20 Things You Should Know About Keiynan Lonsdale
We spoke to the "Eden" star about queer representation, mental health and being your most authentic self.
Keiynan Lonsdale is a beacon of self-expression. Whether it's through his acting, dancing or singing, he strives to live authentically and to share that with the world — especially since publicly addressing his sexuality in 2017. That was the year things changed for Keiynan — he landed the role of Bram Greenfeld in the gay teen romance Love, Simon, which inspired him to first come out to the film's cast and crew at the wrap party, then the entire world.
This propelled Keiynan to deliver a powerful speech at the 2018 MTV Awards when he won "Best Kiss" alongside Nick Robinson. In it he said, "You can live your dreams and kiss the one that you love no matter what gender they are. You can live your dreams and you can believe in magic. You can live your dreams and you can be yourself."
Since then, Keiynan continues to be at the forefront of Hollywood and queer representation. He's showed off his best moves in the musical dance comedy Work It (which was produced by Alicia Keys and is a nice callback to his Dance Academy days) and sung intimately about life as a Black queer man through his debut album Rainbow Boy.
Now, he's set to appear in the mystery-drama Eden, Stan's latest Australian production that delves into the secret lives of a variety of characters living in a place that looks very much like paradise. However, the idyllic coastal town veneer is quickly washed off to reveal a dark underbelly when a young woman goes missing.
To learn more about the show, which was filmed in the iconic Byron Bay area, Keiynan hopped on a Zoom call with BuzzFeed. On it, we talked all things Eden, but we also learned a lot more about what an incredible person and actor he is. So, without further ado, here's 20 questions with Keiynan Lonsdale.
1. Describe your sense of style in three words.
Fluid, impulsive and fly.
2. What’s the first dish that comes to mind when I say "comfort food"?
BuzzFeed: Any sort of pasta or just pasta in general?
Spaghetti bolognese. That was already in my head as soon as you said "comfort food" — I was like "I want pasta!" [Laughs]
3. What's been your favourite red carpet look to date?
I really enjoyed the 2018 MTV Awards one I had. That was really fun. It had this Egyptian sort of vibe to it.
4. Who is your current celebrity crush?
I feel like I'm crushing on people every day — usually not celebrities.
BuzzFeed: Well, are you crushing on yourself? That's what I'm trying to do.
I'm trying to do that too! That would be nice. I mean, I always have a little Frank Ocean crush, but I think everyone's got that.
5. What drew you to Eden and the character of Cam?
Eden is this sort of mystical, dark paradise world that I was excited about. I felt like it painted a really beautiful picture on top, with these really scary and ugly roots at the bottom. I like stories like that and to get to do this in Australia...I felt like I hadn't quite seen a show like it.
Once I got on the phone with Mirrah Foulkes and John Curran, the first two directors, I felt this trusting energy and I felt the same thing once I started working with all the cast and crew. So, it was kind of gut instinct, really — like I was supposed to do this. And with Cam, it was just cool to play this fluid, Australian guy.
6. What is your favourite on-set memory from Eden?
There was a location called The Rainbow Temple, which is a real place. We shot there for a solid 4-5 days, like a week, and it was just really quite a mystical experience the whole time. We shot a lot of intense scenes there, but also some of the more intimate ones too. We made a lot of memories.
BuzzFeed: Is there a cast group chat that you've all been messaging in the lead up to the premiere?
Yeah, we've had group chats since the first week. Going through something like COVID-19 together, I think we all just wanted to have each other's backs. [Writer's note: Eden was filmed in the second half of 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.]
7. What was it like being part of a show that boasts an all-female writing team?
I was stoked because it led to a certain kind of storytelling that is unique and from that voice.
BuzzFeed: Did it feel different to other projects you've done before?
I would say that we dove into the vulnerability of the characters in a way that I really appreciated. In that way, Eden was one of the most unique projects that I've ever done.
8. What was it like reuniting with former Dance Academy co-star Thom Green?
It was so sick! We're homies and we're friends and I've always looked up to Thom since we first worked together on Dance Academy. I love watching his work and being in scenes with him.
9. Speaking of Dance Academy, when are fans going to see a Zoom cast reunion?
We actually did one last year when COVID-19 broke out.
BuzzFeed: Oh my god! How did I miss that?
I don't know if we publicised it. I think we put up some screenshots, but we didn't record it or anything like that. It was good to see everyone though.
BuzzFeed: Would you be down to do it again?
Yeah! That's family, you know. We'll be in each other's lives forever — near or far.
10. I find the premise of Eden really interesting in that it delves into how people present themselves to the world versus how they really are. As someone who is in the public eye, how do you stay authentic to your true self?
I have to check in with myself. I have to do what makes me feel healthy, but I also have to be okay with making mistakes and learning from them as a human.
