TV & Movies

Matt James on the pressure he felt as the first Black 'Bachelor' (exclusive)

Almost 20 years after airing its first season in 2002,The Bachelor has a Black male lead. The franchise announced Matt James would take the helm as the first Black Bachelor in June, and though he was new to the show, he still felt the pressure.

"I felt a lot, I'm not going to lie," he told ET's Lauren Zima on Monday. "But the more conversations I had with Chris [Harrison] — he helped me realize that I only speak for myself, and my experience was my own, and when someone has an opinion, whether they're white or Black, that's their opinion. It doesn't mean that all Black or white people think that way."

"I think I did a great job representing how I was raised and where I come from and what I'm looking for, and I hope people see that too," Matt added.

Matt's season premieres on Monday night, and features the most inclusive Bachelor cast ever — "what I'm looking for isn't specific to a race, and that's why I was extremely excited about the group of women I saw. It represented everybody," he told ET.

Alongside Matt's casting in June, producers announced their commitment to diversity in front of and behind the camera. Viewers have been excited about the changes so far, praising the most recent leads (Bachelorette Clare Crawley is Mexican, and her replacement, Tayshia Adams, is Mexican and Black), and the important topics that have been brought to the forefront, like the emotional conversation Tayshia had with a contestant, Ivan Hall, about their biracial identities, police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Matt is also biracial, the son of a Black father and white mother, and said similar conversations will be shown on his season.

"I think it's important. It's something everyone should talk about, because it's what we're experiencing. And if you're white, if you're Black, our kids are going to look a certain way, and they're going to go through what I've been through," he explained. "So, I think it's absolutely important and something that we talked about."

Viewers will see a "decent amount" of discussions about race, Matt said. "You'll hear their stances on it, and you'll see where I stand on it as well," he promised.

The Bachelor cast its first lead of color with season 18's Juan Pablo Galavis, who is Venezuelan. Season 24's Peter Weber, who is Cuban, was the second Bachelor of color. Rachel Lindsay, meanwhile, was the first Black Bachelorette. Her season aired in 2017.

Matt got some advice from Rachel and other past leads before filming, but the experience itself really broke him down, exposed wounds from his parents' split and helped him get to know himself better.

"There were a lot of conversations that I had, that I needed to have that I hadn't had and I wasn't planning on having," he confessed. "But that's where this whole experience took me, and I'm so fortunate for it. I grew up as a man. It allowed me to be vulnerable for these women, so I could experience what I experienced."

And yes, Matt did experience love. "Love to me looked different before I got to Nemacolin [where the show filmed] because of what I experienced up to that point," he shared. "And yes, I guess I'd say I haven't experienced love until I got out there."

The Bachelor premieres Monday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

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