on [what happened between] the both of us.”

His about Dill are not the only feelings personal issue he’s been “processing” since the house, Roberts admit leavings. In 2018, he made headlines when he revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he was HIV positive since 2011.

“The reason I want to share this story is that I spent so long battling and beating myself up for my own misconceptions and bigotry,” he said at the time. “It is difficult to admit the negative feelings you had about a set of people and state of being based on made-up stories.”

Roberts also shared he was “undetectable,” meaning “that a person’s viral load is so low it can’t be measured by a blood test and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that the virus can’t be sexually transmitted from one person to another.”

While acceptance and LGBTQ rights have expanded in the two decades since Roberts first appeared on TV as an openly gay man, he says, “It’s easy to forget that at the time it was not cool to be out and it was dangerous.”

In fact, Matthew Shepard had been murdered only two years before Roberts’ season aired on MTV. And that’s something that has stuck with Roberts. “When I chose to do this show one of the things that inspired me to do this was that Matthew Shepard had just been murdered,” he recalls. “That was very fresh in my mind.”

“I just wanted to be an honest voice and it was scary as hell to be,” he says, admitting he did not realize how much pressure would follow. “I did not have the tools to manage it… It was something bigger than me that I didn’t have the framework to manage.”

Although he didn’t have the tools at the time, Roberts has learned to cope and understand his feelings over what happened. And he says his time spent back in the house was “redemptive” and he’s glad that he participated in the experience. “This is probably the last thing that I expected to happen in this stage of life,” he says. “Even though it was terrifying at first and all my instincts said don’t do it, it’s been a bit of a gift.”

He adds, “Overall it was a blast.”

The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans premieres Wednesday, April 20 on Paramount+.

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