From showrunner Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), the eight-episode HBO series We Are Who We Are tells the story of two American teenagers who live on a U.S. military base in Italy, exploring all of the messy emotions that come with being 14. When the shy and introverted Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) meets the bold and confident Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón), he finds someone that he can connect with, in a way unlike anyone else in his life.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Grazer talked about the privilege it’s been to work with filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, stretching himself with this character, the collaborative experience in developing the role, whether Fraser is okay with being misunderstood, the unusual family dynamic, how important the Fraser-Caitlin relationship is, and putting together a music playlist for each role. He also talked about the huge reaction to Shazam! and his excitement to return for the sequel, along with what drew him to the indie Don’t Tell A Soul.
COLLIDER: This is such a fascinating character study. What’s it like, as an actor, to get to dig into a character like this?
JACK DYLAN GRAZER: It’s such a privilege to work with great directors like Luca [Guadagnino]. It’s a great chance for me to explore my sensibility.
You’ve haven’t done a TV series since Me, Myself and I, which clearly is a very different type of project. When this came your way, what was it about this character that you most wanted to dig into? What did you see in him that you felt like you could bring something to?
GRAZER: The first thing that really compelled me to be a part of this was the writing in the script. The way it was written was so profound. It was so perfect and true to life. It was beyond true. For playing Fraser, it was definitely a stretch for me. I was so used to playing a comedic relief character, where I could just put a voice on and talk really fast. But when I got to play Fraser, it was much more immersing myself as the character and focusing on the internal with him.
What did you see as the biggest challenges in taking this on?
GRAZER: It’s about having empathy for the character. I just lived and told the story as the character. Nothing really made me nervous. I was mostly just super excited. It was definitely a challenge, at first. It required more work than playing Eddie Kaspbrak (in It) or Freddy (in Shazam!) because that’s just on and off. With this, I’d take it home because it’s all so internal. I wasn’t nervous about any of that but it was a challenge. I guess I was slightly nervous but mostly excited.
How did the conversations that you had with Luca Guadagnino affect the development and evolution of the character? What was it like to be involved with him, in that way?
GRAZER: It was amazing. Luca is such a visionary and he knows how to exemplify a feeling with words so perfectly. He’s so linguistic and so articulate, and he really, really helped immerse me in Fraser. He really aided me in that and that was great. Also, we put our heads together sometimes and provided each other with creative input and ideas. It was really awesome and a wonderful experience.
Did you continue to have conversations throughout the production, or did you do all of that before you started shooting?
GRAZER: I had a few meetings with him in L.A., before we started shooting. And then, when I went to Italy, we talked about Fraser. At a meeting I had with him in L.A., he said something like, “I really want us both to be creative on this. I really want you to help me out with Fraser.” He said something like that.
Fraser clearly feels like an outsider and it’s pretty obvious that he’s misunderstood by pretty much everyone but he also doesn’t really do anything to change that with people. How would he want people to see him? Is he okay with being misunderstood or would he rather people get him better?
GRAZER: That’s a good question. I think that he actually feels more comfortable because he’s terrified of normalcy but he wants a taste of it sometimes. For example, he resents his mother because he doesn’t have a father figure in his life and he doesn’t know if he wants one but he wants to feel something familial or normal. But I think he’s comfortable in his skin, as a person.
The family relationships in this are so interesting, and the dynamic between Fraser and his mother is just such an odd dynamic to watch. How did you view that dynamic? Why do you think it’s developed the way that it has?
GRAZER: It’s so beautiful and it’s so disturbing, the dynamic. They do love each other. Fraser loves his mom but he doesn’t want her to focus on him. It’s a weird ping-pong hypocrisy. He doesn’t want her to leave but he also does, at the same time. It’s really confusing and complex and awesome. It’s a really incredible thing to watch on screen.
Do you feel like it’s partly just because he’s a teenager and doesn’t necessarily know how to deal with his feelings or how to express himself, or do you think there’s something deeper going on with all of that?
GRAZER: I think he knows to express himself. He’s just visceral and he’s volatile, and he’s in a constant state of self-inquiry. He thinks he knows a lot of things and on the external, he’s very forthright, but he’s still questioning himself and figuring it out. It’s just not what’s conventional to do.
What was it like to read the scene where Fraser slaps his mother, and what was it like to shoot that and actually have to slap Chloe Sevigny? Was that personally hard to do?
