Interview: Austin Abrams on 'Euphoria', the mental trap of social media, and seeking out knowledge.
"I miss the beaches and my parents, but in a way, I feel like what I mostly miss is not necessarily there anymore. I miss growing up there and fragments of it and I miss certain memories, but it's not like I want to do it all over again. Also, those periods that I'm reminiscing on, were probably awful in my mind. But still, thinking back on it, there's something to go back to that's back there," contemplates actor Austin Abrams, reflecting upon his childhood growing up in Sarasota, Florida.
Having now lived in Los Angeles for almost six years, Abrams who is most recognised for his roles in 'The Walking Dead', the film-adaptation of John Green's 'Paper Towns', and a recent turn in 'Euphoria' as beloved fan-favourite Ethan, is set to be a fixture on TV screens in 2020, having wrapped upcoming coming-of-age drama-romance 'Chemical Hearts' with Lili Reinhart (a.k.a. Betty Cooper on 'Riverdale') for Amazon Prime Video, and pre-production having already begun on the Netflix series 'Dash & Lily' (executive produced by Nick Jonas).
Coincidentally, on the same night that the 'Euphoria' season finale aired, Coup De Main spent time with Abrams in the remote depths of the Malibu wilderness earlier this year, to discuss the burden of celebrity constructs on acting careers, the importance of always continuing to seek knowledge, and his... secret music.
...I'm not very interested in showing people my life. Just doing this interview and talking about myself, it's like a step in that direction, which feels somewhat frightening. And I also feel like it seems to be this mental trap that I've seen a lot of people get in, trying to get your likes, and also people think it will get you more work. I suppose it might help get you the work, but once you get the work, you still need to be good...
[Full suiting by Hallenstein Brothers.]
COUP DE MAIN: Are you glad your mother took you to an acting camp when you were five to help make you less shy?
AUSTIN ABRAMS: Yeah! It definitely changed my life. I do wonder, if I had never gone there would I have ended up doing this? I'm sure I would have possibly found it in other ways, like school and stuff, but I'm definitely glad. It was a fun camp.
CDM: What was it about that acting camp experience that you feel helped bring you out of your shell?
AUSTIN: Probably everything, in terms of having to be on a stage and do songs and do monologues and stuff. Even when I was five, I think I had to to sing a rubber ducky song or something like that. I can't remember, that's just what my mother told me.
CDM: Having parents who are both doctors, how did they react when you told them you had decided you wanted to be an actor?
AUSTIN: The whole idea was a bit preposterous to them. They're doctors, so at the time, they had no idea about any of this stuff. I wanted to do TV and movies when I was fairly young, and they thought it was kind of ridiculous. But my mom was always mostly on my side, whereas my dad took a little more time. But I wouldn't be anywhere really, without my mom.
CDM: How do they feel about it now?
AUSTIN: Now they feel pretty good, because I've had some jobs and stuff, so I think they feel fine about that.
CDM: You're not unemployed!
AUSTIN: Yeah, so I think they feel fine about that.
CDM: What would 22-year-old Austin want to advise 5-year-old Austin about acting?
AUSTIN: Just do it, because you like it and enjoy it, and don't do it for other people. That's the only thing I would say.
CDM: What do you think is the difference between a good actor and a great actor?
AUSTIN: Actors that I really like, they take everything into consideration - every single thing their character is thinking about and doing, up to their make-up and their hair. I've seen people just let the make-up artists kinda do whatever, but I feel like good people try and be in charge of everything, like when it comes to their props, 'What shoes am I wearing? Why am I wearing these shoes?' And then also, actors work really hard and are always asking questions and are collaborative. There's no great actor and good actor, I guess, there's only my opinion, but people that I like, they seem to put a lot of work into what they do.
CDM: Who do you like?
AUSTIN: I like Heath Ledger, but he's not around anymore so that's kind of a bummer. He was one of my favourites. I think Robert Pattinson right now is really good. I like Christopher Abbott a lot. Adam Driver is interesting. Daniel Kaluuya, obviously, everybody likes him. I like a lot of stuff that Ryan Gosling does. Those are just some of my favourites right now.
