Article taken from The Face Volume 4 Issue 004. Order your copy here.
We Are Who We Are follows a group of kids growing up on an Italian army base. The debut TV series by Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino is a show unlike any you’ve seen before: a teenage snapshot of fucking and fighting, with all the internal tugs of war that make us who we are. Meet the cast, before the whole world falls for them
Around 2013, film director Luca Guadagnino met the actor Amy Adams to discuss working together on one of the dozens of projects the director had in the incubator. Adams happened to mention that she’d grown up on a US military base in Vicenza, Italy, which sowed the seed in his mind of telling the story of a micro-America – a petri dish of patriotism – hidden in plain sight in his native country.
WRWWR is the result – a drone’s‑eye view of American culture which follows six kids and their families living and working on an army base. As their parents (two of whom are played by Chloë Sevigny and Kid Cudi) wade through their own problems, the kids are cut loose to grow up. They straddle a culture that isn’t their own, eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the mess hall while surrounded by some of the world’s best food. They fuck, they sing, they splash one another at the beach and in pools, edging ever closer to discovering who they truly are.
The concept of coming-of-age is one Guadagnino has explored in his films Call Me By Your Name and his remake of Suspiria, but he didn’t just want to tell a story about youth for youth’s sake. It made more sense to place his first HBO series against a backdrop of political turmoil, so he set it during the 2016 US presidential election, creating an eight-part experiment in jingoism.
This is what happens when you tell a European arthouse director to sift through American youth culture, to see a torrid landscape through the eyes of those who have not truly felt its ramifications – young outsiders who don’t even understand themselves yet. We are who we are, Guadagnino proposes simply in the show’s title, but who that is, is up for you to decide.
Jack Dylan Grazer
Character: Fraser is the newcomer on the army base. He loves to stare for much longer than appropriate and can entertain himself just as easily as he can be the class clown.
Sucking on a pregnant Chloë Sevigny’s fingers like they’re pork knuckles might not have been what Jack Dylan Grazer had in mind when he was cast as Fraser, the male lead in WRWWR. Yet it didn’t faze Sevigny at all, who plays his character’s mother. Pre-finger-suck, Grazer could think only of the 1979 Bernardo BertoluccI film La Luna, in which a mother masturbates her own son.
“We were preparing for that scene and it was all I could think about,” he tells me from his Los Angeles bedroom. Five seconds before the cameras started rolling, Guadagnino asked him if he had seen La Luna? “I was like, ‘Oh my God, no way, I was just about to ask you that!’ I swear to God, it was so synchronistic.”
The relationship between Fraser and his mum is “beautifully disturbing and gross”, as Grazer puts it. He gets jealous when she dances with a male friend, and brutally slaps her when she doesn’t prepare his meal the way he likes. “I felt baaaaad!” Grazer jokes. “It was real – a practical slap. Luca was like, ‘Chloë, do you want to make it a real slap like the Bertolucci movie, or do you want to play it fake?’ Chloë was like, ‘Let’s do it for real.’”
After each take Grazer would ask, “Are you OK, Chloë? Do you want me to get you some ice?”, feeling bad for slapping one of cinema’s most iconic indie actresses. She responded, as you might guess, by shushing him.
When we first meet Fraser in WRWWR he has no friends but shoots lingering stares at a group of young teens who live on his same army base, a group headed up by Britney (Francesca Scorsese). He is “universally relatable… the embodiment of questioning who you are”, Grazer says. “I was really drawn to how blatant he was in regards to transitioning from childhood to adolescence.”
Grazer has previously been in the films It and Beautiful Boy (where he played a younger Timothée Chalamet), but this is his best role to date. Fraser short-circuits with awkward energy and walks with a confident gait that suggests – as his new friend Britney says behind his back – “he’s got a big one”.
Grazer is, at age 17, the most experienced of the younger set on WRWWR, but he still had to fight to win his part. “I auditioned like everyone else.
“I hated my audition, I thought it was the worst audition I’d ever done in my life. I walked out and I was like, ‘Fuck!’ because I wanted to get it so bad. I was in Chicago, and Luca FaceTimed me like, ‘If you want the part, you can have it.’ I was like, ‘If I want it?! Yeah! I want it!’”
