Brandon Flynn has a flourishing Hollywood career. The 25-year-old quickly shot to social media superstardom on Netflix’s hit “13 Reasons Why” with millions of devoted followers and, shortly after, was cast on HBO’s “True Detective.”
And yet, the rising star has received just as much attention for his personal life as his professional career.
In 2017, after posting his support on Instagram for an Australian bill that allowed for same-sex marriage, the media celebrated Flynn’s coming out story. The problem? He never actually came out as gay.
“Even though I didn’t ever come out to the public, in a weird way, I just one day read an article where I came out in the terms that they wanted me to come out,” Flynn says.
Through tears, Flynn, who feels supported by the industry in regards to his sexuality, says he’s thrilled he gets the opportunity to be a role model for “any gay boy at home.” But still, he struggles with the double standard the media has placed on him solely because he has dated men.
Here, Brandon Flynn talks about the double standards LGBTQ individuals face in Hollywood, the intense media attention he’s subject to and the impact his “13 Reasons Why” character has had on audiences.
Your first professional role was in 2016, but even so, from the time you’ve started in the business, have you noticed progress with LGBTQ representation in Hollywood?
Definitely. When I started, there was still that air that LGBTQ [people], there’s no space for them, especially in front of the camera. That still lingered. There was still that ethos in the air. I’ve been so fortunate because I grew up in the theater, and the theater is much more open to that, it’s painted very much on the walls of the theater. But I think that in Hollywood, it was just a little bit more hush-hush. It was nice to see that I had friends like Tarell McCraney who wrote the original “Moonlight” play, that came out right around then, and since then, we’ve seen “Call Me by Your Name” and “Love, Simon” and different projects that embrace being gay and being bi. You see shows like “Pose” and people like Ryan Murphy who embrace telling these stories. So I do think that Hollywood has made more room, and there are stories being told, which is gorgeous.
What is the biggest change that you’ve witnessed since you started out in Hollywood?
I think the biggest change is that there seems to be a demand for these stories. I don’t want to say that it seems to be “hot,” but it almost feels that way, where a movie like “Moonlight” would have been a little bit more taboo even 10 years ago. When we saw “Brokeback Mountain” come out, that was such a big deal because it was two men. I think now it’s becoming less of a big deal. It’s still a big deal and people still make a big stink of it. I read recently that Russia is censoring “Rocketman” with certain scenes that involve Elton John and his gay relationships, so there’s still that bit of shock and there are still states in the U.S. that block it, but for the most part, there’s definitely been a new path cut that is much more open to it. There are parents and families who want to see that, and want their families knowing that love looks differently on the outside — it can be two men, it can be two women, it can be a trans person and straight person, it can be two trans people, it can be all these different things — and I think that Hollywood is embracing that, so that’s what’s changed the most.
You said LGBTQ storytelling feels “hot,” and I know that you didn’t mean to use that word, but do you feel that this is a trend now? Or is it here to stay?
I can’t say that because I’m so young and I haven’t witnessed so many trends take place and then leave. It’s my hope that eventually one day, we’re not even calling them “LGBTQ stories” or “gay movies,” and that they are just a part of the fabric of telling stories because that’s what I think will really revolutionize all of this — when we step away from saying, “Brandon Flynn is an LGBTQ actor” when really, I’m just an actor, or saying that “Call Me by Your Name” is an LGBTQ story when really, it’s just a story.
Have you ever had any instances where you felt judged in this industry because of your sexuality?
Yeah. There’s this whole element of press in this industry, and whether or not I am being judged. I try to keep my head down because it really doesn’t do me any benefit, but there is always this buzz around sexuality, and it’s hard not to look at it as judgement. One example is me coming out. I came out to my family and my friends around 10 years ago. So even when the industry caught wind of me being bisexual or gay or whichever one they choose to go with, it didn’t feel like it was my own, and I think that’s a bit frustrating for me and that’s where I feel a bit judged that I didn’t get to do that, nor did I really want to. It didn’t seem that it would make a difference whether I came out or not because it’s just my life, and if people were watching my life, they would just know that. But it did feel like I had to come out — even though I didn’t ever come out to the public, in a weird way, I just one day read an article where I came out in the terms that they wanted me to come out.
Are you referring to your 2017 Instagram post where you wrote about “vote no” in Sydney?
Yes. Sydney had this whole ordeal where they had a plane write up in the sky “vote no” for this proposition about gay rights and gay marriage, and I had made a post. I’ve gone back and read the post, and I’m an ally, of course, but it was that post that all of the sudden made me gay. I was embraced, so I never want to take that away from people who have been so supportive to me because I was totally embraced, but in no way, shape or form, did I say that this is me coming out. I had done that years ago. That’s where I think this industry and the understanding of sexuality and where it falls into place is askew. Not that it was the industry’s fault at all, but being in the industry makes you someone of public curiosity, hence why all of the sudden I was a gay actor, but just because I was supporting human rights.