[Pants by Hallenstein Brothers. The Beatles t-shirt; Austin's own.]
CDM: It's exciting that 'Euphoria' has been renewed for a second season.
AUSTIN: Barbie [Ferreira] just kind of texted me, and I was like, "Oh, cool!" But I have no idea when they plan on starting up again. Sam [Levinson] takes a lot of time, for writing and stuff like that, so I have no idea where he is in the process of all of that. I could also just not be brought back. I'm not completely sure... He said, "I'll see you for Season Two," but I don't have a contractual obligation. It would make sense for my character to come back, but we'll see, I guess.
CDM: Kat and Ethan have unfinished business!
CDM: What’s been your favourite memory or anecdote from filming 'Euphoria'?
AUSTIN: The Halloween party was a lot of fun, everyone was dressed up and it felt like a nice party environment. I liked the director we had, Pippa [Bianco]; she was good. That was a good time.
CDM: Ethan is quite a mysterious character in the show so far, with not that much known about his backstory. Do you think fans of the show will get to learn more about him in the next season?
AUSTIN: I'm not sure, because the only backstory that I know is the backstory that I've made up, and I don't really know if that's what they would choose.
CDM: What's your imaginary backstory?
AUSTIN: I don't know if I want to say it, honestly, because I don't know what they will do. But I think it would be awesome to show more of his family life, and I kind of envisioned him having a lot of sisters for some reason, and that somehow also influencing him - I can't see how it wouldn't, because it's your family.
CDM: In the last episode that just aired of the show (episode seven), it was cool to see your character Ethan trying to win Kat over. Why do you think Ethan is so drawn to Kat?
AUSTIN: Because she's just her own person - her own fiery person, even though she's still finding herself. And also, she's funny. She's also a really thoughtful person. She's having this time where she's finding herself, but at the same time she's still a kind and thoughtful person.
CDM: What was it like working alongside Barbie Ferreira in those scenes?
AUSTIN: It was great. She's a very good actor and a great person. She's always trying to learn more and seek knowledge or information. She seems like she's always trying to learn and expand, which I honestly think that everyone should do. I try and do that every time I work, and usually people that I really respect do that all the time, so I really like that about her.
CDM: What drew you to ‘Euphoria’ when you first found out about the show?
AUSTIN: Sam Levinson - he's just a really good director and it seemed like a lot of good people to work with. I didn't really know too much about my character, but a lot of the time, just working with great people is really important.
CDM: You had a very dramatic death on 'The Walking Dead'. What's it like filming something so intense?
AUSTIN: It was fun. I like doing that intense stuff, where you've just got to commit to the situation and not be afraid to fail or look ridiculous. <laughs>
CDM: Your character Ben in 'Paper Towns' chooses the Pokémon theme-song to sing to help distract him and his friends from feeling scared. What song would you choose in a similar situation?
AUSTIN: If I was scared? Oh geez. I'd probably just make up a song. I'd probably just start improvising a song.
CDM: About rubber duckies?
AUSTIN: Oh yeah, about rubber duckies. I'd probably start improvising a song about the situation and that the situation is okay and not what it is.
CDM: You’re part of a young generation of actors who aren’t on social media, such as Freddie Highmore and Alex Lawther, is it a conscious decision of yours to not be on social media?
AUSTIN: Yeah, I've never had it. In the beginning, I remember having Facebook when I was thirteen and thinking, 'What am I gonna say?' I didn't know what to talk about. <laughs> Nothing felt important enough to say and put out for a bunch of people to read, and I kept going on there and using my time and looking at all these pictures and I just didn't understand why I was doing it. And also in terms of doing Instagram and stuff, I'm not very interested in showing people my life. Just doing this interview and talking about myself, it's like a step in that direction, which feels somewhat frightening. And I also feel like it seems to be this mental trap that I've seen a lot of people get in, trying to get your likes, and also people think it will get you more work. I suppose it might help get you the work, but once you get the work, you still need to be good... or something.
CDM: I've had other actors tell me they have lost out on parts to someone else who has more followers on Instagram than them.
