Press/Photos: Jacob Elordi for ‘GQ Australia’

15 Dec 2019

Jacob Elordi Is Only Just Getting Started
The 22-year-old Aussie actor went from mainstream teen heartthrob to starring in one of this year’s most acclaimed – and controversial – TV series.

A couple of years ago, Jacob Elordi was ready to come home. Like many young Aussie actors with dreams of Hollywood, the Brisbane native had arrived in LA to roll the dice, and found his luck and his bank balance were starting to run out. More to the point, so was his visa.

“I’d been in LA for about a year, I didn’t have any work and I had no money,” he says when we meet in Sydney for today’s shoot.

“I didn’t really have anywhere to live and I was in my car and on mates’ couches. My visa had like two weeks before it expired, so
I was going to dip out and go back to Australia.”

Not that Elordi was entirely unknown. In fact, he had just appeared in a Netflix film called The Kissing Booth, a squeaky-clean teen romcom in which he plays heartthrob Noah Flynn alongside American actress Joey King. While it’s unlikely to have cost the Oscars judges much sleep, the film turned out to be a massive hit.

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos told The New York Times it was “hugely popular” when it hit screens in May last year, adding that their internal data showed The Kissing Booth had been “one of the most-watched movies in the country, and maybe the world”.

Elordi’s IMDB rating went from 25,000 to one, he gained six million followers on Instagram and he would soon be begged for selfies with strangers everywhere he went, including during this photo shoot. Still, that initial taste of fame wasn’t exactly all Champagne and private jets.

“It was one of my first movies and your money runs out pretty quickly in Los Angeles,” he says. “I had my mum and dad making sure I was eating and I had a lot of support from friends, so I was very lucky. I was never down and out. But in terms of America,
I was done.”

Though he hadn’t entirely given up hope. Towards the end of his time spent on couches and in cars, Elordi auditioned for a role in a new HBO drama, created by American screenwriter and director Sam Levinson.

“I knew from the moment I auditioned that the content was going to be good because Sam’s writing is so impressive,” he says. “I didn’t know if people would respond to it or not, but I knew it was something I wanted to play and the world was something
I wanted to live in.”

The show was Euphoria, a gritty teen drama that centered on Rue (played by Zendaya), a 17-year-old recovering drug addict, and her circle of diverse, divergent friends, family and fellow high-schoolers. Among them Nate Jacobs, the cool, handsome jock who Elordi ended up being cast to play. But this was no Kissing Booth.

On the surface, Nate seems to be the perfect all-American kid, but behind the scenes he struggles with his identity and anger, and has a volatile relationship with his dad (Eric Dane). Elordi delivers a powerful performance, all the more so because it feels like such a departure for him as an actor.

In person, he’s taller and skinnier than you might expect, with angular features and a strong jawline that makes him look classically handsome. It’s a face Calvin Klein enlisted for its most recent underwear campaign, alongside Bella Hadid, Naomi Campbell and Diplo. So you can’t help but feel it would have been easier for Elordi to play it safe and stick to the clean-cut romcom path, rather than risk turning off any of the young fans he won with The Kissing Booth.

“I didn’t think about that at all,” he says of his decision to play Nate. “In fact I was kind of hoping that some people would start to dislike me – I was so excited to shed the skin of what everyone thought about me.

“I wanted to make things like Euphoria before I even came to Hollywood, when I was still in high school,” he adds. “So there was no change in my brain where I was like, ‘OK now I need to do serious work’. I knew the calibre of work that I wanted to do and I’m just lucky that I’ve been able to step up and do it so early on.”

Shot over about nine months in LA, the young cast spent more or less every day together and grew incredibly close on set. But Elordi is quick to clarify there is nothing to the idea that he and Zendaya are more than just castmates (“she’s like my sister”), rumours that had been doing the rounds online for a while.

“Zendaya is an amazing creative, you know? She’s super dope to work with. She’s an incredible artist and a very caring person to all of us,” he says. “But we’re all really close. There is not one weak link in that show. We’ve spent so much time together and everyone is just so cool to work with. Sam Levinson is just a genius and working with him, it was just like electricity all the time. I was in awe. Like a kid in a candy shop.”

After Elordi wrapped the final episode of Euphoria, he flew to Cape Town to start shooting the sequel to The Kissing Booth. And for the next few months he was out of the country, unaware of what the response had been when Euphoria premiered in June, or if there had been any response at all.

“I’ve been on the go since it came out,” he says. “I was in South Africa for the longest time, so I really had no connection with the world, in a way.”

But there had been a reaction. In fact, before Euphoria even hit screens, it had made an impact.

“HBO’s Euphoria flashes 30 dicks on screen,” screamed one headline. “Euphoria wants to shock you with penis episode,” read another. “HBO had to edit out 80 dicks from one scene,” revealed yet another take. Eighty dicks? Little wonder the conservative group Parents Television Council denounced the show for “overtly, intentionally, marketing extremely graphic adult content… to teens and preteens.”

“I know,” says Elordi, when we bring up the reviewers who’d been left clutching their pearls. “It was ridiculous. And even if you watch that scene, it’s not like you’re watching some aggressive porno. They want to have that clickbait title and everyone thinks it’s so crazy. I thought that was so silly but that’s the way it’s always going to go with this stuff.”

Euphoria is a raw, unvarnished look at teen life in America, tackling issues like sexuality, gender, substance abuse, depression, body image, sex, sexting and all the things that people struggle with when they’re young and just trying to figure it all out.

Yes, the series doesn’t shy away from nudity, but that’s kind of the point. The scene that caught everyone’s attention – the “30 dicks” – takes place as Nate walks through a crowded locker room. In other words, just another day for most high-schoolers.

And even if many reviews focused on its shock factor, titles such as The Guardian and Variety also praised the show’s performances, plot and the fact it doesn’t shy away from its more confronting subject matter. “Parents are the ones who might need a trigger warning as opposed to teenagers,” quipped the Hollywood Reporter.

Another of Euphoria’s strengths is its diversity – across race, gender, sexuality and size – of the characters it depicts. Besides Zendaya and Elordi, another actor singled out for praise was Hunter Schafter, who plays trans girl Jules Vaughan and who is herself trans.

“It’s a no-brainer, right? If you want honesty and truth and you want to portray people properly,” says Elordi, of casting a trans actor in the role. “And you have incredible actors out there – it’s the way that it should always be done.

“It is really nice that as a result of your work, maybe some kids can watch that show and feel like they’re a little bit more at home, that there’s people like them,” he adds. “That’s really important because I think that when I was a teenager I would have been looking for the same kind of thing, if I could relate to a character.”

Needless to say, Elordi didn’t end up coming home for good. He has a place in LA now and after The Kissing Booth 2 wraps he’ll be onto the second season of Euphoria, with plans to write and direct one day. He also has a few movies in the pipeline, though he’s quick to point out he’s just enjoying the ride.

“I don’t really feel like I’m building a career or trying to be this kind of actor or that kind of actor,” he says. “Every morning I want to wake up and be excited about what I’m going to do. I want it to be honest and fulfilling for me personally, and then maybe it can be fulfilling for the rest of the world, too.

“I still feel like I have a lot to prove, but I’m finally in a place where I can be proud of the work that I’ve done,” he says. “It’s been a blur and it’s definitely a version of living the dream. But it’s starting to feel a little more normal now.”

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