Part of that audition process required him to answer some personal questions for casting director Carmen Cuba. She asked if he’d ever questioned his sexuality. “I was like, ‘Of course, as every human being should.’ She said, ‘This show has a lot to do with teenage identity, so are you in touch with that side of yourself? Do you wanna explore it more?’” He did.
As Fraser, Grazer goes to great lengths to keep you hemmed to your seat, talking to real Italian strangers caught on camera, or sticking his fingers in a cake – not because it’s in the script (he did several things without Guadagnino asking), but because it’s who he believes his character is. “I don’t act for my fans,” Grazer admits. “I act in movies because I want people who don’t even know who I am to be like, ‘Oh cool. Who’s this guy? He’s good.’”
Before WRWWR Grazer didn’t think much about fashion, but in the show his character loves Raf Simons. To make him more enthused Guadagnino connected him with an unlikely close friend: the streetwear influencer Mike the Ruler. “Before, I was like, ‘Ew, fashion – fucking assholes always trying to show off.’ I talked to Mike and he was like, ‘Fashion isn’t about showing off how much money I have. It’s the opposite, I’m dressing up for myself, it’s my own artform.’” Just the other day, Grazer says, he stepped out in a skirt, a “really obnoxious” yellow sweater, a corduroy vest and a neon sun hat. He likes the fact that people look at him funny.
Grazer loves being the grub twisting in Hollywood’s apple, but more than pleasing his millions of fans or aiming for top-billing, he is taking difficult roles to flex his muscles. “I just want to express myself, and if people like that, that’s awesome.”
Character: Caitlin, the ready-for-anything, wilful daughter of Richard (Kid Cudi) and bestie of Britney (Francesca Scorsese).
Jordan Seamón was having her head shaved on camera when she let out an ear-splitting yelp. It was her first time in Italy – first time outside of the US, in fact – filming her first scene as the female lead on the set of her first ever TV series, and her screech ricocheted through the headsets of the entire production team. “Don’t scream,” her co-star Grazer whispered as he clippered her hair. “You’re gonna blow out the microphones.”
That piece of advice was enough to help her settle into her character, the headstrong tomboy Caitlin. She was terrified, but Grazer held her steady. “It was so exciting, you can definitely see it in the scene, him just holding me tight,” she says. “Afterwards, I had a whole loss of breath, like, I couldn’t believe I just had my hair shaved off on camera.”
Today, months after production has wrapped, her hair is dyed a faded pink and her roots are growing out into a small afro. (Scorsese acted as colourist: “She told me that I would look really good in a pastel pink.”) Buzzcut aside, there are plenty of hairier scenes in WRWWR, many of which involve little in the way of clothing. In one, Caitlin’s boyfriend Sam tries to pressure her into having sex in the dirt. She initially seems into it, letting him slide his hand down her pants – then tells him no.
“That’s what I loved about Caitlin so much,” she says. “She said, ‘No, this is not what I wanna do and I’m not ready for that kind of thing.’ In that moment you feel good and then the next you don’t. You can say that. She’s strong about it, which is good for girls and boys to see.”
Seamón is 17. She grew up in Philadelphia and now lives in Atlanta. Her initial goal was a music career (she releases jams under her initials, JK) but after a few stage roles at Philly’s FreshVisions Youth Theatre Company, she couldn’t bat away persistent comments telling her, “You can actually act pretty well!” She took a few background roles in TV shows, but it was her mum that found the WRWWR casting call for an uncompromising young woman who loves to kickbox.
Four auditions later and she still hadn’t grasped how big the role was. “When I found out it was HBO I was like, ‘This is insane!’” she recalls. “When I got to set and I started figuring out how much I was actually gonna be in Italy and how centred on Caitlin the TV show really is, I had thoughts like, ‘Oh my goodness, this isn’t me, I don’t know what to do, I’m scared!’ It was really intimidating, but I was lucky enough to meet so many people on set that guided me in the right direction.”
