If one has seen any of the episodes released thus far of “Tell Me Lies,” the new very sexy, very dramatic, very dark and engrossing series from Hulu, it’s hard to picture its male lead, Jackson White, as a big cartoons guy.
In the show, White’s Stephen DeMarco is broody and complicated, and he’s constantly behaving in ways that make you not want him to succeed. Yet, White in person is nothing like his character.
It’s early in Los Angeles, California, where he was born and raised and lives still today, yet he’s cheery and friendly as he discusses how he first fell in love with movies and TV.
“Honestly, I watched a lot of cartoons,” he says. “I still do. I don’t know. I wish I could tell you I watched ‘The Sopranos’ as a kid.”
“Tell Me Lies” is an adaptation of the popular 2018 book by Carola Lovering and follows a relationship between Stephen and Lucy, played by Grace Van Patten, over eight years. It’s intense, and when he first watched it, White said it made him anxious.
“It’s like a train wreck: You just don’t want to look away, and you’re feeling so much when you’re watching it. And I just hope people will either be reminded of a time when this kind of thing was in their life, or if they haven’t been through something like that, maybe they’ll learn a little bit about what not to do,” he says. “It’s just a really specific relationship analysis that I think people will either be triggered by, or excited by. Or these definitely aren’t the kind of characters to emulate because they’re so unexamined at this point in their lives and pretty destructive toward one another. Everyone in the show is obviously affected by each other. And I just hope people will look at it as a piece of work that they can dissect without trying to internalize it.”
College-aged Stephen is a far cry from who White says he was at that age.
“I was really skinny, and buzzy and gnarly,” he says. “But I think the relatable part is that you’re not necessarily thinking about how your actions are going to affect other people at that age. It’s the first time you’re away from the parental zone. So you are pretty unhinged and excited and you want to discover everything on your own. And I definitely remember some of that.”
White’s parents are both actors, and he grew up going to the sets of sitcoms with his mother, Katey Sagal, so acting was always very front of mind for him. He got into musical theater, and loved the pageantry of being onstage.
“I did ‘Rent’ when I was a freshman in high school. That was so fun — we were 14 years old playing heroin addicts,” he says. “It was pretty funny. I think I had a fake beard, and I think they dotted five o’clock shadow under my face.”
After playing such an inward, bottled-up guy, White is eager to try something physically demanding.
“He’s so reserved at times and locked in and stoic. And I’m a very physical person just in my life. I love sports and exercise and I think I would love to do something next that was really physical and really a different kind of challenge. Something where I’d have to embody something really physical,” he says. “That’s always been a fantasy of mine. I like changing for roles. I like the idea of learning a skill, or changing the body, or something like that.”