A little over a year ago, Keiynan Lonsdale was a fast-rising star know for his appearances in The Divergent Series and as Kid Flash in The CW's DC Universe superhero series The Flash.
But, as the 26-year-old Australian star he now admits, he was holding back - as much from himself as the rest of the world.
Something changed for Sydney-born Keiynan after being cast in Greg Berlanti's Love, Simon as a classmate of Nick Robinson's closeted gay teen protagonist.
Starring in a story about being tru to yourself surrounded by a cast and crew that included several out actors fighting against the industry's ongoing aversion to openly LGBT talent, Keiynan decided to come out publicly to the world.
The last 12 months have seen Lonsdale's world turn upside down, with the release of his first solo music and the shock decision to leave The Flash and its sister show Lengends of Tomorrow behind.
As Love, Simon comes to DVD and Blu-ray as well as Digital Download, giving LGBT youth across the globe another chance to devour the first major studio coming out story aimed specifically at a teen audience, Attitude's Will Stroude caught up with Keiynan to find out exactly what's been going on...
Hi Keiynan! How are you feeling about the response to Love, Simon now you’ve had a few months to reflect?
I feel really inspired by the responses, and I guess with it coming out on DVD and Blu-ray it’s just a whole new audience that maybe wasn’t comfortable seeing it in the theatre, which is obviously a huge thing. I could have been that same way had I come out when I was a bit younger. It’s just a reminder I guess of the importance of telling stories which connect with love and acceptance. It’s really something we need at the moment.
We’ve read stories of young people coming out to their families after seeing the movie, and you yourself were inspired to come out publicly during filming. What does it feel like to have a work project become such a part of your own personal journey?
It feels amazing. I think what I’ve learnt is that we always separate things like our work and our personal life, and for me it all just falls under ‘life’. I’m learning so many things along the way, and for me it was a really full-circle moment where I was watching the film the first time and I was crying because I was like ‘whoah, I was so lost’. I thought I would never have this, and not only did I find self-acceptance, not only did I come out, but I get to be this guy that plays this character that gets to tell other kids that it’s ok too. Life is really funny like that. It was surreal.
What is your favourite memory from being a part of Love, Simon that stands out to you now?
Every single part of it. Every single moment from stepping on to set to filming the kiss. From hanging out with he cast to the premiere to the wrap party, I’m always going to look back on this and be thankful.
If Greg pitched a sequel to you, is that something you’d be up for?
I would definitely consider it. It was an amazing experience shooting the film so if we got to do it again it would be awesome. I think part of me inside feels like it was a special one-off moment, and it’s important that if we did do a sequel that it’s as organic as the first one. We’ll do what feels right.
You’ve been out publicly for just over a year now. You’d come out to close friends before that, but chose not to share it publicly as you began your career in Hollywood. Are they still discriminated against them in your experience?
I think it’s deep-rooted. The conversation’s changing, and there are so many more people in Hollywood who are so accepting – probably the majority – but at the same time I think the conversations has been changing very quickly, and even with a film like this coming out and making money, it’s definitely a good thing because they can throw that money at bigger queer projects, and show audience that they respect the queer community enough to change the game. I think it’s just continuing what we’re doing, because then actors will see that they can be themselves play any character they want.
You recently announced that you wouldn't be returning to The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, saying your perspective on life and what you want for it has changed a l lot over the last 12 months. In what ways?
I think a lot of it – and I still am going to be a part of the DC Universe, it just wont’ be full-time – was that I needed more freedom to discover the way I think about the world, the way I think about myself, and continue to learn about other people and work passionately on my music. And of course act, I love acting. But I wanted to sort of… I guess step into an unknown situation and see what happens. I’m a big believer in following your gut and following your heart, and as much as it’s an amazing job and I know how lucky I am to have it, I’m also able to recognise that this is my journey and this is the time for me to spread my wings in a different way. I’m really exciting.
What do you think is the biggest difference you’ve noticed in yourself compared to 12 months ago?
Oh, wow. The biggest difference – and I think this is always going to be a challenge and a thing to work on – but the past 12 months I’ve really found balance. I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what keeps me balanced even if things around me a pretty chaotic, and being brave enough to step into different lanes and find what makes me most happy. And not be afraid to fight for that.
It was great to hear your first solo music ‘Kiss the Boy’ embrace queerness right out the gate. What more can you tell us about what you’re working on?
I’m writing an album at the moment which ‘Kiss the Boy’ should be on and I’m really excited about it. I think a lot of that new perspective I mentioned, a lot of those new discoveries is what the album is, and I think it’s the best way I can express how I feel about life and how I want to make other people feel. I feel like I discovered my own sort of personal magic and I’m excited to share that.
Has music helped you deal with he personal stuff you’ve had going on off-screen since coming out?
Totally. Acting is amazing; it’s amazing to take on beautiful scripts, but I also know that there’s things that I wanted to say myself, and I get to do that with the music. There’s a lot of freedom in music – even if people don’t like it, it doesn’t matter, you still get to make it.
It’s been a big year for Australia since the legalisation of marriage equality – as an Australian how did you feel about watching the national poll unfold?
I guess I knew that even though there was resistance that we were going to accept equal marriage. So it was more just a frustration of ‘hurry up’. Because you’re wasting everyone’s time by pretending like this isn’t going to happen and that the people don’t want it. Australians are smart: they know how to love, they know how to dance and be free. And I think our government also knows how to make us feel like we shouldn’t be free. And it’s like that all around the world: we’ve got a lot of powers that be that want to strip away that freedom. Because once you grant people total freedom, you give them absolute access over their own life. And that’s scary, because it’s difficult to control and to maintain. I think it’s so, so important that we remember the most important thing in life is to live it and live it authentically. Whether that’s being with the person you love, or following the dream that you have; whether it’s walking outside and acting like a fish if that’s how you want to live your life!
Love, Simon is out on Digital Download now is released on DVD on 6 August.