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Queer actor plays gay character in teen comedy 'Booksmart'
by Lauren Emily Whalen
2019-05-23

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Most students take their finals in classrooms. Austin Crute took his in a life-size clamshell.

The queer actor was preparing to graduate from NYU while filming his first movie Booksmart, which follows two best friends ( played by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever ) through their final day and night of high school.

"I was doing my real graduation and then my fake graduation," Crute said via phone before Booksmart's New York premiere. "During the time I was in the clamshell, I was doing essays and take-home exams for finals week. Then I had to go to commencement in New York, and fly back [to Los Angeles] to film the graduation scene."

Crute describes his character, Alan, as "the musical theater firecracker of Crockett High School." ( Alan also performs in drag, hence the clamshell. ) According to Crute, Alan and his pal George ( Noah Galvin ) have an energy similar to Sharpay and Ryan Evans, the drama-geek duo from Disney's High School Musical trilogy, but with a twist.

"That dynamic isn't between a boy and a girl here," Crute explained. "It's between two gay boys who are running a drama department together. I haven't seen that in a film before."

Though Crute has appeared on the hit shows Orange is the New Black and Atlanta, Alan is his first gay role. "I feel like the landscape is changing in favor of queer stories and POC [person of color] stories, especially POC queer stories," said Crute. Alan and George aren't the only queer characters in Booksmart—so is Dever's protagonist, Amy. But unlike many films about young queer people, Booksmart isn't a coming-out story.

"Amy hasn't kissed a girl, and she's been out for two years," Crute said. "Just because you come out and have reclaimed your narrative, [it] doesn't mean everything's all figured out. Dating in the queer world is not dating in the straight world—it's a different ballgame. I think Booksmart highlights that phenomenon in an academic environment really well and captures that adolescent development of hormones and feelings in a new, queer light."

He added, "Usually in movies, coming out and having that familial-moral conflict is a huge thing. Booksmart didn't make a huge deal about coming out. I think nowadays, the paradigm of coming out is changing. Now it's more about transitioning into a personal lifestyle. I can't remember when I've seen a story like this, where I can really relate."

Crute thinks films like Booksmart bode well for queer representation as well as solidarity with those who feel different.

"I grew up with no gaydar, no sense of community," he said. "In terms of what I was going through, I thought I was alone.

"I think the stories we're seeing today, like Booksmart, are linking to the world we live in, rather than trying for some kind of forced demographic," he continued. "[Pop culture] is starting to become about genuine representation, which is way better than a quota for how many people you need to be 'diverse.'"

Crute's next character is also gay, though very different from Alan. In Daybreak, a Netflix original series out later this year, he plays Wesley Fists, a football player turned postapocalyptic samurai. "

Crute explained, "Alan is more the femme, eccentric, over-the-top, reclaiming his time queer person, and [Wesley] is more the laid-back, chill, less into gay culture but still knows who he is type."

He attributes career success to security in his sexuality and presentation: "Once I started to really explore making choices in queerness and developing that mindset, I started to book [roles]."

Growing up in Georgia, Crute primarily focused on music until his mother encouraged him to sign up for drama class in sixth grade. Leading roles in high school plays followed, as well as a stint on the reality show Majors & Minors, where "I got a taste of cameras and sets, and met my first celebrities like Jennifer Hudson." At NYU, Crute signed with an agent who saw him in a school production of Hairspray—that qualified as off-Broadway "because of the number of seats in the theater"—and his life as a working actor began.

Even before taking finals in a clamshell, blending performance with academics was nothing new for Crute; he would periodically return to Georgia to record music while taking classes in New York. A couple of years ago, "I had an audition for the show Atlanta that I forgot about after it was over," he said. "Then in the middle of my Morality and Childhood psychology class I got a call that I had to fly home because I got the job."

Daybreak marks Crute's first post-college employment, a step up from most recent graduates. "It's been a ride," he said. "After I finished Booksmart and NYU, I got enrolled in the School of Netflix."

Booksmart opens nationwide May 24.


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