It really helps to have good people in my life that ground me. There's times when my head has gotten too big and there's times when it's too small, you know? Therapy definitely helps and I'll say that even doing this project [Eden] was great. I think all of us actors really opened up to each other...and that was super healing.
It's just about being honest with the people in your life and yourself. I can't be honest on a public platform if I'm not honest with myself about when I'm messing up or when I'm doing really well.
11. What is one thing you think the entertainment industry can do better when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation?
As we move towards diverse casting, we need to make sure that this representation is happening across the board. You want to know that there's representation in the writer's room because writing for a bunch of Black queer people...if you don't know what that experience is like, that's tricky. It can be quite jarring to the actor then, who's trying to deliver an authentic story.
If we can make sure that we've got representation going on in what's not just in front of the screen, but behind the screen too — then we've got a wealth of voices that can make something great.
12. On the topic of queer representation, congratulations on the release of your debut album Rainbow Boy, which has also been nominated for a GLAAD Media Award. What's your favourite song off the album?
Oh, that's tricky! Each of them is different to me — some of them I just can't listen to for ages and then I might be really into one song for a period of time. But often, I come back to the song "I Confess My Love" — just because of the kind of groove that it has.
13. It's been three years since you chose to open up about your sexuality on Instagram and to the world. Since then, what's something you've learned about yourself?
"If we can make sure that we've got representation going on in what's not just in front of the screen, but behind the screen too — then we've got a wealth of voices that can make something great."
I've learned how much just wasn't about my sexuality, to be honest. It was at the forefront of so much confusion. Once it was actually cleared away, I had so much other work to do to figure out my life. [Laughs]
I was like, "Oh my god, I haven't even been paying attention to these things because I was so clouded by this fear and this bullshit in front of me." So, opening that up and clearing that space really changed my perspective on life, myself, family. It still continues to do it, it's an ever-growing journey in life.
It's also cool to keep learning about the community and the history that's come before it — and get empowered by that. Every time that I feel lost and confused, I retrace some of those steps and learn the stories of someone like Bayard Rustin or Billy Porter. I didn't know about any of that when I was in the closet because I had to block everything out.
14. What's a fan encounter you've had which you'll never forget?
One time, I was at a music festival. It was like 4 a.m. and we're partying at a DJ set. I was talking to my friends, but I could feel this energy behind me of this other person close by. I really wanted to move back and put my head on their shoulder and just dance, but I didn't know why. So, I did it and they did the same thing — so we're just dancing, with our heads back on each other. And then I turn around and we talked and found out that we both had emotional weekends and we shared stories about coming out.
Then, after that he was like "I know you from somewhere." Normally, I would be strange about it or awkward, but in that instance...we just really appreciated the whole interaction. It was just a mutual exchange of two people both getting to share their stories and being able to comfort each other.
15. What's a role you'd love to play next?
I would love to go into some voiceover work. I'm still navigating how to nail auditions like that, but that would be cool because I really enjoy animation.
16. Everyone has been asking, so let's give the people what they want. Tell us your skincare routine.
I cleanse, moisturise, do a bit of toner, treatment mist and then coconut oil or shea butter on the body. I grew up with a lot of acne, so it's mostly just scar management. But a lot of skincare for me is being at peace with my skin, trusting that it'll get better over time — sometimes it looks great, sometimes it looks terrible and that's okay.
17. What's one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
Have a groovy time and don't be afraid of your joy. Keep that joy alive.
18. What's something you've done recently that you were scared or hesitant to do prior to coming out?
I just strutted myself across the stage at this Pride festival called OutLoud yesterday and performed a song called "Gay Street Fighter". I definitely wouldn't have done that before I was out of the closet.
That was really fun to just get to experience Pride Month events and wearing whatever feels right and dancing however feels right and telling the story that needs to be told.
Even doing Eden, I wouldn't have been able to navigate a role like that or given Cam or the story justice if I didn't understand that space for myself. So, it's just a super cool blessing to be in a space where I can feel confident in telling that role. Because if I wasn't confident, then I wouldn't have known just how cool Cam was in his fluidity.
19. What are your thoughts on people viewing you as a role model and source of inspiration?
Sometimes it feels like a lot of pressure, other times it's like a responsibility because I've chosen this career. But as long as I can stick to my values, that's cool. I'm just a dude trying to do my thing and get it right — whatever that means.
20. And finally, what does your version of "Eden" look like?
With or without the underbelly? [Laughs]
I would say it looks similar to the experience I had last year shooting the show. Australia — as well as Byron Bay and that whole area — is very much like an eden to me. Plus, getting to create something with a diverse group of people? That's eden.
Note: Some answers were edited for length and/or clarity.