It’s so funny that you say that because when I was prepping for this interview, I remember seeing all of that coverage about you coming out, but when I looked back at the post and dissected what you wrote, you actually didn’t come out at all. You were just speaking up. Have you ever actually come out to the public?
No. I’ve never used my platform to say, “Hey, I like men. I like women.” I’ve never used it in that way because when I came into the industry, I still am like this, but it was just about, “Holy s—, I got my first job and I’m acting.” So my personal life felt very much like my own and acting felt like acting — that was just work, so I didn’t see where the two needed to meet, but obviously, I was never going to hinder my own personal life or the benefits of my career. In a way, anyone would have seen at certain points where I would be dating men and it would be quite obvious, I think. So I never felt the need, in a weird way. I often think about it, and it doesn’t feel like it’s something out of fear or self-hatred because I have dealt with that already when I was younger. I was 15 when I opened up to my family and the people closest to me, and that’s very young to all of the sudden tell everybody, “Hey, all of these things that you thought about me and my personal life are wrong, and I’ve been living with this thing.” So I had all of that trauma and obstacles to deal with when I was younger, so I had a very open educational experience where high school and college never felt like that was an issue to other people — I never felt like I was bullied for it and made fun of for it then. When I was younger, yes, even before I knew that I was into men, I dealt with people telling me that I was gay and people assuming.
In the industry, have you ever felt that you were living in that fear or hatred that you remember feeling when you were younger? Or do you feel like you’ve been embraced by the industry?
To be honest, I feel like I haven’t really broken into the industry fully. I feel like there’s so much more room for me to grow, so I don’t know the answer to that question fully because I think there’s still a whole future. I do feel like there’s a weird expectation with being a handsome white guy that people are surprised when I tell them that I date men. I feel like there’s an odd expectation — like, “Oh, you look like the leading man, so you should be straight.” So that’s a weird thing to navigate. But honestly, I feel like I have been supported. I’ve been supported by everyone on “13 Reasons Why” and we’ve become such a family, but it’s not really something that I think of when I enter a new job, like, “Am I going to have to deal with people thinking I’m gay or knowing I’m gay or knowing I’m bi or knowing I’m straight?” I’ve always just gone to work to work. If I ever feel strongly that that would be a problem, then that’s not the job for me.
What message do you think it sends to Hollywood and younger viewers watching the show that you play a stereotypical bad boy on “13 Reasons Why,” but you are gay in real life?
If people are watching the show and they’re invested in the actor’s personal life, hopefully they can take away that anything is possible. A lot of my heroes like James Dean and Montgomery Clift and actors of these olden days, who have all been under speculation of being homosexual or having homosexual experiences, they couldn’t really do any of that, and if you look deeper into their lives, a lot of them were really sad and really messed up, and I think some of that has to do with that. So I’m happy to switch that stigma that I don’t have to live a life of lies in order to play the characters that I want to play. I think everyone loves to see that bad boy, and it’s so much fun to play, I won’t lie. I think the leading guy is the most boring character, and I’d rather be the best friend or the druggy or the one who has this way more interesting and darker path. Personally, deep down — ugh, I’m getting a little teary — I’m happy to be the guy that any gay boy at home can say, “F—, it’s totally possible to do anything.” Because it is. No matter how scared you are, or no matter how much hate you have to deal with, there are opportunities for us. My favorite thing about being an actor is that I don’t have to play myself, I can play different parts of myself, and that means my sexuality — I’ve been with women, I’ve been all over the place, it took me a while to get to any sort of comfort or stability in my head, and it’s not there yet. I’m still on that path — so that’s the beautiful thing about playing Justin, and that’s what I would love anyone to take away from that, is that I’m playing different facets of myself, and then I’m also delving into my imagination.
Do you think your generation of Hollywood is more supported in being their true selves than former generations of young stars, who didn’t come out until they were well into their adult years because of the stigma associated with being gay?
I 100% do. There is something that breaks my heart about all of our pioneers who have been through this before where it was not okay and it was career-breaking. It’s hard for my generation to not think that it’s going to break their careers because no one has stood up and said, “Hey, don’t worry, it’s not going to break your career.” So there is that stigma, like, “Oh god!” I have a lot of friends who are male and will show up to red carpets in these really beautiful ornate, just plain and simple women’s clothing, or unisex clothing, and that’s still out of the ordinary for older generations. But that is perfectly f—ing cool and okay. I think they’re so brave because they just get to stand by who they are and let the world see it as well, which is such a cool opportunity. I do think we are a bit more accepting, and I think we are closer than the generations before to getting to that point of, “Yeah, you know what? You actually don’t have to come out publicly because it’s actually not that much of a big deal.” It doesn’t change one thing. It doesn’t change what you can do, as far as talent. It doesn’t change what you can do, as far as your job.
