Love, Simon Star Nick Robinson Was ‘Popular-ish’ in High School
Nick Robinson grew up watching the classic high-school movies that inspiredLove, Simon. Directed by Dawson's Creek alum and DC handler Greg Berlanti, Love, Simon puts a gay lead at the center of a high-school coming-of-age story complete with awkward romance and friendship drama, where two closeted teens strike up a romance via email.
"Ferris Bueller was a major touchstone for me," says Robinson, who plays the titular teenager Simon, over the phone. He and Berlanti also talked often about the directing style of The Breakfast Club, which Love, Simon updates with Gossip Girl-esque message boards and group texts. "[John Hughes] was prolific," Robinson says. "I think it speaks to the power of his storytelling that both Greg and I could grow up on the same films, 20 years apart." The result is a sweet and simple high-school romance that twists and turns as Simon figures out his online pen pal's secret identity and navigates his own coming out. Robinson talked to Vulture about working with Berlanti, the movie's Whitney Houston dance number, and being "popular-ish" in high school.
How did you get involved with Love, Simon? It was really the director, Greg Berlanti. We'd discussed the concept behind it, how it was something we hadn't seen before. It was a new idea: a mainstream coming-of-age film with a gay protagonist. We also discussed the implications of that, how it could potentially be helpful to people. After our conversation, it got me excited about this project and all the people involved. I went back in to audition, we did chemistry reads with the rest of the cast. The main takeaway was that everyone involved in this thing was doing it for the right reasons. Greg is a gay man, and he had his personal story. Everyone seemed to have a personal story that they were bringing to this. I think it was a labor of love that made for a great work environment.
So, what was your personal story? There were a few things. Members of my family have come out over the years, people close to me. The concept of representation is really important, just to see either people you identify with or stories you identify with represented onscreen is a powerful thing. Not to say that this movie is representative of every LGBTQ experience, but it's a start.
I thought Greg was the right person to shepherd this thing. He had gone through this experience of coming out and being closeted in high school. He'd seen all the repercussions of that: what happens to a person when they're not really living their truth, and they're not being fully actualized. I guess it was just potential that I think this project had and hopefully achieved. It was just a way to do a project itself that was timely and relevant, and had a message that we could use more of. It was a very inclusive and welcoming film.
Have you spent a lot of time thinking about opening the movie in this political climate? I'm sure it's much different from when you came onboard. I think that oftentimes the arts are reactionary. Right now we have, unfortunately, a lot of hateful speech going on. Our job as artists is to offer counterprogramming to that, to bring out as much of a message of positivity and inclusiveness as we can. It's the right thing to do.
I don't think the current political climate is indicative of the United States. We can do better, and we're working toward different solutions. I think that this movie was definitely aware of what it was coming into. And, from what I've seen, audiences are ready for something like this. I think it's the right cultural climate for a movie like this: People want to see stories that are representative of themselves, that also have a positive message and bring something good into the world.
It's impressive that you're working with diverse filmmakers so early in your career: in Everything, Everything you were directed by Stella Meghie, and now a LGBT director with Love, Simon. How did you start to prioritize this in your decision-making as you're selecting projects? As of late I've definitely been working as much as possible with people from all different walks of life and backgrounds and genders. I think it's important to give everyone an equal playing field. We're seeing that more and more now, with the Time's Up movement. Right now is the time for equality and inclusion, and a leveling of the playing field. If I can be a part of projects that move the needle socially, even a little bit, that's exciting. I'd prefer to be on the right side of history.
Tell me about filming Love, Simon's final scene with Jennifer Garner. It was a really moving monologue from a mother to a son about his coming out. That was an emotional day. When you do a scene like that — at least for me — there's a little bit of dread at the start of the day. It's a heavy, emotional scene. But then once we got started, it all kind of just clicked. Everyone was emotional that day. From our producers, grips to camera operators, everyone was getting kind of misty-eyed. I think it's because people underestimate the power of words, of hearing that you're enough, that you're loved, that you deserve love, and that you can exhale now. Regardless of your sexuality, I think those are important words to hear. I think everyone was feeling that that day. It was definitely an emotional day. I think Jen did a great job of creating a template of what you want to say if your son or daughter, or anyone close to you, came out to you. She gave a really touching performance. It's really sensitive.
