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Keiynan Lonsdale Is A New Kind Of Queer Leading Man

“I enjoyed how the stumbling and fumbling of queer dating were represented,” the My Fake Boyfriend star said. “I've been injured in many similar ways.”

Love can be confounding. It can be surprising and elusive; there’s no guidebook. That’s one reason we devour romantic comedies: They’re funny but neat stories about how people get together, a process that’s terrifyingly vulnerable in real life. For Keiynan Lonsdale, best known for playing romantic lead Bram in 2018’s tender high school romance Love, Simon, the genre has been professionally but also personally significant. The 30-year-old Australian actor brought warmth and candor to the role that originally made him a star, but the popular rom-com helped him unearth some of his own truths.

“I want to learn from them,” he told me over Zoom, referring to the genre he knows he’ll forever be associated with, thanks to that breakout role. “I want to see what’s possible. I want to see what to avoid. I want to see what’s okay to laugh about in the situation. Rom-coms present us crazy, stressful situations, and they teach us how to laugh and say, ‘Oh, whatever. Drew Barrymore went through it, so it's fine.’”

A production still of Keiynan Lonsdale and Dylan Sprouse looking at each other in My Fake Boyfriend

In My Fake Boyfriend, a BuzzFeed Studios movie, Lonsdale extends his reign as a rom-com lead, offering a familiar portrayal of queer dating. He plays Andrew, a stuntperson who struggles to find what he needs when it comes to love. “Here’s a guy who’s quite comfortable with himself,” Lonsdale said. “Sexuality is not a big topic at all. But he’s still dealing with the toxic traits of dating, of the scene; he has this yearning for honesty and truth and acceptance.”

Despite that, he finds himself in a relationship with a guy who’s, well, fake. The ruse comes courtesy of Andrew’s longtime BFF Jack (Dylan Sprouse), who uses skillful deepfakes and social media savvy to digitally conjure a perfect man for his best friend. Cristiano (name borrowed from the sculpted football player) is a dream; he’s a philanthropist, activist, and influencer, with pronounced abs and pecs, and a chiseled chin to go with them. He’s madly in love with Andrew and happy to let the world know. But we, the audience, know that the social media posts of the couple enjoying beach holidays or seeing the running of the bulls in Spain are only the creations of a well-meaning friend who’s sick of seeing Andrew’s heart trampled by the vain Nico (Marcus Rosner), an actor who has somehow kept Andrew in his thrall after nine (and counting!) breakups.

Andrew slowly warms up to having a relationship the world envies — that is, until he meets an IRL prospect who makes him swoon. Samer Salem’s charming chef, Rafi, makes Andrew wonder whether pretending to be in a relationship is such a good idea.

In a year that’s already brought us queer romances like Fire Island and Heartstopper, and that is promising more romance (Billy Eichner’s studio rom-com Bros, Billy Porter’s YA trans coming-of-age tale Anything’s Possible, and the vampire series First Kill), My Fake Boyfriend reminds us that we’re seeing a resurgence of a genre that seemed to have stalled. More than two decades since audiences swooned for The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy, Kissing Jessica Stein, and But I'm a Cheerleader, 2022 is finally delivering the successors to those pioneering queer rom-coms, and in a way that defies any neat, generic categorization. From YA to horror and from wholesome to raunchy, there’s no shortage of queer romantic stories. Many of the entertainers fronting these narratives are also out and open — a refreshing change of pace after decades of straight actors earning acclaim for leading queer classics.

Part of this renaissance is a commitment to a wide variety of stories that reflect the breadth of the LGBTQ community. Queer stories need not all be about trauma or tragedy; they can also be, as My Fake Boyfriend proves, bubbly and giggly, with hapless protagonists and sweet roller rink dates.

Keiynan in a colorful long gown with a train and butterfly decorations

Lonsdale is no stranger to the power of a romantic comedy. By the time he wrapped principal photography on the heartwarming Love, Simon, he had opted to come out to his castmates and, just a few weeks later, to the entire world. “I like to change my hair,” he wrote on Instagram. “I like to take risks with how I dress, I like girls, & I like guys (yes), I like growing, I like learning, I like who I am and I really like who I'm becoming.” Lonsdale hoped his message would reach others who needed courage to face who they were with pride. The post was met with support and encouragement, with many fans commenting how much his words meant to them.

“I definitely took on a big responsibility to try to advocate for others,” he said. “And then I kind of found myself in this big viral whirlwind, representing something so huge — but something that I really didn't understand.”

The post and the press blitz that would follow when Love, Simon was released a few months later made Lonsdale an unexpected poster boy for a new generation of queer performers who were refusing to closet themselves in order to fit in. “​​I still can't believe it was real,” he told me. “It was a crazy whirlwind and such a beautiful experience.”

