The actor shot to prominence this year with his role on Netflix's teen-drama juggernaut 13 Reasons Why, but has gained attention for his outspoken support for the LGBTQ community and for representation for queer youth.
When (and where) are you most creative?
In the shower, early evening.
How did you get your start?
I was a ballet dancer and through that I fell in love with storytelling. It was a pretty natural progression from there.
What are you working on right now? Can you describe any current projects or activities?
Currently shooting season 2 of 13 Reasons Why, just wrapped on an ensemble indie comedy called Fluidity, and developing a film based on a remarkable story for which I just acquired the rights.
What is success to you?
Serenity. In moments where I don't feel anxious or overwhelmed, when I'm not full of fear, when I'm doing my work and I can see clearly, I feel the most successful. I know I've had a successful day when I can fall asleep easily, without tossing and turning, without my brain churning over details from the past and what might happen in my future.
Do critics matter?
In the sense that certain critics can "make or break" a show or even an actor, sure. However, I don't think it's constructive to my work to obsess over it. Sometimes I get critiqued and it's a learning experience, sometimes it's unfair and full of prejudice. My job is to not take it personally either way.
Obviously you've seen success in your career but can you tell us about a time you failed?
I wasn't accepted into any grad school acting programs and I felt like a huge failure. Right now, I can see it wasn't the path for me, but at the time, nearing the end of my undergrad, my confidence definitely took a hit.
Do you think about legacy?
Yes. I think about legacy in the context of what impact will the things that I'm doing have on the world. How will people look back on me and my life's work, both inside and outside of acting. I think about career longevity, activism, and what I'd like to leave behind.
What advice do you have for someone looking to break into your industry?
Learn as much about yourself as possible and don't be afraid to put your dreams out there. You have this one life so don't let fear of rejection, of not being good enough, of making mistakes ruin your chances at being fulfilled in what you're doing. Take care of your body, as it is your instrument. And lastly, being "busy" doesn't always equate to being "productive". I've learned I need time to relax in order to work at my highest level.
Did you ever give up (or want to give up)? What were the circumstances?
Yes. In those months before I got sober and then, when I finally did get sober, I didn't think I'd be able to act, so I spent time pursuing career options that required less of my full self, that were more traditionally stable and structured.
What trends in your field do you find most exciting / are you most optimistic about? What about your field is frustrating? What would you like to see change?
Artists as activists is definitely trending, and I do find it exciting. I think it's important if you have a platform to use it for good, not evil. And, to me, omission and silence contributes to the evil. There's also a young-adult queer trend coming. In the next year alone you'll see more films and shows centered around LGBTQ+ youth, which makes me feel grateful to be alive today. However, I suppose, in that same vein, I'm frustrated that they aren't always casting LGBTQ+ actors to play those roles and that sometimes those stories are being written and directed by non-LGBTQ+ identifying people. I recently read a script about gay youth in a conversion therapy program that was adapted by a straight man and it very much felt like an outsider looking in. It lacked a queer voice and perspective. It relied on certain stereotypes as opposed to truth.
How do you plan to build on your success so far? Is there anything you fear will set you back?
I'm human, I'm constantly in a state of fear. My goals daily are to rationalize that fear and move past it as much as possible so that it doesn't affect my life or my work. I'm very goal oriented and as far as building on my success, I plan on simply continuing to work and diversify my portfolio. I have a cheesy dream board in my office because I read somewhere that, if you write it down, it's 70% more likely to happen. Or maybe I heard that from a post-it commercial. Either way, cheesy shit like that gives me feels, so I do it. I have to say, thus far, it's worked in my favor. I guess that's another piece of advice!
What was the first moment you knew you were going to be able to do this as a job – not necessarily your first big break or success, but the first time you thought, "This is it, this is my career"?
Six months before I booked 13 I was sitting on my friend's porch in Santa Monica. He did this life exercise that involved me closing my eyes and describing to him, in as much detail as possible, what my day looked like five years in the future. I visualized my bed, my partner, my dog, the street I might live on, the weather, and when it came time to go to work I was going to set. At that time, I'd never even been on a real set, but my idea of what that looked like was there, and in that moment I knew acting would be my career.
What's been the biggest choice you've had to make in your career so far?
Making the choice to not take things personally.
What is your morning routine like?
I try to get up between 7 and 8 hours from the time I went to bed. I usually don't have that luxury because of work or travel, but I do my best to sleep as much as possible. My morning routine is all about getting present. It's an evolving active meditation. When I brush my teeth, I just think about brushing my teeth. When I shower, I just think about showering. It's essential because my first thought, usually, when I wake up is "I'm fucked, today is going to be crazy, I'm the worst human alive, etc." so I try to take my time getting as present as possible to not fall into that weird fear trap. I walk to my coffee shop, have a cigarette, and eat a pastry. Then, before I get dressed for the day, I pray. It's not religious. I just thank the universe for my life, listing the things I'm grateful for, and as for my friends and family to be taken care of.
What are you most excited about for the future?
The opportunity to keep learning, and work with directors and writers I admire. Being a part of change, continuing to fight for equality for the LGBTQ+ community and as an ally to other marginalized people. Seeing my friends find success in their own way. Trump not being our president.
What are you most worried about for the future?
Trump forever being President.
Are you good at giving advice? What is the best advice you've ever given?
I certainly value the opportunity to share my experience with others. I don't know if I could single out the best advice, but a piece of advice that I think is universally helpful is don't be afraid to ask for help - don't think that you have to travel alone on your journey.
Are you good at receiving advice? What is the best advice you've ever received?
Only recently. A few years ago, my answer would've been a strong fuck no. But lately I've been asking for help a lot and the people in my life I admire have been a great resource for me. My favorite piece of advice I've received is to pause before I do things, whether that's go into an audition room, start a scene on set, reply to a frustrating email, enter my home after a stressful day, call my mom, agree to a job, decline something or someone, kiss a stranger, send a dick-pic, post on social.
What makes a person beautiful? What makes you beautiful?
How they treat others. How I treat myself.
What are you most proud of?
Photo courtesy Tommy Dorfman