There's a song-and-dance number in the middle of the movie to "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," where Simon thinks about what it would mean to come out in college. Was that always a Whitney song? That's a good question. I think it was always a Whitney song. I know that Greg is a big Whitney Houston fan. Either it was always Whitney Houston, or it wasn't specified. I think that Whitney definitely brought it out of everybody.
Tell me more about your high-school experience. Were you popular? High school was super weird. I went three different high schools, ultimately. I began high school in my hometown, and left after freshman year. I did a year of online school, then I went back and finished junior and senior year at a school in California. It was interesting. Ninth grade I wasn't popular, but I had a couple of close friends. When I went back for junior and senior year, I think I was hungry for friend groups, so I tried really hard to fit. I was popular-ish during that time. It wasn't a real popularity, it was just an adaptability, being able to fit in.
I love when people admit they were popular in high school. I mean, I just sort of rolled with a crew that was considered popular. But in hindsight, they were the dumbest people at the school. They were the shallowest, I guess. I don't think anyone has a great time in high school. If you do, you might be in trouble.
Sometimes straight actors playing gay characters have spoken about feeling an added responsibility, and been the subject of some critique. Have you felt that way? Yes and no. I did feel a certain responsibility, not only for playing a gay character and trying to represent the community, but also to fans of the novel. When you're working with source material like this, people often have an idea of the character in their mind. You have to just do your own interpretation, the best way I know how. In conversations with Greg, he was really adamant that I was right for this part, and I had to trust him. His experience really informed my experience.
Simon's big celebrity crush when he was growing up was Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter. Who was yours? I don't remember specifically, but maybe Xena. I remember that being on TV when I was growing up. She was a babe.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
*Washington Township is a township in Burlington County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was 687 reflecting an increase of 66 (+10.6%) from the 621 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn declined by 184 (-22.9%) from the 805 counted in the 1990 Census. Washington was incorporated as a township by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on November 19, 1802, from portions of Evesham Township, Little Egg Harbor Township and Northampton Township (now known as Mount Holly Township, New Jersey). Portions of the township were taken to form Shamong Township (February 19, 1852), Bass River Township (March 30, 1864), Woodland Township (March 7, 1866) and Randolph Township (March 17, 1870, reannexed to Washington Township on March 28, 1893). The township was named for George Washington, one of more than ten communities statewide named for the first president. It is one of five municipalities in the state of New Jersey with the name "Washington Township". Another municipality, Washington Borough, is completely surrounded by Washington Township, Warren County. Contents 1 Geography 2 Demographics 2.1 Census 2010 2.2 Census 2000 3 Government 3.1 Local government 3.2 Federal, state and county representation 3.3 Politics 4 Education 5 Transportation 6 References 7 External links Geography According to the United States Census Bureau, the township had a total area of 102.706 square miles (266.006 km2), including 99.522 square miles (257.761 km2) of land and 3.184 square miles (8.245 km2) of water (3.10%). The township borders Bass River Township, Shamong Township, Tabernacle Township and Woodland Township in Burlington County; and Egg Harbor City, Hammonton and Port Republic in Atlantic County. Unincorporated communities, localities and place names located partially or completely within the township include Batsto, Bear Swamp Hill, Bridgeport, Bulltown, Crowleytown, Friendship Bogs, Green Bank, Hermon, Hog Islands, Jemima Mount, Jenkins, Jenkins Neck, Lower Bank, Mount, Penn Place, Pleasant Mills, Quaker Bridge, Tylertown and Washington. The township is one of 56 South Jersey municipalities that are included within the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve, a protected natural area of unique ecology covering 1,100,000 acres (450,000 ha), that has been classified as a United States Biosphere Reserve and established by Congress in 1978 as the nation's first National Reserve. All of the township is included in the state-designated Pinelands Area, which includes portions of Burlington County, along with areas in Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Ocean counties. Demographics Historical population Census Pop. %± 1810 1,273 — 1820 1,225 -3.8% 1830 1,315 7.3% 1840 1,630 24.0% 1850 2,010 23.3% 1860 1,723 * -14.3% 1870 609 * -64.7% 1880 389 * -36.1% 1890 310 -20.3% 1900 617 99.0% 1910 597 -3.2% 1920 500 -16.2% 1930 478 -4.4% 1940 518 8.4% 1950 566 9.3% 1960 