It’s a sunny Monday afternoon, and Brandon Flynn, clad in a white tank top, tie-dye denim jacket, and light-wash jeans, is dancing to Lady Gaga’s new summer anthem “Rain on Me” on the rooftop parking lot of the Who What Wear headquarters. When I ask him to get a little silly for the camera—all in the name of great behind-the-scenes content—he is game, no questions asked. The 26-year-old might be known for playing emotionally troubled teen Justin Foley on 13 Reasons Why, but in person, his spirit could not be more joyous.
When we meet again the following day, only this time virtually via a Zoom call, that lighthearted attitude is still very much present. We immediately get to talking about his love of matcha, my hatred for it, and our favorite moments from the prior day’s socially distanced photo shoot. The casual conversation could go on for an hour or more. Alas, we have other matters to get to, like bidding farewell to the show that jump-started his career and discussing what’s next for the young star. After four-plus years with the Netflix series, which came to an end last month with its fourth and final season, Flynn is celebrating his next act, which includes a starring role in the dark comedy Looks That Kill (available now on VOD). He is fantastic in this laugh-out-loud film, in which he plays a character whose looks are, quite literally, lethal, and it proves Flynn’s range goes far beyond the brooding teen.
While finding the next right role (“I’m ready to not do young-adult anymore”) is high on Flynn’s to-do list, so is activism, which has become a passion point for the actor over the last month. Spend some time on his Instagram, which reaches over six million people, and you can see the ways in which he has been using his large platform for good. Whether it’s winning audiences over with his heartfelt performances or helping to bring about social change, Flynn is certainly one to keep on your radar. Continue reading for our exclusive interview.
Photo:Shane McCauley; Styling: Levi's jacket and vintage jeans; Dolce & Gabbana tank top; Philippe Model sneakers; Flynn's own jewelry
Let’s talk about your work: 13 Reasons Why was definitely a major breakout role for you. And beyond that, you and the rest of the cast sort of grew up together as the show progressed through all four seasons. What was that like?
The show is really special. It’s been special to me. We talked a lot internally about making this season specifically for the fans of the show. I think sometimes we take it for granted. Especially when we see controversial attention brought to the show, it’s hard to separate sometimes, for me, that there is still a shit ton of people who love this show, who are really open to the messages we put into the show, and who are really responsive to them. I think our show does a lot of good for people, especially young people.
It’s been really profound to be a part of that. And as far as working with the cast and the crew, it’s amazing that that was my first experience in the industry because I have lifelong friends from it and lifelong peers in a craft and in a profession that came up with me and that will continue to grow and strive and figure it out together. We still keep in tight communication, and it’s lovely.
Now that you’ve played this high school character for a while, what’s next? Where do you see your career going post–13 Reasons Why?
I was actually talking with someone recently about that. There's this sentiment—oh, keep playing young while you can; you’ll make a lot of money—and I get weirded out by that. I just do. It’s weird now. I feel like I’m still growing up so much, but it’s so weird to be back in that headspace all the time of 17 and 18 years old. It’s not fun. It’s really deep. We always see the coming of age within 16, 17, but I would love to see people address in scripts the coming of age in your 20s because every year is so utterly different. I’m hoping that the future brings more projects where I can play my age, and I can play different sexualities—just vast in terms of material. I’m ready to not do young-adult anymore. That’s for sure.
Photo:Shane McCauley; Styling: Davi Paris shirt and pants; Dolce & Gabbana tank top; Philippe Model sneakers; Flynn's own jewelry
Speaking of playing different sexualities, June is Pride Month. What are you doing to celebrate Pride personally? Can you recall a particularly fond Pride memory?
I’ve been to a couple of Pride celebrations here and there, but I also feel a very specific way about it being a month. I’ve been trying to figure out my personal pride for 12 years now since I came out. I think while the month is good and it’s amazing to see the world acknowledge where the LGBTQIA+ community has struggled and where they’ve made accomplishments in being seen and in being given rights, it’s one of those things where there’s an internal practice of it, and I think more this Pride, I’ve realized that it’s important for me to soak in and stay on top of it every day.
Now let’s talk about what’s next. I just watched your new film, Looks That Kill, and it was great. It’s an interesting project because you can’t see your face throughout the entire film. What did you learn about yourself as an actor and vanity, in general, playing this character?