One of those people was her on-screen father Richard, played by Kid Cudi. Seamón wasn’t familiar with him. “I knew his name and the song Day ’N’ Nite. That was it,” Seamón admits sheepishly. “I wasn’t a huge fan. I had no idea what he looked like.” But their bond quickly solidified – he was just as much a father figure off set as on – and he’s even given her advice for her debut album, which she began writing while she was still in Italy. Her mum sent him one of her tracks and Cudi was blown away. “He was like, ‘I heard this song, it’s amazing, I love it!’”
Though Seamón can’t drink or drive yet, and insists that she’s just an “ordinary girl”, she’s secured a leading role in a HBO series and has a hip-hop star to text for music advice. At the moment she doesn’t feel the need to choose between singing and acting, but has prepared in some small way for the selfie-seekers. “We all joked about how I was going to get so famous that I would have to have a bunch of security around me and that I was always gonna have to wear sunglasses and be too cool to talk to people,” she says, laughing.
Character: Britney, the bubbly foam of the group. She welcomes Fraser into the fold, loves to gossip and … play the piano?
As Britney, Francesca Scorsese acts as the nucleus around which her friends orbit, and is an enabler for everyone else’s naughty behaviour. “They said she was a little bit flirtatious and that she knew what she wanted,” says Scorsese. “That really drew me to her. I really liked that – though it’s not really me.”
You may recognise Scorsese from her few roles in her father Martin’s prolific oeuvre (such as Little Girl at Airport in
The Departed), but Britney is her first major part, which she found out she’d been chosen for while studying at NYU. “[Guadagnino] was like, ‘We’d love to have you as a part of the production.’ I was like, ‘Acting, right?’ I thought he meant like a PA or something. The 20-year-old’s imposter syndrome belies her talent in portraying the confident, sassy one in the show.
Even though she’s a daughter of Hollywood she received the same treatment as everyone else. “Episode four, I was so nervous, like shaking. I had to sing in my underwear. I’d never sung in front of a lot of people. I only wanted one person in the room, and then Luca was like, ‘We can’t have you lip-sync. And we need to have everyone in the room.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God…’” Scorsese pulled off The Beatles’ version of soul classic Soldier of Love (Lay Down Your Arms) after just two months of piano practice.
Britney’s loud mouth and devil-may-care demeanour have helped Scorsese overcome her own shyness. “She’s not afraid of what other people think, she’s very adventurous and in her own world – sexually adventurous as well. If anyone’s going through that in their life, I think they can relate to her.”
Like her castmates, Scorsese is hoping that the combination of Guadagnino’s golden touch and her own acting merits will prompt a pile-up of offers. On Instagram she’s already funnelling praise from fans for a show they’ve not even seen yet. “Everyone’s like, ‘WRWWR is gonna be the new Euphoria or something!’” What does she think? “I dunno,” she replies with a shrug. “I don’t like to get my hopes up.”
Character: Sam, boyfriend of Caitlin. Sam is charismatic and unpredictable, but mostly looking for a good time with his friends
“It was kind of awkward,” Ben Taylor explains when asked what it was like walking on to a set only to shake hands with Kid Cudi. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, I literally binge-listened to all of your albums.’” Taylor is now 18 and has already attended the birthday party of his new friend.
The Los Angeles-based actor started his career in commercials after being spotted by a talent agent when he was eight, but only landed the WRWWR job by chance. He was deep into playing Fortnite and waving off his aunt’s pleas for him to try for the show. “I didn’t even wanna do the audition,” Taylor says, laughing. Then, after a bit of research, he found out it was directed by Luca Guadagnino. “I was like, ‘Wait, what?! He did Call Me By Your Name! Yo!’”
Taylor peppers his speech with shouts of “Boom!” like a Wall Street floor trader who’s just bagged a sale. What he has bagged is his first big role, as a young Casanova named Sam. “I think he’s smoother than me. He can swindle a female from five yards. Me, I get awkward and bubbly. He’s like [snaps his fingers and points]: ‘You, come here.’”