541 -4.4% 1970 673 24.4% 1980 808 20.1% 1990 805 -0.4% 2000 621 -22.9% 2010 687 10.6% Est. 2014 673  -2.0% Population sources:1810-2000 1810-1920 1840 1850-1870 1850 1870 1880-1890 1890-1910 1910-1930 1930-1990 2000 2010 * = Lost territory in previous decade. Census 2010 At the 2010 United States Census, there were 687 people, 256 households, and 177.9 families residing in the township. The population density was 6.9 per square mile (2.7/km2). There were 284 housing units at an average density of 2.9 per square mile (1.1/km2). The racial makeup of the township was 93.89% (645) White, 1.89% (13) Black or African American, 0.00% (0) Native American, 0.15% (1) Asian, 0.00% (0) Pacific Islander, 3.64% (25) from other races, and 0.44% (3) from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 9.02% (62) of the population. There were 256 households, of which 25.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.5% were married couples living together, 7.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.5% were non-families. 25.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.63 and the average family size was 3.16. In the township, 18.3% of the population were under the age of 18, 11.5% from 18 to 24, 21.7% from 25 to 44, 33.5% from 45 to 64, and 15.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43.9 years. For every 100 females there were 106.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 102.5 males. The Census Bureau's 2006-2010 American Community Survey showed that (in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars) median household income was $96,250 (with a margin of error of +/- $21,869) and the median family income was $108,239 (+/- $9,762). Males had a median income of $19,946 (+/- $15,879) versus $41,250 (+/- $4,961) for females. The per capita income for the borough was $24,808 (+/- $10,822). About 0.0% of families and 21.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 0.0% of those under age 18 and 0.0% of those age 65 or over. Census 2000 As of the 2000 United States Census there were 621 people, 160 households, and 112 families residing in the township. The population density was 6.2 people per square mile (2.4/km²). There were 171 housing units at an average density of 1.7 per square mile (0.7/km²). The racial makeup of the township was 83.57% White, 2.90% African American, 0.32% Asian, 12.08% from other races, and 1.13% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 17.07% of the population. There were 160 households out of which 35.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 61.3% were married couples living together, 6.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.4% were non-families. 24.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.76 and the average family size was 3.27. In the township the population was spread out with 29.3% under the age of 18, 3.5% from 18 to 24, 23.8% from 25 to 44, 19.0% from 45 to 64, and 24.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 92.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.8 males. The median income for a household in the township was $41,250, and the median income for a family was $42,188. Males had a median income of $32,000 versus $31,719 for females. The per capita income for the township was $13,977. About 8.0% of families and 16.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.4% of those under age 18 and 13.9% of those age 65 or over. Government Local government Washington Township is governed under the Township form of government. The governing body is a three-member Township Committee, whose members are elected directly by the voters at-large in partisan elections to serve three-year terms of office on a staggered basis, with one seat coming up for election each year as part of the November general election in a three-year cycle. At an annual reorganization meeting, the Township Committee selects one of its members to serve as Mayor. As of 2015, the members of the Washington Township Council are Mayor Dudley Lewis (R, term on committee ends December 31, 2016; term as mayor ends 2015), Barry F. Cavileer (R, 2015) and Daniel L. James (R, 2017). Federal, state and county representation Washington Township is located in the 2nd Congressional District and is part of New Jersey's 9th state legislative district. New Jersey's Second Congressional District is represented by Frank LoBiondo (R, Ventnor City). New Jersey is represented in the United States Senate by Cory Booker (D, Newark, term ends 2021) and Bob Menendez (D, Paramus, 2019). For the 2014-15 Session, the 9th District of the New Jersey Legislature is represented in the State Senate by Christopher J. Connors (R, Lacey Township) and in the General Assembly by DiAnne Gove (R, Long Beach Township) and Brian E. Rumpf (R, Little Egg Harbor Township). The Governor of New Jersey is Chris Christie (R, Mendham Township). The Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey is Kim Guadagno (R, Monmouth Beach). Burlington County is governed by a Board of chosen freeholders, whose five members are elected at-large in partisan elections to three-year terms of office on a staggered basis, with either one or two seats coming up for election each year. The board chooses a director and deputy director from among its members