You have millions of followers. What sort of messages do you get from them, in regards to you being on a TV show and being gay?
I don’t want to speak for anyone because I don’t know most of these people, and as grateful and as honored as I am to have them all in my corner and keeping an eye out for what I’m doing next, I don’t know them. But it’s really nice when people are just grateful that you’re there doing your thing, and somehow the way that you live your life is something that you can look up to. I don’t really know specifics because I don’t really hunt down though my comments or my DMs, but I know that people are looking up to me, and there’s a pressure to it, but there’s also a really big honor to it as well.
When you auditioned for “13 Reasons Why,” did your sexuality come up with casting executives or anyone else in a position of power?
No, it didn’t come up. No one knew. Everyone knows now because we’re all family, and no one cares. Everyone just wants me to continue to work and be successful. I’m very close with Brian Yorke, the creator of the show, who is also a gay man. We were just talking one day and I mentioned something like, “I was seeing this guy in college,” and it was just in conversation, and he was like, “Whoa whoa whoa, what?” He had no idea. But I never want to provoke that either, because I think that’s what a lot of gay men in the industry lean into, is that no one knows, and I think some people get a kick out of that. But I’m fine for everyone to know.
Has your sexuality ever come up on an audition, and has it ever made you feel like you were being judged in casting?
No. I think I’m fortunate because I have a lot of friends that I know it has come up [for], but it hasn’t really affected me. I do get a lot of scripts sent where it’s like, “Hey, would Brandon be interested in playing the gay guy in this script? Or the gay friend in this script?” And I wouldn’t mind, if the script is good, let’s do it. But no, I haven’t really felt judged, and if I am being kept away from jobs because of my sexuality, they’ve done a damn good job at keeping it secret from me.
From what you’re saying, it sounds like you think straight actors should be able to play gay roles and gay actors should be able to play straight roles. But there is a big conversation about that now. What is your opinion?
I really, really do believe that everyone should believe anything and everything. The last thing I want to go do is play Brandon. It’s not interesting to me. There’s no challenge there. I’m sure some people would disagree because they would say, “You’re just saying that because you don’t even know yourself,” and maybe that is true. But I love playing someone who loves a woman. I love having my little relationship with Jessica on “13 Reasons Why” — I think it’s fascinating and interesting. And you know what? I’ve had the same relationship with a man that’s had its ups and downs. I feel like that question one day will be nonexistent because one day, we’ll step away from when you play gay, you’re playing a person who’s in love with a man if you’re a man, or if you’re a woman, you’re playing a woman who’s in love with a woman, whereas it would just be so interesting to see characters who happen to be gay who maybe aren’t even in a romantic setting — it’s just who they are. Maybe that’s just the type of stories that I’m into where these things about people aren’t the most important part about people.
We spoke about the sense of judgement in the industry. How does it make you feel when you see headlines about your personal life and your dating life?
It’s hard not to feel like something in my personal life is not being scandalized because that’s kind of the way it feels when you read headlines about yourself, especially when you read headlines that have this big bang to them, and then you read the article and you’re like, “Why did you write that article? There is actually nothing there.” It’s all just something to egg on some sort of rumor cycle that will just keep going around until you finally get something that will actually just make it all true or false. So, it’s hard not to feel scandalized.
The conversation about a double standard in Hollywood is usually surrounding women. But do you feel like you’ve faced a double standard with the media attention you’ve received?
What do you mean with a double standard?
Do you feel that there is a heightened interest in your dating life because you’re gay? And is that a double standard versus the coverage of a man dating a woman?
Yeah, 100%. I do. I feel like there’s a lot more interest. I think the media and the press and a lot of people who have interest in actors or any people in front of the camera, there’s this sense of — and I’m speaking very candidly — “let’s see them fail.” That’s where it’s hard not to read these headlines and feel like that’s what is wanted, that it’s wanted to see me fail. It feels like a slight. But no one wants to write that article or read that article that would be like, “Oh! Brandon is with this person and we are so happy for them!” There’s always something behind it and there’s always some sort of scandal that wants to be revealed, and that’s frustrating. And in fact, it wouldn’t be there if I was with a woman. Well, it would now, if I were dating a woman — it would be a f—ing circus, I’m sure.