"The Carrie Diaries'" Brendan Dooling On The Challenges Of Playing A Gay Teen In The '80s
Throughout the first season, Dooling's Walt has struggled to figure out his sexuality in the less-accepting '80s.
The first season of The Carrie Diaries has not been easy on Walt, played by relative newcomer Brendan Dooling. He has dated two girls despite harboring a serious crush on a man in the city — and as the season's progressed, he's begun the complicated process of coming out, both to himself and to his friends.
We spoke to Dooling about Walt's difficult journey, his upcoming choices, and the new Walt we might see if The Carrie Diaries gets a second season.
Based solely on the pilot, what was your conception of Walt? And what drew you to that character?
Brendan Dooling: When I first read Walt, I felt that he was a very honest, innocent, and caring person. That's why Carrie, Mouse, and Maggie befriended him in the first place. And I also thought that even though as a character, he had a particular direction he was headed in, I didn't want to play a cliché or a stereotype. He does have a girlfriend, so he needs to be somewhat masculine in a lot of aspects, so he can attracts the Maggies and the Donnas. And I was excited to see his transition, and obviously play that transition.
What kind of conversations did you and [showrunner] Amy Harris have about Walt before you began filming?
BD: In the audition process, they made it clear to everyone who was auditioning that this was a particular character. And Amy Harris and I, during the shoot of the first season, we would have moments to ourselves. If I had a question, she was always there to answer it. I think just in the way we approached some themes — sometimes she would have something that she wanted to say before we went into a day of production. Things like that really helped me steer Walt in the direction that he was meant to be.
In the book on which the series is based, Carrie describes Walt as "one of the girls." How do you think Walt would feel about that description?
BD: In the beginning of it, he doesn't want to be considered that, of course, but I think in the season finale and fingers crossed for Season 2, once we get to that point, I think he'll be able to look at it in retrospect and be like, OK, Carrie, you weren't that far off.
Let's talk about Walt and Bennett. What do you think Walt sees in this guy? Is there something there, or is it just Walt being drawn to the first gay man he meets?
BD: There's certainly something going on, but it's a little bit of puppy love. And I think it's the novelty of Bennett that Walt is also attracted to. Because he's never seen anyone get to seen anyone get to be themselves and people love them for it, like Bennett does at Interview and in the city. So there's certainly an attraction just to that atmosphere, and Bennett has that aura about him all the time. So it's a mixture of things.
So do you see Bennett as someone Walt could date, or just someone who can help Walt figure himself out?
BD: Walt would like to think that it's someone he could date, but it might work out to be beneficial in other ways.
Walt and Donna also have a very interesting relationship. Were you surprised that she was the first person he chose to confide in about his sexuality?
BD: I was certainly surprised that Walt and Donna ended up making out and ended up being together. Donna just laid the law down and said, "You are my boyfriend," and Walt just ran with it, because it's Donna, so why wouldn't you want to just run with that? And then, once things develop and Donna starts questioning Walt's sexuality, he just needed someone to say something to him. Because he'd been introverted for the longest time, and hiding something. It was just the perfect storm: Donna confronts Walt, and Walt is ready to burst, so it ended up being Donna. And it worked out for both of them, because they have, apparently, a very honest relationship.
Do you think coming into The Carrie Diaries as a fan of Sex and the City makes a difference, or are they just two separate series?
BD: Carrie Diaries is definitely unique, even though it pulls from the original structure of Sex and the City, so Sex and the City fans can watch and have some familiarity, besides with the character. But if you come in having no prior knowledge of Carrie or anybody, I think you can enjoy it as well — not only because it's the '80s and it's fun and glamorous — but also because the stories are so well written and so honestly written. There are so many quirky characters, it's easy to fall in love with any number of the characters on The Carrie Diaries. So I'd like to think that you could come in with a clean slate and love it just as much if you were a Sex and the City fan.
For you, what's the best part about living in the '80s as Walt?
BD: Honestly, I'm probably never going to look as good as Walt does, so that's a lot of fun. He's always so well coordinated as far as his apparel, and his hair is always so neatly combed over. He's so clean-cut! And though I am a clean-cut sort of guy, I'm just not as put together as he is, so to be in that '80s fashion and to have that outward appearance that's so locked in... So I'd say the fashion. The fashion, and the fact that I don't have to worry about the fashion. That's really nice.
They put you all in such awesome and colorful outfits. It's always really impressive.
BD: Eric Daman's so awesome, really fantastic. I love going into fittings with him.
Has this changed your opinion of '80s style and fashion?
BD: I guess I'd never formed any hard opinions of '80s fashion, other than that it was pretty outrageous, you know. Just the things people started wearing then were so — they were so big! I think that's the only word to describe it, is just so big: the colors, the hair, the actual styles, everything just exploded in that era. I can't say that I'm sad that I missed it, but I'm also not a very big fashion guy. So it's definitely fun being able — I mean, '80s parties, I never went to those things. I don't know how to coordinate myself in '80s apparel, so it's just been really fun being thrown into it.
I know you can't say much about the season finale, but I've been told Walt might have to make some difficult choices. What can you reveal about that?
BD: If Walt had a plan of how things were supposed to happen, in terms of his realization and his community's realization of what's going on with him — that is so vague, I'm sorry. But if he had a plan, it's all for naught, because things happen unexpectedly. Obviously in the preview, you see Maggie finds out maybe earlier than Walt would have wanted her to. So now it's just a matter of taking the bull by the horns and running with it.
So far, Donna and Carrie have both been really supportive of him. It's the '80s, so it's obviously a different time. Do you think Walt might face more opposition from friends and family?
BD: From family, certainly. I mean, in the books, he lives in a tent in his backyard because his dad doesn't want him in the house. I'm not sure where Amy Harris and the writers are going to take his story. You know, I don't know how much of — godwilling, Season 2 — I don't know how much of that would be Carrie and Walt in the city, as opposed to Walt in Castlebury. But there's certainly a lot more adversity coming his way. He's had support in the closet, and now I don't know what his support system is like outside of it.
As you said, you don't know what direction they'll take Walt in next season. But have you thought about how you might play Walt as a slightly more open person?
BD: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Throughout the whole season — once Walt is introduced to the city and he sees that there's another world out there, he sort of starts going outside his box and his shell. He's living within a shell in Castlebury, and once he's introduced to the city, he realizes that shell really isn't as necessary. So he starts showing a little bit more of his effeminate side, you could say. In the city, it's not like there's going to be this hard, on-the-line transition, but it's going to be a lot more free and open. He might be able to smile more and breathe easier, and I'm looking forward to that.
And what about for all the other characters, going forward? What would you like to see for everyone else in the — fingers crossed — next season?
BD: I would love to see Maggie finally get some closure. She's always been bouncing around from guy to guy, from Walt to the cop, Simon, and she just doesn't have any constant in her life. So it would be really cool to see that develop. And I think Mouse, she's coming into her own as well. She's not just the bookworm that everybody thought she was. She might actually become a little bit of a lady or a woman in the coming season. I'm really excited to see everybody's development.
Obviously we're close to the end of the first season — it's a little late to catch up. But for people who resisted The Carrie Diaries because it was a teen show, or because it was a prequel to Sex and the City, how would you lure them in?
BD: I would say that this cast is deserving of some sort of ensemble award. And if you can just enjoy a group of actors doing their job and doing a good job at it, then the show will be for you. And then, if you born in the '80s and you've got the nostalgic aspect as well — it's good for a lot of people, of any age range.
The season finale of The Carrie Diaries airs Monday, April 8 at 8 p.m. on The CW.