Over the course of his young acting career, Nick Robinson has conquered monsters. At times, literally — from racing from dinosaurs in the global box office smash Jurassic World, to standing up to Steve Buscemi’s ruthless Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire. Not a bad track record for an emerging star.
Certainly none of Robinson’s previous experience could have provided an exact blueprint for tackling the unprecedented challenge of his latest role as the protagonist in Love, Simon. Considered the first studio-produced teenage romance to feature a gay lead character, the film is directed by openly gay TV and film powerhouse Greg Berlanti, whom Robinson praises for shaping his onscreen performance.
“I tried to play the character as straightforward as possible, without any stereotypes or preconceived notions,” says the 22-year-old actor. “I think Simon’s experience is his own, and I don’t think that this film is necessarily representative of every coming out experience, because each one is different. I think that it’s left intentionally broad so that people can watch it and identify with it regardless of their gender or sexuality. That’s testament to Greg and his skill as a storyteller.”
While the movie provides several poignant moments between Simon and his parents, portrayed by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel, the film also sparkles as a laugh-out-loud high school comedy. Robinson admits that one of the greater challenges of the role was keeping a straight face acting opposite his comedy veteran co-stars, like Veep‘s Tony Hale, as the school’s slightly off-kilter vice principal, and scene-stealer Natasha Rothwell, of HBO’s Insecure, as an exasperated drama teacher.
“They were both hilarious,” Robinson says. “I thought Natasha in particular was really, really funny, just because of the stuff that she would come up with. A lot of the lines in the movie are actually improvised by Natasha. Her wit was something to behold. We were all dying the whole time. She definitely added a lot to the character, and so did Tony. He was able to just riff.”
Robinson is well aware of the cultural significance of this particular role, especially having observed the trajectory of his fellow NYU alum, Timothée Chalamet, since that actor appeared in the Oscar-winning gay romance Call Me By Your Name.
“We have not compared notes, but maybe we should,” Robinson says. “I’d be very interested to hear his experience because I know it’s been just busy. Is that the understatement of the year? I’d be definitely interested to hear his take because he’s a really thoughtful, talented guy.”
Still, Robinson believes a broad spectrum of moviegoers inevitably will recognize aspects of their own experience in his film.
“I don’t think that Love, Simon is representative of every LGBTQ experience and I don’t think that we as actors are representative of every LGBTQ experience or the community. But it is exciting to bring a character to life that people are responding to and seem to be looking for. I hope that people can see it and hopefully have an emotional response of some sort and spread the word and start a conversation.”
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