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Australian actor Keiynan Lonsdale has appeared in everything from the Divergent series to CW’s The Flash, but his new role as Bram Greenfeld in Love, Simon is personal.
Love, Simon, out today, breaks new ground as the first mainstream gay teen romance film to hit theaters across the U.S., and Lonsdale knows firsthand how important that is. Last May, soon after production on the film wrapped, he came out publicly to his fans: “I like girls, & I like guys (yes),” he wrote on Instagram. He had come out to the Love, Simon cast and crew a few weeks earlier. Though he feared the repercussions in Hollywood, which has in recent history tended to sideline openly queer actors into small and stereotypical roles, he felt ready.
Now Lonsdale, who is also a musician with several songs to his name, is prepared to tell more stories about love, queerness and the lessons he’s learned — whatever form that might take. To mark the release of Love, Simon, the actor talked to The Hollywood Reporter about about navigating Hollywood, how Queer Eye helped him embrace his identity, and why he decided to come out to his cast and crew at the end of filming for Love, Simon.
In your mind, what does Love, Simon mean for queer teens?
I think it’s absolutely huge. It’s kind of crazy that a movie like this hasn’t been made. It shows progress. Even when it’s really difficult to see progress, I think this is proof. We say, “Representation matters,” and it’s just the truth. You watch something, and depending on how the story is told and how these characters feel to you, it influences your life, it influences how you feel about yourself and people that you meet.
The amount of people in the world who identify as LGBTQ or are questioning themselves, it’s a lot of the population of the world, so this speaks to the world. And even if you don’t identify in that way, you know someone that does, or you have someone in your life — even if you don’t know they do — that might be struggling with that. It’s something that affects who we are as human beings.
When you came out to your fans on Instagram, was that in the middle of production?
It was a few weeks after. Two or three weeks after wrapping.
Was that a surprise to the cast and crew? Had you come out to them previously?
It’s kind of interesting. I was out to my cast at The Flash, I was out to some family and a lot of friends, but I went into this film, and I still hid myself from everyone. I didn’t know how to be myself, and I didn’t tell them. I was in a relationship at the time with a guy, and I didn’t even tell them that. It took me until the last day, until wrap time, to tell my cast. And I remember that made me really upset. I was speaking to one of my friends and I was like, “I don’t know why I’m so scared. I’m on a LGBT film, playing this character, there’s a gay director, everyone is so supportive. I couldn’t be in a better environment. And my friend, she sort of just advised, “Don’t be down on yourself. Maybe reflect on that.” [And I thought,] wow, that’s really interesting that I have all of these perfect things in place that I thought would make me feel comfortable but I still haven’t figured it out. And so that made me think a lot. It made me really dig deep, and I realized that I was harboring shame. Despite having accepted myself, I realized, like, I’m not embracing this. I’ve just accepted [that] this is who I am, and looking at it as though I have to deal with this thing that I have.
How did you come out to the cast and crew on that final day?
Before we got to the afterparty, we just went out for drinks. Like, all the cast and I. I don’t even know how I said it, but I just said it to the group, and they were of course really supportive and I explained to them that I wish I had said something earlier. It was great. It’s an interesting thing to go through that kind of growth and learn those lessons while your character is also learning those lessons. I’m very thankful for it.
Did you bring any of your own experiences into Bram’s character?
Yeah. 100 percent. I knew exactly what it felt like to be in the closet. I knew exactly in that moment what it felt like to play straight and to try to be that young, cool straight guy and to really work on that. I’d worked on it a lot on myself so that I’d never let anyone in. So I definitely tapped into all of that stuff and at the same time, Bram … he comes across as quite a happy, chill guy, but he’s dealing with a lot of pain, and I think that’s what a lot of people don’t often realize [about others]. Whether it’s depression or insecurities or something with their sexuality, they can appear as absolutely awesome, like, everything is great. Humans are really good at acting.
When you were reflecting on why you first didn’t feel comfortable coming out, you mentioned shame. Did the nature of Hollywood play a role in that at all? There is this idea that openly queer actors get sidelined into smaller roles. Was that a fear of yours?
That’s something that I had been told, even by other actors, even by other queer actors. It’s something that did happen a lot in the past, and I’m sure even now has happened. That’s why movies like this are important. It’s showing, no no no. We can be the leads in these love stories.
I’m also aware that I’m playing this superhero character [as Wally West in The Flash], and I was aware of that before and during coming out. I think it just takes people to let go of that fear and to make the moves in order for that narrative to change.
A lot of it was that fear. Because there wasn’t enough representation, whether it was acting or music. I didn’t feel like there was enough for me to look up to when I was younger. So it’s scary. It’s really scary to do what feels impossible. Once I realized that not only was it possible, but it’s important, and this is better for my sanity, that’s when I was able to make that shift.
Do you think that even in 2018, you will face some of that type-casting? Do you think that’s still going on?
I mean, I think it’s totally possible, but it’s not anything that I’m afraid of or even worried about it. I think if there’s a director, casting director, producer, studio that can’t see past the bullshit way of thinking — don’t mind my language — then they’re not people I want to work with. It’s as simple as that. I know now what I have to offer as an actor regardless of my sexuality. It’s important that I work with people where they know why they’re hiring me and that they’re looking to create art without fear. Anyone who uses those excuses to not cast people or to create extremely stereotypical characters, they’re creating out of fear, and to me that’s really boring.
Are there any future stories that you want to be able to tell as an actor?
I’d be really honored to do more LGBTQ stories. As much as they’re being highlighted at the moment, there still isn’t that much of them. There’s a lot to the story. And there are a lot of things I’ve learned about myself and about love, and I’m really grateful for the lessons, and I hope I can share that through art. I look for projects that allow me to do that, whether it’s music or acting.
Even watching Queer Eye. Watching Queer Eye, I’m like, “Oh my god. Like, help me with my life.” It’s such an important show, and it’s providing a space for audiences to watch different people come together and realize they’re the same. That’s the kind of content that moves the world, it’s the kind of content that makes me cry, it’s the kind of content that I think inspires us to be who we’re meant to be.
Is there a word or label you prefer to describe your sexuality?
In the past, and even up till now, I haven’t used labels. As much as I think that in the future we won’t need labels, at the moment they’re really important. So I’m making myself embrace that. I truly am proud to be queer. Even watching Queer Eye is something that inspired me to say that. So that’s the power of representation.
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