Keiynan Lonsdale is one of Australia’s better-known exports, attracting legion of fans across his projects on screen and in music, as well as to his convention appearances.
His early career wins were on home soil, in the ABC’s Dance Academy series, but since breaking out in the US in roles in The Flash, The Divergent Series: Allegiant, Love, Simon and Legends of Tomorrow, the Sydney-born actor hasn’t worked much in Australia.
That changed last year when he returned for one of the main roles in Eden, a new Australian drama that was filmed around Byron Bay during the pandemic.
With a cast that also includes Sophie Wilde, Bebe Bettencourt, Samuel Johnson and Cody Fern, the moody Eden is centred on the mystery of a disappearance, but it’s really more a character piece.
Lonsdale talked to news.com.au over zoom from Los Angeles, where he’s now returned after spending eight months in Australia, about his queer character in Eden, what it takes for him to board a project and what changed for him after his personal reflections during 2020.
Eden is the first Australian series you’ve done in quite a few years. Was it just that opportunities overseas kept you busy, or did you feel like you weren’t being offered the right roles at home?
I hadn’t seen a role where I felt like I can genuinely represent this character in a way that feels super authentic to me. I wasn’t seeing enough fluid roles, and I think that’s changing a lot. So, this is definitely one of the things that drew me to Eden.
It was also that I was over here [in the US]. I had worked a really long time to try to hustle, to be able to at least get some kind of an anchor here. And there was a lot of momentum and I was really fortunate.
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So I just had more luck in the States for a long time, in terms of roles. And now as an adult, I’m getting better at navigating both countries in terms of work, and I really am excited to create more of a balance if I have that opportunity.
You mentioned just now that you weren’t seeing a lot of fluid roles in Australia, and that it is changing. When would you say you noticed that changing?
Well, this is one of them. And I didn’t know at first just how diverse the cast would be, and I think the nature of this role was exciting, it was messy. It was messy, it was not clean, it was not perfect.
I felt like I discovered so many gross parts about myself in this experience of discovering who you are and the nature of humanity.
And I was just like, ‘Well, this series really is exploring so many of those things’ – along with the fact that this character happens to be fluid. So, it felt super organic, nothing was being pushed. It’s like that with a lot of the characters in the show.
And that’s cool, that’s the sh*t I want to be part of and that’s what I believe in.
What do you mean when you say you were discovering gross parts of yourself?
You know, human beings. I think we have some really excellent parts of ourselves and some stuff that’s kind of sh*tty. I was like coming to terms with a lot of those things and I like to be honest about that. I felt like this is also a way to just reflect some of that human experience.
Last year on set during the production, you said you were journaling a lot during your two-week quarantine. Did anything come out of that process for you?
Yeah, it did. I guess I set a lot of intention for what I really wanted. I knew I wanted to take a bit more time with family. I wanted to understand how to take in and be more present for my set experiences.
Just making peace with certain things. So, I would say that that two-weeks was super important, it informed a lot over the next, well, it’s been a year now exactly, since I went into that quarantine.
And a lot has changed since then, I’m actually quite grateful that I was able to do it.
The types of stories that we see being made as Australian stories, that’s changing as well. What does Australian stories mean to you today?
Well, it’s hard. It’s just family, it’s just love to me.
As long as we’re expressing that actually on the screen, rather than just giving a one-time depiction of something that isn’t real when you step out in the streets, then we’re really not giving ourselves the chance to know who we are, nor are we giving the world a chance to know who we are.
That’s why I love art. I think the more we get to reflect everything that we’re doing and what we’re about, that’s Australia to me. Australia is one of the most gorgeous places with some of the best people in the world, and I love the way that we express love.
You hadn’t been home for a good stretch of time, when you returned for Eden. Did you feel like you got to be home for a bit last year?
Yeah, I was home for like eight months. It was awesome, so happy. I couldn’t believe it. That was really great. I’m very, very thankful for that time, in what is a difficult time for people to be home as well.
I knew I needed it and my family was stoked to see me, my friends. Things have been a bit of a whirlwind for the past seven years, so it was exactly what I could have hoped for.
Having come out of that, I don’t want to say downtime because you made this whole TV show and probably a bunch of other things during those eight months, do you feel like your perspective on how you do want to approach your screen work, your music work, has it changed?
Yeah. I don’t really want to be part of stuff that isn’t speaking to me and isn’t somehow trying to influence us in a way that connects us a bit more. I don’t want to be a negative distraction. I like projects that are offering real juice.
But I think one major thing is to just love the process of taking time. I’m like really enjoying that. And I’ve always been just a bit impatient. And now I just love to take my time because it’s like, ‘Oh, who knows what comes out of this thing that you’re really refining?’
I think in a world where everything is so fast, it’s easy to take sh*t for granted. Taking the time means I get to really understand more of the full picture. So that’s the part that’s definitely changed.
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