AUSTIN: Honestly, I'm kind of fine with that. Part of me, is like, whoever was the director or whatever, I don't know if I necessarily want to work with them if they are just casting based on that.
CDM: Do you think not having social media makes you live a more present life?
AUSTIN: No, not necessarily. Maybe a little bit, but you can not have Instagram or whatever, but still be in your brain all day thinking about things. It doesn't mean that I'm necessarily more present. So no, I wouldn't say so. Maybe a little bit, but not a huge amount.
CDM: 'Paper Towns' author John Green has said about you: "He's just a really talented actor. I don't think Austin has any desire to be a celebrity." Do you think there's misconceptions about an acting career being a vehicle to celebrity?
AUSTIN: There's definitely people who want to act because they think they'll be famous or a celebrity, but I don't think it really works if you're going to do it for that. You've got to put yourself into it. You've got to put love into it. I don't feel like it's really going to work if you're doing it for those reasons. So, I guess there are misconceptions.
CDM: Is being a celebrity necessary to having a successful acting career?
AUSTIN: Kind of in a way, because if people know you then people that are funding something think people watch a movie because you're known and a celebrity. So yeah, it seems to be helpful.
CDM: Or if you're a celebrity that's signed on to executive produce?
AUSTIN: I suppose in terms of being a celebrity, there seems to be a bunch of good stuff that people use it for.
CDM: Lots of actors end up branching out into other aspects of the film/TV industry. Is that something you have an interest in doing?
AUSTIN: Yeah, producing, I think, for sure. I just like being able to collaborate with a director and stuff like that, so I think it would be nice to have more of that collaboration, which I think would be part of that, and also have a little more control. But I don't know if you're a producer, if you necessarily have that much more control. It's really all the people that have all the money that have all the control.
CDM: Did you end up going to college after school? Or has acting been your life since then?
AUSTIN: No, I haven't been to college. A part of me is kind of sad that I haven't gone, like a part of me feels like there's this whole other education that I just never got, in terms of keeping studying and expanding my mind in that way.
CDM: What would you want to study?
AUSTIN: I really don't know and I think that's the problem. It would probably be something totally different like biology or something like that. I'm literally just saying that right now. This is not something I've thought about.
CDM: I couldn’t help but notice that you had a guitar and keyboard at your apartment. Are you also a musician?
AUSTIN: Yeah! I've played the guitar since I was twelve or so, and the piano I have kind of played sporadically. If you asked me to play something, I could not play anything, probably, but there's been times where I've learnt songs and taken some lessons.
CDM: Have you written any of your own songs?
AUSTIN: I've written a couple songs on guitar. Not to say that they're good or anything, but I literally did it for myself.
CDM: Would you ever share your music?
AUSTIN: No! No!
CDM: It was cool to see that you had a quote from ‘Pierrot Le Fou’ on your living room wall: "Why do you look so sad? / Because you speak to me in words and I look at you with feelings." What do you think is the difference in communicating between words and feelings?
AUSTIN: Sometimes it's very difficult. You can have feelings, but to vocalise them is a very difficult thing. And to vocalise them accurately, I feel like most people struggle with that, because you're tying to put words to an abstract thing and you're trying to make sense of a thing that even you don't understand.
CDM: And have you read any good books recently?
AUSTIN: Right now I'm reading this biography on Leonardo da Vinci that's really interesting. I actually really like that book because he seems like a guy that could be living right now in this time, which is insane. He seems like a person of all times. I really like how he doesn't seem to be extremely affected by people's opinions during his time. He just seems to be himself, which I think is really awesome, and he's not held down by the views that people had then. Perhaps he was ahead of his time because he wasn't in his time. It's not like he was in the future, but he was just himself, so he wasn't in that time. Do you know what I mean? He wasn't in his society there, and he's not in this one, he was just himself. He appears to be an extremely rare person and his hunger for curiosity in every facet of life was pretty insane.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LAUREN DUNN
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANCE BY MARGUERITE MANNIX
GROOMING BY CAITLIN KRENZ