But then Hannah Fidell came along to talk to him about playing a high school senior who has an affair with his English teacher (played by Kate Mara) in “A Teacher,” the new FX miniseries based on Fidell’s 2013 film of the same name.
“This one felt very different to me,” the 25-year-old actor says on the latest episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket.” “It was not set solely in high school and the subject matter just felt much more mature than the typical high school story. It was a challenge. I thought the role was challenging. The story itself I felt was going to hopefully challenge audiences.”
Variety caught up with Robinson over Zoom from Victoria, Canada, where he is shooting “Maid,” an upcoming Netflix dramedy starring Margaret Qualley as single mom struggling to make ends meet. Robinson plays the father of Qualley’s three-year-old daughter.
How have you been coping during the pandemic?
I’m very fortunate to be working right now. I am in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia. The case count here is, I think, like eight right now, something like that. So it’s just a different reality. It was a bit of a shock coming from L.A. But I’m coping considering how just crazy this year has been. I’m very anxious for the election as I’m sure many people are. I’m obsessively checking FiveThirtyEight and all the other polling websites. [Editor’s note: This interview took place a week before Election Day.]
What do you think is going to happen?
Oh man, that’s above my pay grade. But based solely on the data that I’ve seen, it seems very likely that we’ll see a change in November.
So let’s talk about “A Teacher.” How did the project come to you?
My introduction to the project was back in February or March of 2019, which seems like a million years ago. I sat down for coffee with Hannah and Kate and we discussed the show and sort of what she was trying to do and what she wanted to say with it. I had a great feeling right from the meeting. Sometimes you kind of just get a gut feel and it was one of those times where I just really enjoyed the coffee and the company and talking with them. I left feeling like, “Oh, maybe this could be the thing.” Then I read the scripts. And I was compelled enough to go back to high school yet again, do another tour. This show was talking about these kinds of relationships in a way that was a little more nuanced and detailed than I had had seen in the past that seemed to clickbait headlines. I’d seen some of the past stories, but because it’s a miniseries, we really had the time to delve into the nuance and the complexities of the relationship and then after the relationship is found out.
Did you do research for playing a high school student?
I relied heavily on Hannah for the research aspect because she had been running a writer’s room for several months by the time that I signed on. She had worked with a psychologist in the writer’s room who specialized in male survivors and had done a lot of work with men who had experienced abuse as teenagers and come to terms with it as adults. He had gone through a similar experience that Eric had himself actually. So it was really interesting to talk to him and hear about how men internalize abuse differently than women sometimes and how there’s a double standard in terms of how society or culture can kind of treat the abuse and sometimes even celebrate it, which the show gets into a little bit and how confusing that can be sometimes for men who feel like they should be happy about the relationship, but have conflicting feelings about it.
You’re up in Canada shooting “Maid” with Margaret Qualley and her mom, Andie MacDowell.
“Maid” is a story about how hard it is to be poor in America, the cruelty of poverty in this country, the Catch-22s of the welfare system, the social safety nets and how backwards it is. It’s basically about a single mother, Alex, working as a maid in Washington state and trying to survive with government assistance and very meager wages and the dangerous situations she’s forced to put herself in in order to provide for herself and her child. I play the father of her three-year-old daughter. Sean is my character’s name and he is not the ideal partner, to put it mildly. He’s sort of non-supportive and making Alex’s life harder.
You said there aren’t many cases up there, but are COVID protocols still taking place? Is there testing all the time?
We’re being extra safe. Everyone on set is tested regularly. Everyone’s wearing a mask. Everyone is in PPE and socially distancing on set. Everyone’s taking it really seriously. Even though the case count is really low, we are in the midst of a global pandemic and everyone hasn’t lost sight of that fact. I think everyone’s also really happy to be back to work so we’re happy to make some sacrifices.
Did you have to quarantine before filming started?
For two weeks in a hotel here. Not my favorite two weeks, but I got through it.
Were you nervous to start shooting?
A little bit but my girlfriend and I both actually caught COVID in New York in March. We both got sick. Luckily it was very mild. We had some fevers and we lost our senses of taste and smell. But after that we had tested positive for antibodies, but there are questions about how long that lasts. So, yeah, I was nervous going back, but I felt pretty confident in our showrunners.
“A Teacher” premieres on FX on Hulu on Tuesday, Feb. 10.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Listen to the full interview above. You can also find “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.