Is it fair to call Blake Jenner a teen dream if he’s 24 years old?
After making his debut as football jock-turned-gleek Ryder Lynn on Fox’s Glee (his prize for winning Season 2 of The Glee Project), the Miami native made a splash this year in Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! — a hilarious, 1980s-set spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused. He’s now following up the breakthrough role with writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s electric teen movie, The Edge of Seventeen.
Starring Hailee Steinfeld, the film follows 17-year-old Nadine, a proud social outcast who discovers that her popular older brother, Darian (Jenner), is romantically seeing her best — and only — friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). The Edge of Seventeen is one of those movies we were told Hollywood gave up on years ago: the surprisingly sharp teen movie that perfectly balances humor and pathos. As Nadine succumbs to her lonely self-fulfilling prophecy, those around her are always quick to call her out on her angsty bullshit, like Darian, whose life also sucks — he just doesn’t have the luxury of showing it.
MTV News chatted with Jenner about the film, drawing inspiration from his three older brothers, and why he’s perfectly fine with playing the high school jock (for now).
You’ve played a lot of jocks. You were a football player on Glee, a baseball player in Everybody Wants Some!!, and in The Edge of Seventeen, you’re a popular student athlete.
Blake Jenner: It’s so funny because I grew up playing sports, but in high school I was a drama kid. I’d play pickup basketball games with my friends, and I wrestled for a short period of time, but I was either doing drama or working in high school. I was a bag boy, saving up money to move to Los Angeles.
So you’re just a drama kid who looks like a high school jock.
Jenner: Yeah, and it’s fun. I didn’t get to go to college, so I think of Everybody Wants Some!! as the freshman year I never had. I graduated a year early, so I was never a senior in high school. And I was the youngest of four, so I’m not an older brother. I got to kill two birds with one stone in Edge of Seventeen. In every role, I get to live vicariously through my character.
What I love about this movie is that every character starts off as such an archetype. Nadine is the proud social outcast. Krista is the free spirit. Darian is the jock. Erwin is the nerd. But they’re all so complex. Not a single character is underwritten or one-note.
Jenner: It stabs every stereotype on its head. Stereotypes are still people, but oftentimes, we don’t get to see what’s beneath the surface. In this film, every character gets a chance to become a fully fleshed-out human being. It’s authentic to the teenage experience in a way that’s really refreshing.
Woody Harrelson plays a pretty rad history teacher in this movie. Did you ever have a cool teacher you felt like you could talk to?
Jenner: I had a history teacher that I wish I could have replaced with Woody Harrelson. He was great friends with my drama teacher in middle school, who I loved and I could tell they had a good friendship, but he was strong-arming me a lot. I would come late to class all the time because I’d be walking my girlfriend to class or hanging out with my friends — it was all harmless — so every day that I was late, he counted it against my conduct. Because of him, I wasn’t allowed to go on the eighth-grade field trip. So that’s a memory I missed out on because he wanted to follow the rules and teach me some lesson. I hope he feels bad about it now because he robbed a young boy of a cool experience.
Where was the eighth-grade field trip to?
Jenner: It was to Universal Studios because we lived in Miami. And it wasn’t just a class field trip; it was all the eighth graders. All my friends went, and I missed out!
You’ve mentioned previously how everybody brought something to the making of this film. What did you bring?
Jenner: I brought that pressure, that pressure that I remember putting on myself as a young kid and I still sometimes do now as a young man — that pressure that’s underneath that controlled cocoon. He’s not able to come forth with all of his problems. He’s experienced the same kind of loss that Nadine has, but he’s not putting it out there. He’s trying to rise to the occasion every day in the way that he’s coached himself to do. And that could break somebody too, just being selfish to yourself and selfish to your feels. You hit a wall.
As the youngest of four brothers, did you pull from any of your experiences with your older brothers for this film? Because Nadine and Darian have a very contentious sibling relationship.
Jenner: All Nadine and Darian do, especially early on in the film, is fight. A lot of people probably think he is a douchebag or the asshole older brother who thinks he’s got it all and loves it and loves seeing Nadine agitated. You see everything from her perspective — her brother’s an asshole, her best friend is awesome, and her mom’s confused. Then as everything starts to unravel for her, you see more sides to Darian. When I was breaking down the character, I thought of my brothers a lot and how I would approach being an older brother. So the parts of him that are messing with her are my brothers Michael and Ricky, for sure — Ricky when it’s the snarky comments, Michael when it’s his argumentative side. And at the end, it’s Derrick, my oldest brother. He did the same thing for all of us; he wasn’t in our faces, telling us he was looking out for us, but he was a watchful protector. He was like Batman.
So that was Derrick with you in that climactic scene between Darian and Nadine in the hallway?
Jenner: For sure. That was Honesty Hour. That’s what I call that scene when they finally release everything.
It’s not like an episode of Dawson’s Creek where everyone cries and experiences a “thesaurus of emotions” — which is an actual line of dialogue from the show, by the way.
Jenner: What’s the theme song for Dawson's Creek?
Jenner: [singing] “I don’t want to wait for our lives to be over ...”
That’s it! I love that these teens do not speak like Dawson Leery and have deeply philosophical conversations about “mounting sexual theoretics.”
Jenner: That’s how Dawson was — he was such a deep dude. I actually never really watched Dawson’s Creek, but I know enough to know that he was a deep dude.
That’s all you really need to know. That, and when people ask you to choose between Dawson and Pacey, you always choose Pacey.
Jenner: Or Michelle Williams. She was on that show, right?