Garrett Clayton is a busy boy.
Between nabbing lead roles ranging from deranged twink porn star to suicidal teen to Peter Pan, the actor finds little time for interviews.
But hey, we’re Queerty, and we know how to nab a man. After a long flirtation, we’ve finally had the chance to sit down with Clayton to discuss his new film Reach, now available on iTunes and in theatres in select cities.
In the film, Clayton plays Steven, a lonely, bullied student at a performing arts school trying to come out of his shell, and trying to uncover the truth behind a long-held family secret that caused a rift between him and his best friend. The film comes on the heels of Clayton’s own coming out, which earned him a spot in Queerty’s “Out for Good” series.
Clayton sounds cheerful if a bit shy as he settles in for some banter.
So I saw Reach a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it. How did Reach come to you?
The producer sent the script to my agent. After I read it, I loved it and I related to it, so I felt it was important for me to be a part of. It also felt a bit like I had a responsibility to do it because of the themes I related to in the story.
Your character, Steven, is quite melancholy when we first meet him. Like a lot of young gay men realizing come to terms with their sexuality, he feels isolated and lonely, he’s contemplating suicide.
I felt like I had gone through those things in my own life. So I understood. There was like a six to an eight-month period when I was in high school when I was severely depressed and sleeping every day.
So for me, I felt like I understood what the weight of that felt like. You’re pulling it on your back. I think that to understand that kind of depression—you can’t replicate that. So for me, it just felt like, immediately when it opened and I started learning about the character, I was like oh, I understand this. With the bullying, with the familial issues, and not being able to, for a period of Steven’s life, to explore who he is fully because he’s so busy dealing with other things, whether it’s people at school, or people he used to be friends with, or the way his family treats him. I think he just feels very alone in those dynamics because he takes a lot of responsibility for other people’s actions. They’re kind of like placing it on him, and he doesn’t object because he doesn’t know any different.
Because you’ve had the personal experience yourself, what do you think it is about high school breed these kinds of bullying dynamics?
It could be varying factors. There are schools that run pretty smoothly an everyone has a great attitude about it, and you have others…I mean, I didn’t go to a performing arts school [depicted in Reach]. I went to public school.
In Michigan, yes?
Yeah. I mean, part of it is that everything almost feels amplified when you’re in high school because you’re surrounded by the same people for years at a time. It’s something that you don’t really replicate very often. I think it all depends on the circumstance, and the people involved in the mix, and the attitude of the leadership, I think, a lot of times. It’s the same in film. If you have a really ambitious, hard-working, positive leader of the film, whether it’s the lead producer or the director helming the project, they really set the tone for that the same way a principal would in a high school. Sometimes it can stem from that. It can stem from teachers. It can stem from social dynamics within the school—what students are you rewarding, and why? Are you just rewarding sports? Are you just rewarding the arts? So I think there’s a huge factor that is a bunch of smaller, varying factors. But I do think it starts at the top and setting a good standard. It’s all the trickle-down effect.
When I interviewed to Jordan [Doww, who plays Steven’s nemesis Nick], he had so many wonderful things to say about you and the production. He said he would just have to walk away and cry because the topic was so draining.
There’s always a couple of moments when you’re filming something, if it’s pretty intense, it can drain you. I did another horror movie a few years ago where we, every day, would be there for 14 hours. So maybe they’d be doing the same 10 pages throughout the day where basically, it’s almost like you’re rehearsing a play where you keep running the same scene over and over again, but for 14 hours. So if you’re sobbing in that scene, you’re going to be sobbing for 14 hours.
So that was an extreme circumstance. I think even things like this, the graduation scene was really hard for me. Because I was speaking…that for me, um…For me, that was for a family member who killed themselves.
In real life you mean?
That was kind of directed for them.
How do you prepare for that?
Obviously, the words don’t match up correctly, because you’re speaking to a friend as opposed to someone in your family. But, you know, it’s all about finding those bits in there that I can connect it. There are some scenes I do in movies that I’ll be doing the dialogue and actually speaking, but talking about something else. If that makes sense.
Very Stanislavsky. So Jordan also let slip that the two of you are often up for the same roles…
I didn’t know that!
Yeah, he said he went in for Link in Hairspray and I know he auditioned for Steven initially on this film, Reach. But he said that the two of you are friends and knew each other before this project. So what’s it like making friends with someone that you’re in frequent competition with?
Honestly, I’ve never been like horribly angry at somebody for not getting a part. It’s like, if that part was meant for me, that’s cool, and if not, whatever. Not everything is meant for everybody. Not everybody can win every job. There are so many varying factors when it comes to casting that if you get caught up in all of the “whys” you’ll freak out. It could be literally anything. So honestly, we went into this project, and it was fun. He was polite, he was cool.
I’m glad you mention your own pragmatism when it comes to getting parts. I know a lot of actors who take it personally every time they don’t get the part. Since your coming out, what’s your experience been as an actor?
I mean, it’s still pretty much the same. Luckily. Going into the room, no one has treated me different. Sometimes you find out someone won’t bring you into the room because they think oh, he’s gay, he can’t do this. He can’t play straight. But if anything gay people had to hide longer, so obviously they know how to act. So it’s a little bit silly, because they’ll have any overtly straight man go in and play any flouncy gay character, but they won’t let regular gay men go in and show they can play a straight guy. Like I can go full glitter on a show and play gay, but then I can like play an ordinary guy because, at the end of the day, that’s what I am.
You worked with Al Pacino and Judith Light earlier this year [on stage in God Looked Away]. You’ve played a porn star in King Cobra. You played a matinee idol in Hairspray. Do you enjoy film or stage more?
I just like the job of acting across the board. For me, it’s not about being on stage or in a movie or on TV. I just like what I do, and if I can do it in varying degrees to me, that’s the best kind of actor. To me, it feels I’m well-rounded and I really do love my job. I love every facet of it, and every version of it. I get to learn the nuances of film and how internalized you can make something because the audience can see even if you’re not doing much. They can feel it, and that’s something you can gain from film. You have a fast pace with TV. You get thrown into it with a million people around. Then on stage, it doesn’t matter if you’re in a 100 seat house or a 3,000 seat house, you’ve still got to throw it out to the cheap seats.
What are your goals as an actor?
I want to be a wizard in something.
Or like a Jedi, maybe one day.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a wizard or a Jedi.
Yeah, or it’d be cool to be Iceman.
From the X-Men?
Yeah, well he’s also one of the few openly gay characters. I feel like it’s the right time for a character like that. So that would be ideal. Or it would be cool to be a Disney prince in something.
Hey, with Disney buying the X-Men, or with Disney buying Fox to get at the X-Men, they’ll probably be looking for a new Iceman sooner or later.
Right now I’m rehearsing Stranger Things at the Rockwell, which I’m doing on stage. Then in December, I have In Between Worlds I’m in with Nic Cage and Franke Potente. Then there’s another movie I did called Peel that has a bunch of really amazing actors like Emile Hirsch. A lot of fun stuff is coming. I’m doing Peter Pan in Nashville in December.
Wow. Are you playing Peter?
That’s awesome, a male Peter Pan. I always thought it was so unfair that they had women playing Peter. I was always like I’m a guy, I want to play Peter.
Exactly. It’s also kind of my last hurrah because I did it once in high school, but now I’m to the point where, beyond this age, I wouldn’t feel comfortable being Peter Pan.
Yeah, when you’re pushing 30 it’s probably time to hang up the tights.
I don’t want to be the creepy guy in tights!
Reach is available now iTunes.