GRAZER: None of it is personal. That’s what was cool about it. We were so our characters. Reading that in the script as Jack, I was like, “Whoa, that’s going to be brilliant to play. That’s so disturbing and horrible. I wanna do it!” It’s insane to immerse yourself in that because it’s so far from Jack. It’s an extension and it’s playing pretend. It’s a complete immersion. And Chloe was a real pro about it. She was an insanely good sport. She was like, “Let’s do it again! Let’s do it again!” I slapped her about six times. I was like, “Oh, my god, I slapped Chloe Sevigny in the face, so many times. I feel so terrible.”
All teenagers obviously go through this process of exploring their gender and sexual identity, and they’re trying to learn and figure out who they are. What does that mean for Fraser, over the course of the season, and how does the relationship with Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón) play into that?
GRAZER: He’s questioning himself, constantly. He’s a drifter. Upon his journey, he comes across Caitlin and initially their relationship seems forced or not natural but they’re both in a state of drifting, not knowing who they are and figuring it all out. They have these questions of themselves. Caitlin will answer those questions for Fraser, and Fraser for Caitlin. They’re perfect for each other, in that regard, and they find solace in each other.
Music is important to Fraser and you’ve previously said that music is also important to you. Do you have different taste in music from your character? When you come up with a playlist for your character, how do you separate that from what you would put on your own playlist?
GRAZER: Yeah, me and Fraser have different tastes. I make a playlist for every single one of my characters. I made one for Freddy, I made one for Eddie, I made one for Alex Riley (in Me, Myself and I), and I made one for Fraser. It’s not music that I, Jack, necessarily like. It’s music that I listen to, to help me get into my character’s mindset. It’s part of my process.
If you put together a playlist of stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily put on your own playlist, where do you go to find music that you think the character would respond to?
GRAZER: I read the script and I get a taste of what kind of person they are. I’m really impressionable when it comes to music. Music molds me so much and promotes creativity. I think that music is really essential.
The title of this series is We Are Who We Are. Do you think that people are capable of change? Do you think people are always evolving, or do you think we just are who we are?
GRAZER: We are who we are but it’s not saying that we’re structured in concrete, in that we are who we are and there’s no changing it. There’s no destiny on strings. It’s about the journey and the constant evolution of being who we are. It’s the journey, not the place where you stand. That’s what defines who we are. Throughout the show, you can see that we’re constantly evolving and realizing things about ourselves. It’s the discovery of we are who we are.
Having finished the season and looking back on it now, how does this entire experience feel for you?
GRAZER: It’s incredible. I’m so thankful. I’m really so grateful. It’s something I could only have dreamed of. I’m super happy. I really love it. I love it so much.
Does it give you a different perspective on the character, after you finish a project and can think about it as a whole, as opposed to when you’re in it?
GRAZER: Yeah, totally. If I watch myself in It, I’d probably say something like, “Oh, I know how to do that better. I could have been much funnier that day.”
Shazam! was a real unexpected surprise for many people. What was it like to see how audiences reacted to that film?
GRAZER: That was so exciting. I was so excited. I was so exhilarated to play Freddy Freeman or Captain Marvel Jr., or whatever. It’s up to the viewers to decide. I was so excited to do that. My whole life, I’d loved Batman, Superman, the entire Justice League, and everybody. I was really, really happy to play Freddy. And then, when it came out, it was such an awesome thing and the fans loved it. And as for the second one, we don’t really know when we’re shooting.
Is it exciting to know that you get to return to that character for the sequel, Shazam! Fury of the Gods?
GRAZER: I’m so happy about it. He was so fun to play. Freddy Freeman was just such a ball to play. We did a press tour and went to Miami to watch it, and I walked out of the theater saying, “I wanna play Freddy again.” He’s so fun. I can’t wait. It’s really exciting. It feels so good.
You also have Don’t Tell A Soul coming out. What attracted you to that and drew you to that character?
GRAZER: It was a wonderful indie film. It was really intimate, really personal, and really great. Thanks for bringing that up. I can’t wait for that to come out. Rainn Wilson is in it, and Fionn Whitehead, and Mena Suvari, and they were really awesome to work with. And Alex McAulay, the writer and director, also wrote a really good movie called Flower and he was such a great director. He was really into the story. He’s such a good writer.
The We Are Who We Are season finale airs on Monday, November 2, on HBO. All episodes are available to stream on HBO Max.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.