By Crystal Bell
Daniel Diemer spruces up a small area of his Studio City apartment for a full day of Zoom interviews in promotion of the new Netflix film The Half of It, but he only keeps things professional from the waist up. A sartorial mullet, of sorts. "I'm wearing sweatpants," the 23-year-old actor says matter-of-factly over the phone. He's sitting in front of the television in his living room, where his roommates are currently prohibited from snacking too loudly, telling me about his days as a teenage gig worker in his Canadian hometown, British Columbia’s Brentwood Bay.
In no specific order, he coached ping pong, picked blueberries, published a children's book about a penguin detective, did some low-level accounting work, coached tennis at the same summer camp for seven years, nearly became a professional soccer player, and he probably would have pursued professional tennis had a back injury not derailed his collegiate plans. Diemer, who claimed a 4.0 GPA in high school, had a backup plan — or several. He was accepted to nursing school, as well as an "honors biotech merged with engineering" program, but he ultimately decided on the pre-med track after completing the prerequisite courses. At 17, it looked like Diemer's future pointed to medical school, until an interim side hustle turned into a passion he couldn't shake.
He had eight months before the start of his pre-med program, just enough time to start a new part-time gig. Having modeled for his high school's art class during his senior year ("just to get out of English class," he adds), his English teacher landed him his first-ever acting job: a small part in a Sidney York music video directed by her son. "I was completely out of the loop," he tells MTV News. "They were all very patient with me." Despite his lack of experience, Diemer was hooked. Within six months, he moved to Vancouver, where he slept on a couch and started taking classes under the tutelage of acting coach Andrew McIlroy (whose pupils include Arrow's Emily Bett Rickards and the late Cory Monteith) — dreams of Oscar gold in his sight.
"Looking back on it, it's probably the craziest dream ever," he says with a laugh. "But I fell in love with it, and I love it more than pretty much anything else I've ever done."
It's not that hard to see why someone like Diemer would fall so hard. Acting fulfills his constant need to go from project to project, to step into unfamiliar situations and chase the high of new experiences. It has its challenges, too. Learning to live with rejection is a significant part of the job, and it's not always easy. Diemer has walked into hundreds of audition rooms; he's only booked a handful of roles, most of them for small television parts and short films. But sometimes all you need to jumpstart a career in Hollywood is the perfect shot to come at the right time. For Diemer, landing his first major role in Netflix's The Half of It felt like kismet.
Paul Munsky is dopey and sweet, the perfect foil to Ellie Chu's (Leah Lewis) cynicism. He's a romantic; she's far too practical for love — but way too smart to pass up a lucrative opportunity to play Romeo for quick cash. This dynamic, easily forged between Diemer and Lewis over a chemistry read in Los Angeles, sets up the teen rom-com's main plot: Paul has a crush on Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), but he can't be in her presence without fumbling his words, so he hires Ellie to woo his dream girl with love letters and texts. The fact that Ellie has also been crushing on Aster goes unnoticed by Paul, who eventually catches feelings for Ellie. Meanwhile, Ellie is questioning her own burgeoning emotions.
Director and writer Alice Wu allows her teenage characters to feel everything, and that resonated with Diemer. "I think as an actor it's very easy to try and either own it or disappear from who you are completely to portray something that you're not," he says. "And what [Wu] did was to guide me to existing as close to Paul as I possibly could while also being very much me. That was the key, just simplifying the whole process and trying to not be anything else to tell the story from this heartfelt place that I connected with."
In Hollywood, where you're often typecast as one or the other, this or that, The Half of It blurs those lines. Paul is a jock, but he's also insecure and sensitive. He's a good listener, and while he struggles to find the right words, he never stops trying. Not to mention he's an innovator in the kitchen with big dreams of franchising his coveted taco sausage recipe. In other words, he's a real person.
"There's seldom a gray area for [teen] characters that are both confident in certain areas of their life and not so confident in others, especially as guys," Diemer says. "There's rarely space for them to be emotionally vulnerable. I've always been quite a sensitive person, and I didn't always feel understood in a lot of ways … I think Paul has much more confidence than I do sometimes. He's willing to ask a girl to write a love letter for him, which I thought was very brave."
This sincerity is exactly what makes Diemer, a self-proclaimed ambivert in all of his 6-foot-4 glory, so relatable. Wu looked at nearly 600 actors for the role of Paul, but Diemer was the only one who brought the everyman quality she was searching for. He's like an uncut stone that doesn't know it's a diamond.
He describes the process of filming The Half of It as a lesson in confidence, "both in my abilities and in the people around me," he adds. And if joining the ranks of fellow Netflix heartthrobs like Noah Centineo, Jordan Fisher, and Jacob Elordi sounds daunting, Diemer assures he isn't looking at it that way. He's still got a lot to learn — about acting, about himself, about being a son and a friend and a co-star, and about his new home, Los Angeles. ("I never expected to be in L.A. pursuing such a crazy career, not in my wildest dreams," he says.) But he's working on it.
"For me, there's this constant willingness to try things," he says. "That's how I grow and find more confidence and develop more as a human being. I don't think I'll ever say, 'Hey, I've made it. This is Daniel and this is it.' I constantly want to be a better person. I'm always asking, 'How do I do life in the best way possible?' I really do think I'm still growing in every direction."