There was a lot of unlearning that needed to take place, a way to sift through the internalized shame he’d been carrying for so long. But he grounded himself in the positivity he’d experienced. “I suddenly felt like there were no limits,” he said. “I was so disciplined as a kid and had blocked myself off from a lot of experiences. So I was like, I don't want to be afraid of the world. I don't want to be afraid of myself; I'm going to do what I want when I want.

Keiynan Lonsdale accepting the "Best Kiss" MTV Movie & TV Award onstage

The film became a hit, grossing over $65 million worldwide and earning Lonsdale an MTV Movie & TV Award (for Best Kiss) on the strength of its relentlessly, almost aggressively hopeful tenor. (Its memeability didn’t hurt, either.) Lonsdale enjoyed being a part of a project that spoke so powerfully to its intended audience. “As much as people say, ‘Don't do something to try and make an impact,’ I say, ‘Screw that. I want to make people feel something — change lives!’” he said.

“As a kid, I needed all the hope I could get to say, ‘You can make it out of the hood. And you can get your mom a house. And you guys can eat as much as you need to eat. You don't have to shame yourself for this thing. You don't have to punish yourself for this,’” he said.

Soon after Love, Simon came out, Lonsdale released a soft pop ballad called “Kiss the Boy.” A gender-swapped riff on the Little Mermaid song “Kiss the Girl,” it imagined a young guy emboldening himself to inch ever closer to his crush. “Kiss the Boy” represented a rather chaste vision of queer love, but it meant a lot to Lonsdale. “I just got endless goosebumps,” he said, “because I was like, This is the song I was meant to write! Suddenly, all the suffering, the shame, it was all worth it because I understood the lessons from it.”

Lonsdale has since used music to broaden his own vision of what his queerness can look like. Just watch him slink through the thumping choreography of his 2021 ’70s-inspired throwback “Gods of the Disco” in body glitter and a wisp of a thong (yes, he’s also a dancer, having begun his training at age 5). The sultry sexiness he’s been infusing into his music — which sees him toying with disco, funk, and dance — has been a conscious way to harness the feminine energy he’d long suppressed in favor of the masculinity he saw held up as an example in his family.

But even as he appeared to be more in control of his life and desires, Lonsdale said that wasn’t exactly the case. Sure, he was open about his setbacks and winsomely kind on social media, but internally, he was adrift. There was a lot of talk, but not a lot of self-reflection about his sexuality and his coming out. “It’s not like I had a big group of gay friends and we went out and talked about things we were going through. I talked openly about it to the world and in interviews,” he notes, “more than I did in my own life, actually.”

A production still of Keiynan Lonsdale in The Flash

He hadn’t yet found his “tribe,” as he put it; he didn’t have queer friends who could help him navigate questions about life, sex, dating, and relationships. That’s when he retreated, stepping away from the prying eyes he felt he had invited to gawk and admire him. He left The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, later recounting his newfound artistic and personal freedom in the 2019 track “Rainbow Dragon.” (Sample lyrics: “I realized I could eat some ass if I wanted to / I could smoke some grass if I wanted to / I could quit The Flash if I wanted to.”)

When Lonsdale received the script for My Fake Boyfriend in fall 2020, he was in Australia shooting the 2021 psychological drama Eden, a dark series centered on a young woman’s disappearance during a raucous party. Playing wayward Cam, a close friend of the missing woman, left him ready to leave acting completely. He’d been working in the business since he was 5 years old — maybe it was finally time. But reading the lighthearted screenplay, Lonsdale immediately felt his spirits lift. Director Rose Troche wrote him a letter urging him to consider the lead role; in fact, she told him she wouldn’t do the film without him. When I spoke to Troche on the phone, she told me he had a special quality that felt right for Andrew: “You’re just instantly connected with him and his spirit.”

Rom-coms shaped Lonsdale’s view of love, and he wanted to capture it all for a queer audience, from the minutiae of dating to the “funny awkwardness at the start.” He wanted to ground his leading character in a reality too many men who are attracted to men suffer through — the bad dates, the ill-advised hookups, even the questionable boyfriends — but retain that rom-com relatability.

Keiynan Lonsdale and Samer Salem in a production still from My Fake Boyfriend cutting vegetables together

Lonsdale had always used his own experiences to bring stories to life, whether onscreen, in dance, or in music. What he hoped was to bring a searching vulnerability to the role of Andrew. “I enjoyed how the stumbling and fumbling of queer dating were represented,” he said. “I've been injured in many similar ways.”

With My Fake Boyfriend, Lonsdale wanted to represent those who might see themselves in Andrew’s journey. Lonsdale’s song “Gods of the Disco” appears in one of the film’s key scenes: that roller rink date. “I’m a believer, baby, that things are getting sweeter,” he sings. That’s probably true for Lonsdale as well as for queer rom-coms. “Now I think we’re all just hungry to make the best stuff possible,” he said. “Like, Let’s get it out! Let’s do it!” ●

My Fake Boyfriend is a BuzzFeed Studios film out today, June 17, in the US — just in time for Pride! Sign up for Prime Video now so you're ready to watch.

My Fake Boyfriend poster art