I’m really happy I jumped in that script. It was my first time leading a set, really, as the number one actor on the call sheet, which was fun to figure out and maneuver. When I watched the film, I thought, Oh my god, there’s a lot of magic in this film. But it was hard to have my face covered up the entire time. I read The Invisible Man, and that informed a lot of psyche for the character—just the discomfort of not being seen and of actual bandages on your face every day. And I sure as shit was living through that as the actor, on and off set.
I had to do a lot of physical acting, which is also different because on 13 Reasons Why, they want to see your eyes, and they want to see everything. But even this character would have sunglasses on at times. So it was a lot about what the body can do, which I think as an actor sometimes I let go of. I’m more like, Where can I find the emotion? But so much is told in body language. This film was an interesting beginning to see what I can do with my career as a craft and to keep learning versus just keep going. It was definitely a learning experience. It was a workshop in body language.
Photo:Shane McCauley; Styling: Levi's jacket and jeans; AllSaints Diffusion Shirt ($65); Dolce & Gabbana tank top; Flynn's own jewelry
As you know, we’re a fashion publication, so we have to dive a little into your relationship with style and clothing. Would you say personal style is important to you?
Honestly, I was never aware of it until I started working. But that being said, as a kid, now looking back and seeing how I used clothes to fit in or to fit out, separate myself or present myself, I remember in high school I very clearly made the decision to start wearing button-up long-sleeve shirts rolled up at the sleeves to show off my tattoos and wear jeans and boots to look professional. That is where I utilize clothes, which, I mean, same thing with acting. How do we inform with clothing and style?
I get so stressed out by options. My closet is a lot of black and white T-shirts and jeans. I like certain brands, and I like certain fits.
So is being on set overwhelming to you when it comes to clothes? Are you pickier because you’re overwhelmed by the options? Or do you like somebody to just do what they want?
Being on set is cool because it’s not me, it’s the character, and I kind of always loved that conversation. It’s hair, and it’s wardrobe. It informs so much of the character and really helps me do my job a lot better. With Justin [ed. note: Brandon’s character from 13 Reasons Why], it was really cool to see the nuance when he started living on the streets and when he was back at the Jensens’ versus when he lived at his mom’s house—the evolution of his style.
So in that, I don’t really get overwhelmed, but in my own closet when it’s on a date or if I have to go meet friends, I’m always like, What am I going to wear? It’s just easier to put on a black T-shirt and jeans.
Do you have any style icons or individuals you look up to in that space right now?
I’m kind of obsessed with Harry Styles. His fashion in so many ways is really… It’s quite special, but I really just wish I could pull it off or care. I don’t know if he cares that much, but it looks like he doesn’t care, and that’s what I love.
In terms of more experimental fashion, it’s not something I really look up to. I mean, I can tell when a suit looks really good on someone, and I love watching the Met Ball, but I haven’t really developed my relationship or opinion on fashion as strongly as others in the industry.
So let’s say, in terms of the red carpet, if you were to sit down with a stylist, you would err on the side of more traditional and tame versus experimental, or do you feel like you’re getting to a place where you’d be willing to dabble in a Harry Styles moment?
I can be swayed so easily, but I think where I do progress is looking in the mirror and being like, This looks good. And it’s less about if something looks good and more about my feeling within it. Do I feel good? There are some shirts you have that the whole time you're wearing them, you’re adjusting them and fidgeting, and those shirts don’t need to be worn. At least that’s my thought.
So if I can wear anything that makes me feel empowered and part of, I will. At the Met Ball, for example, experimenting is so encouraged because everyone’s standing out, but on a red carpet, I don’t want to be stared at; I don’t want to be a focal point even more so because of what I’m wearing. And that’s not a judgment. I would just be in my head the whole night.
Photo:Shane McCauley; Styling: Talent's own t-shirt; Levi's jeans.
Last question before we go: Can we chat about some of the looks from the shoot? Were there any that really stood out to you or that you were maybe a bit more nervous to wear?
Everything felt like stuff I would actually wear, but there was one look that was, I mean, it was stunning, and I would wear that on a vacation in a heartbeat, but it was the floral-pant look. I was nervous about that because I thought everyone was going to be looking at the pants, but the way they styled it, it felt very together, like an entire look. It was a whole vibe. And I think I actually had the most fun in that look with the camera and stuff because we started playing music from Romeo and Juliet, and it felt like I was playing a part, and that shit’s fun. That shit’s fun.