Keiynan wears Balenciaga skirt, vintage boots from Route 66, stylist’s own necklace (worn throughout) and Keiynan’s own earrings (worn throughout)
The first time I met Keiynan Lonsdale was under a dark December night sky surrounded by over a hundred acres of gardens. Keiynan appeared timid at first but endlessly curious. We laughed about aliens, fairy tales, and the secret same-sex crushes we both felt the need to hide when we were growing up. He shares his thoughts on love, and I share mine with him.
Fast forward a year and we’re meeting for lunch on Melrose Ave. Arriving in a Dragon Ball Z tee and gold glitter nail polish, Lonsdale’s style reflects his artistry: inimitable. He is unapologetic about sharing his point of view, although, he says, this hasn’t always been the case.
Keiynan wears Gucci jacket
Born in Sydney, Australia, with his father out of the picture and as one of the few African Australians among his peers, Lonsdale struggled with identity early on. He recalls a time when the thought of stepping inside a coffee shop would fill him with anxiety and a period in where the only people on the planet he felt safe in front of were his mum and Michael Jackson.
As a child, Lonsdale found solace in dancing, singing, and acting. Now, what was once his escape has become a vehicle to global stardom. Lonsdale made headlines earlier this year for his role in Love, Simon playing the love interest of a closeted teenage boy. He was recently named Actor of The Year by GQ Australia. Right now, he’s in the process of completing his debut album – just part of the massive musical plans he has for 2019.
I remember you once telling me you were a shy child. Did you know where that fear came from?
“The fear comes from the fact that anytime I would express myself, outside of my mums support, it was laughed at or everyone was confused by it. Even when I got into school, the other boys didn’t dance. At the time there weren’t that many black kids where I was growing up. Kids would actually come up to me and point out the fact that my skin was dark, or that I had long legs, they would tease me about everything that I was. From my hair to my skin, I didn’t feel safe anywhere.”
Keiynan wears Ermenegildo Zegna suit
“I would see Michael Jackson on TV and he was all of these things that I thought I connected to and that I wanted to be and the world was cheering him on. He was embraced by all these people, just fully committing to it. I think I clocked it in my brain if I fully commit to this if I fully commit then the people that don’t get it now, will eventually get it.”
How have you found struggling with your identity, whilst having to perform so many different roles?
“When you’re trying to find yourself there’s this level of performing that goes on when the cameras are rolling but then there’s, even more, performing when the cameras are off. For me, I know that’s how I felt all the time. I was always performing.”
Were you scared?
“Super scared. I always was intimidated by other people and feeling like I didn’t belong. Like maybe I didn’t really deserve to be here, or I wasn’t good enough. Then on top of that, I never wanted anyone to find out about my sexuality.”
How long do you feel like you were struggling with it? Would you call it a struggle?
“Definitely. It’s just a struggle that got easier over time. When I was 21 that’s when shit, wasn’t going to work out. Every day it was getting harder and harder to just try and breathe. I was really depressed. I honestly just didn’t want to be here anymore. And then one of my best friends was like, “You have to see a psychiatrist, it’s not normal to feel this way or to cry every day for months.”
Keiynan wears Emporio Armani pants & shorts and vintage boots from Route 66
“So I took his advice and I was so blessed with the psychiatrist I got. After a few months of speaking with him, I started to come out to a bunch of friends and I started to accept myself. So 21 was a huge year for me and a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. But the next year, I moved over to America in a place by myself and I decided to go back into the closet. Then the pressure started building again. By the time I got to Love, Simon I was feeling like a bit of a hypocrite. I knew I had come so far but I was still hiding this secret.”
What are you looking forward to the most when it comes to acting and music?
