Photography by Aaron Diemer.

Don’t call The Half of Its Daniel Diemer a Hollywood pretty boy

The Canadian actor is bumping up against the dictates of heartthrobbery, effortlessly playing to his charms in the unconventional, Tribeca award-winning Netflix romcom.

Long before securing prime real estate on Netflix (the top 10), The Half of Its leading man Daniel Diemer was in Vancouver, Canada ready to begin his acting career. He was 18 and living alone for the first time. His place was essentially a hut, built as a multi-purpose bathroom for workers on a construction site to take a wee. It wasn’t even really a house,” he told me recently over the phone. I slept on this old couch. I would watch some TV and then I would go off to these [acting] masterclasses, and then come back to this tiny little place.”

Diemer’s father had hooked him up with the makeshift bachelor pad, courtesy of a family friend. While his peers back in his hometown on Vancouver Island were likely toking and TikToking, whatever it is teens do now, Diemer was auditing the classes of esteemed acting coach Andrew McIlroy, determined to tap into his fissure of expertise. Even though he’d only appeared in one music video to date, that was enough to push a teen Diemer into 100 audition rooms. I have to follow this new dream that’s come my way,” he thought, Academy gold glinting in his eyes. He made a pact with himself to do whatever we can to make [acting] work… From the start, I was like, I wanna win an Oscar someday.”

The 23-year-old’s determination has paid off. Well, perhaps not yet with a statue (though the film did win Best US Narrative Feature at last night’s virtual Tribeca Film Festival). But Diemer’s role of Paul Munsky in The Half of It will surely throw him into Noah Centineo realms of clumsy romcom charm, a simple knock-on effect of being beamed onto the screens of over 180 million subscribers worldwide. In only a week of being online, the film’s trailer had received over 4.5 million views. Diemer’s meagre social media following has tripled since.

His character, Munsky, is a bit of a doof. Munsky has a crush on Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), but can’t find the right words to communicate it to her. He enlists the services of for-hire essay writer Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), whom he pays to draft him a winning love letter. Chu harbours a crush on Flores too, which flies straight over the six-foot-four head of Munsky. The letters she writes – full of raw and lyrical feelings – only improve his advances. A couple sweet notes later, and he takes his crush out on a date to the diner; Chu waits outside in her car, texting Flores sweet nothings when she can see the silence between the pair through the restaurant’s window. Maybe, Flores thinks, Munsky was only endearing on paper…

The movie is charming, a modern update on the tale of Cyrano de Bergerac. Munsky is its centrepiece, if only because you so badly root for him to win the girl. The role of Paul is so much the heart of the film,” director Alice Wu says. I must have read 600 actors before I found Daniel. Daniel exudes authenticity.”

He’s handsome – but not in a way that screams Hollywood pretty boy’ […] He feels like one of us’ even though in reality, he is 64” and beautiful.”

Alice Wu

Diemer is bumping up against the dictates of heartthrobbery – but that’s not the sole reason why he beat out 600 others to the role. He’s handsome – but not in a way that screams Hollywood pretty boy,’” adds Wu. I needed that rare quality of his for this film to land; with Daniel, the audience can go on the ride and feel like they are watching real people, not actors, living their lives in small town rural America. He feels like one of us’ even though, in reality, he is 64” and beautiful.”

Diemer tells me that he has been compared to Teen Wolf actor Dylan O’Brien or Perks of Being a Wallflowers Logan Lerman in terms of looks and style. I stand at 64”,” he says. So that’s the first thing that normally catches attention in any way. The rest of me – I think that’s been something that I’ve been trying to pinpoint for a while… I guess, boy next door’ kind of type?”

Does that mean he’s confident in his looks? As somebody who’s struggled a lot with how they viewed themselves in my teenage years, there’s always an insecurity there,” he says. There’s always a part of me that doubts that something or someone like me can make it an industry full of beautiful people,” he continues, but if the people that I’ve been surrounded by are confident enough in my looks, then I trust them.”

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Those teenage years, he says, included some cringey experiences from which he was able to draw inspiration for the painfully awkward date scenes with Flores. A lot of those types of scenes were me going back a few years and remembering certain circumstances where I was standing next to a girl, giving her a love letter, and having absolutely no idea what to do,” he says. So there were definitely moments of that in my own life to draw from. The hardest part about it was going back [to those moments] and not judging myself for that awkwardness, being willing to show that to people and not feel like I’d be judged for it by millions.”

Millions will watch The Half of It, and even more will see the merits of the feel-good film. Like any good romcom, The Half of It ends with a rubbernecker of a twist and a hand-to-heart declaration that viewers can possibly guess at. (Think John Cusack holding up the boombox in 1989’s Say Anything.) But Alice Wu takes a stab at something new – Chu is lesbian, and Asian-American, living in a small apartment with her father who can’t speak fluent English. Not exactly your Wonderbread teen fare. I saw comments all over on Twitter and YouTube and Instagram of people saying, hey, I watched this trailer and I started crying immediately. I’ve never seen myself represented on screen this way,” Diemer says. The story is really something special. People are really going to grab a hold of it, and hopefully this can be special for a whole lot of people.”


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