Though he got his start as a child actor, Nick Robinson found fame as the actor we know today in YA films. His most notable breakout was as the lead in “Love, Simon,” in which he played a closeted teenager trying to find his place in the world. And the high school thing has worked quite well for Robinson: he’s built a dedicated fan base and has been heralded by many as one to watch in young Hollywood.
But Robinson is ready to mature — or rather, has matured — and is prepared for the roles to catch up. The first step in that process was his latest, the series “A Teacher.”
“I feel like a grown-up maybe for the first time in my life,” the 25-year-old says. “So it’d be nice to take on some more grown-up-type stuff. This was a great vehicle for that.”
The actor, a Seattle native, is on Zoom from Victoria, British Columbia, where he is shooting a miniseries for Netflix called “Maid,” alongside Andie MacDowell, Margaret Qualley and Billy Burke.
“It’s a true story. It’s a memoir about raising a daughter while working for minimum wage as a maid, and I play her s–t-bag ex, her baby daddy,” Robinson says. Very un-Simon indeed.
The series “A Teacher” is a safe-to-say controversial late arrival to the 2020 television series offering. It follows what happens in the moment and the aftermath of when Claire, the new young English teacher at a high school in Texas, and Eric, one of her students, begin a relationship. The affair is seemingly consensual and even initiated by Eric at the time, but as he gets older and goes through his 20s, he begins to see the effects of the abuse he was a victim of.
“It was almost a no-brainer,” Robinson says of signing on, after his initial meeting with co-star Kate Mara, who plays Claire, and the show’s creator Hannah Fidell. “Even though the show was set in high school, it was dealing with some very mature themes, and I liked what it had to say. It felt like something that I hadn’t really seen addressed before, and it felt challenging. And just seeing the little bit of the reaction that people are having to the show, that’s been.…I don’t know if ‘fun’ is the right word, but it’s always nice when someone watches some of your work and then wants to talk about it or wants to engage about it. And I’ve seen a lot of that online, which is cool.”
Each episode is prefaced by a trigger warning of grooming, which helps to clarify for the viewer that despite the reversal of gender roles in typical sex abuse cases, Eric is indeed a victim.
“The gender roles were a big part of why I decided to take the role on and to go back to high school, so to speak, and to take this part on because I thought it was really interesting and something that I hadn’t seen before. It was challenging some of these preconceived notions we have about masculinity and survivors and victimhood,” Robinson says.
“People say it’s between a man and a woman, this relationship, but really it’s between a woman and a boy. Some people do have a hard time seeing men or boys as victims, especially when it feels consensual. And that’s what the show delves into, too, is that a lot of Eric’s peers don’t see him as a survivor or victim in any way. In fact, the abuse is sort of lauded and praised by his friend group, which is obviously confusing for a survivor. I think [the show] was designed to sort of lure audiences in, make them feel uncomfortable, make them complicit in the relationship, and then in the second half of the season, really pull the rug out from under them and show what this relationship really did to these people.”
Robinson admits to being initially hesitant about taking on the role, because it was set in high school and he was looking to move in another direction. But once he read the scripts and got a grasp of the subject matter, he recognized it was something entirely different from his previous work.
“It was a semiconscious decision,” he says, of directing his career. “There’s only so much you can plan really. You just have to sort of set a course and hope that something will take you in that direction. As an actor, it can be hard to really plan ahead too much. But, yeah. And I’m glad that people are taking it that way. Yeah, I’ve been very fortunate to work as much as I have and on the things that I have, but it’s nice to be able to maybe start [something new].”