“I’ve never been in a film or a show where I have been myself, I’m excited to know what that feels like. To be on set and just act and not be thinking about trying to be a certain way. I’m excited to make choices from that space because every choice that I’ve made as an actor before has come from a place of fear. In terms of music, I feel like this album is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I feel like each of these songs has such a powerful message to me, and represents something and it’s me being super vulnerable. Whether they’re frustrations, whether it’s unconditional love, celebration, pain or confusion, all of these songs and all of the feelings in them are all trapped in me. They’re confusing and they all live inside me and I just want them out. It’s been a big challenge to have all this stuff and not share them and not perform them.”
I read somewhere that you believe you’re quite judgment free. Are there judgments you feel you’re still clinging onto?
“I think we judge in others what we haven’t dealt with within ourselves, so that’s always going to be the case for many of us, including myself. I think where my judgement comes from is that I’m so hopeful for the world that I can see how we would be if we were free. How beautiful this life could be if we weren’t all so afraid and thinking that we’re all so separate.”
What advice would you give to people believing the negative thoughts over the good ones?
“What you believe is what becomes your reality. I think that’s our freedom and it’s our job to create reality. I know it can be hard but you have to believe that your essence is pure and even though there might be negativity being thrown, everyone does come from a source of love and the more we can observe that and be patient with ourselves and others, the better.”
I feel like on social media you seem to have such a light. You seem to have this truth about you that is free of judgment or self-doubt…
“That’s why it can be so painful when I go the opposite. I put this pressure on myself to always see the truth in things. But this weekend that past, I felt so full of darkness and doubt. I felt so lost and stuck. I felt really alone. And I was allowing my thoughts to create such a negative place. The only thing I could do is trust and have faith that it would pass. I also had to go to work, fly somewhere and moderate an important discussion that was so important to me yet I was so sad and so anxious.”
How do you go into situations like that when you are having these moments of self-doubt?
“The hardest thing for me to do was to reach out to someone. Eventually, I reached out to my boyfriend but it took me two days to even say anything about it to him. If anyone tried to talk to me I would just push them away. I didn’t know how to say to him, “something’s wrong, I’m not good.” The advice I would give to other people is to, first of all, get yourself out of the damn house. We can build these vortexes of suffering because it’s so easy to do. So I commend anyone and everyone who goes through that and just gets out of the house and connects with someone.”
I’ve heard you talk about magic a lot, especially on social media. Where do you feel the most magic?
“When I gave my MTV speech earlier this year I was so nervous because I had no idea what I was going to say. I was having a rough day, I didn’t feel inspired and I didn’t want to make up anything that wasn’t true or real for me at that moment. Just before I went up I was in my seat thinking “umm you’re an openly queer African Australian man, you’re sitting here wearing a dress, and you’ve been nominated for best kiss. Wow. okay, if I get called up there, I’m just going to trust the words will come.” I walked up, gave my speech and I was looking down at everyone thinking, “I can’t believe I’m saying this to all of these people and it is being celebrated.” It was just a reminder to always trust the universe, let the fuck go. When we’re trying to hold on to something or we think “how am I supposed to believe in magic if I don’t hear it and I don’t see it.” Those are the times you have to trust it’s real.”
What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in your artistic journey so far?
“I don’t make this sacrifice anymore, but my whole life, up until coming out I believed I was supposed to sacrifice my happiness. I thought, “I’m not supposed to be like everyone else and fall in love. I’m supposed to live a bit of a fake life, and it’s okay if I’m depressed, it’s okay if I’m not fully fulfilled, because my songs and my art will help others.” I was sacrificing myself my whole life because I wanted to change the world. But then I realised, you’re not supposed to sacrifice yourself. You give the gift of your own life to yourself, and that’s really how you liberate others. By being honest with who you are and who you love.”
With everything that’s going on in your life at the moment, how do you find balance?
“My psychiatrist reminded me, particularly when things with Love, Simon were blowing up, “Everything matters and nothing matters at all.” I remind myself of that daily. It takes the pressure off and I can choose where to invest my energy. I try to take in all the positivity and then let it go and remember at the end of the day, I’m just Keiynan who loves video games and Michael Jackson and I love to sing and dance, and that’s it.”