Taylor was most terrified to film the make-out scenes: “Imagine a frickin’ 20-inch camera right in your face while two faces are colliding with each other. You wouldn’t be scared?” To relax him, Guadagnino prescribed hang-out time for him and Seamón, who plays his on-screen girlfriend. Their job was to make it look like they were in love, and they grew close in the process.
Taylor is anxious for the public’s response to WRWWR. Not least because he thinks people will see Sam as the villain. What’s more, he’s intrigued to see how people will react to the political aspect of the series. “It’s a perfect moment to put this show out because you have the George Floyd incident, Breonna Taylor, all the stuff that’s been going on,” he says. “People being comfortable in their own skin, no matter their race, no matter their sexuality. I think that’s what this show tackles the best.”
Spence Moore II
Character: Danny, a misunderstood beefcake who is struggling to connect with his thoughts and is stuck in an emotional prison of his own making.
Moore II to choose acting over American football. “I thought that movie was so cool!” he exclaims. “I was a rambunctious kid. I needed an outlet to put my energy into, so that’s what got me wanting to act. After Earth helped get me on the right track.”
The Missouri native was playing as a linebacker on his high school football team in Los Angeles when he was picked to feature in adverts for the National Football League and Coca-Cola. These launched his acting career and also fulfilled his dreams of playing in the NFL – while his friends were dreaming of the big leagues Moore was already there, albeit in a commercial break between quarters. “I’m going around the school like, ‘GUYS! IT’S ME, IT’S ME!’”
Moore, 22, has worked his butt off ever since, with roles in 13 Reasons Why and A.P. Bio, but acting in a HBO series has always been a dream of his. “You want me to do the real-life reaction?” he asks when I enquire how he found out he got the part of Danny, Caitlin’s brother. “I was like, ‘OH MY GODDD!’” he yells. “Everybody knew how hard I’d been working. You train all this time and it takes forever for you to land something. It was awesome.”
Moore seems nervous about how Danny will be perceived. At certain points he loses his temper and gets physical with friends. “That’s what I’m worried about, especially episode three when I grab Fraser. His fans are gonna be like, ‘You hurt Jack!’” he says, laughing.
His full-circle moment came when he was invited to Kid Cudi’s birthday bash in Hollywood. There he met the man who started it all for him: Jaden Smith. “I was trying to be together,” he explains of finally meeting his idol. “I wasn’t saying too much.” Moore remained placid on the surface, while inside he knew he was not only invited to the party – he deserved to be there.
Character: Craig is “the glue in the group. He is the brother everybody would want. The friend everybody deserves. I don’t know a better person.”
Brooklyn actor Corey Knight grew up playing sports – mixed martial arts, basketball, soccer – and dancing (ballroom, hip-hop, ballet). “I didn’t do breakdancing!” he clarifies. Acting wasn’t something Knight considered too seriously until his first short film, Taking Chance, won an audience favourite award at the Urbanworld Film Festival. “As soon as it won, I was like, ‘Oh yeah. This is gonna be my thing.’”
In WRWWR, Knight plays Craig, “the glue in the group”. Though he’s the eldest among a mostly teenage cast, the 23-year-old concedes that hanging out in Italy with them was “100 per cent like summer camp”.
“On set, everybody took their job extremely seriously, and then off-set you get lit,” he says. One day, for example, Knight, Scorsese and Taylor hopped on a train to see the Rome premiere of Scorsese’s father’s film The Irishman: “It was dope.”
Knight’s role required frequent nudity, so how did he handle it? “That was my first time on camera butt naked. I ended up being naked – a lot. The love that I have for Luca is that everything that he does –whether it’s comfortable or uncomfortable – you realise there’s a reason for it. But
I was scared shitless,” he hastens to add, “I can’t even lie.”
Knight seems ready for the fusillade of flashbulbs that come with a career in the spotlight. Next up he’d like to work with Todd Phillips or Martin Scorsese – an easier connection to make now that he knows his daughter. “I expect that there’s gonna be more [opportunities]. Once you do your thing it’s like, ‘Yeah, I did my thing.’”
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