at an annual reorganization meeting held in January. As of 2015, Burlington County's Freeholders are Director Mary Ann O'Brien (R, Medford Township, 2017; Director of Administration and Human Services), Deputy Director Bruce Garganio (R, Florence Township, 2017; Director of Public Works and Health), Aimee Belgard (D, Edgewater Park Township, 2015; Director of Hospital, Medical Services and Education) Joseph Donnelly (R, Cinnaminson Township, 2016; Director of Public Safety, Natural Resources, and Education) and Joanne Schwartz (D, Southampton Township, 2015; Director of Health and Corrections). Constitutional officers are County Clerk Tim Tyler, Sheriff Jean E. Stanfield and Surrogate George T. Kotch. Politics As of March 23, 2011, there were a total of 536 registered voters in Washington Township, of which 85 (15.9% vs. 33.3% countywide) were registered as Democrats, 271 (50.6% vs. 23.9%) were registered as Republicans and 180 (33.6% vs. 42.8%) were registered as Unaffiliated. There were no voters registered to other parties. Among the township's 2010 Census population, 78.0% (vs. 61.7% in Burlington County) were registered to vote, including 95.5% of those ages 18 and over (vs. 80.3% countywide). In the 2012 presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney received 221 votes (59.2% vs. 40.2% countywide), ahead of Democrat Barack Obama with 142 votes (38.1% vs. 58.1%) and other candidates with 7 votes (1.9% vs. 1.0%), among the 373 ballots cast by the township's 533 registered voters, for a turnout of 70.0% (vs. 74.5% in Burlington County). In the 2008 presidential election, Republican John McCain received 250 votes (57.9% vs. 39.9% countywide), ahead of Democrat Barack Obama with 168 votes (38.9% vs. 58.4%) and other candidates with 11 votes (2.5% vs. 1.0%), among the 432 ballots cast by the township's 545 registered voters, for a turnout of 79.3% (vs. 80.0% in Burlington County). In the 2004 presidential election, Republican George W. Bush received 272 votes (62.1% vs. 46.0% countywide), ahead of Democrat John Kerry with 160 votes (36.5% vs. 52.9%) and other candidates with 4 votes (0.9% vs. 0.8%), among the 438 ballots cast by the township's 558 registered voters, for a turnout of 78.5% (vs. 78.8% in the whole county). In the 2013 gubernatorial election, Republican Chris Christie received 156 votes (66.4% vs. 61.4% countywide), ahead of Democrat Barbara Buono with 61 votes (26.0% vs. 35.8%) and other candidates with 10 votes (4.3% vs. 1.2%), among the 235 ballots cast by the township's 509 registered voters, yielding a 46.2% turnout (vs. 44.5% in the county). In the 2009 gubernatorial election, Republican Chris Christie received 186 votes (62.4% vs. 47.7% countywide), ahead of Democrat Jon Corzine with 91 votes (30.5% vs. 44.5%), Independent Chris Daggett with 17 votes (5.7% vs. 4.8%) and other candidates with 2 votes (0.7% vs. 1.2%), among the 298 ballots cast by the township's 552 registered voters, yielding a 54.0% turnout (vs. 44.9% in the county). Education The Washington Township School District serves students in public school for pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade at Green Bank Elementary School. As of the 2012-13 school year, the district's one school had an enrollment of 37 students and 4.7 classroom teachers (on an FTE basis), for a student–teacher ratio of 7.81:1. The school's $5.4 million building opened in September 2006. Since the 2007-08 school year, as part of an agreement with the Mullica Township Schools, Washington Township receives teaching support from the Mullica district and shares its superintendent, business administrator and other support staff. Washington Township students in grades five through eight attend Mullica Township Middle School as part of a program that has expanded since it was initiated in the 2007-08 school year. Students in ninth through twelfth grades attend Cedar Creek High School, which is located in the northern section of Egg Harbor City and opened to students in September 2010. The school is one of three high schools operated as part of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District, which also includes the constituent municipalities of Egg Harbor City, Galloway Township, Hamilton Township, and Mullica Township, and participates in sending/receiving relationships with Port Republic and Washington Township. Cedar Creek High School is zoned to serve students from Egg Harbor City, Mullica Township, Port Republic and Washington Township, while students in portions of Galloway and Hamilton townships have the can attend Cedar Creek as an option or to participate in magnet programs at the school. Prior to the opening of Cedar Creek, students from Washington Township had attended Oakcrest High School, together with students from Hamilton Township, Mullica Township and Port Republic. Students from Washington Township, and from all of Burlington County, are eligible to attend the Burlington County Institute of Technology, a countywide public school district that serves the vocational and technical education needs of students at the high school and post-secondary level at its campuses in Medford and Westampton Township. Transportation As of May 2010, the township had a total of 54.31 miles (87.40 km) of roadways, of which 29.32 miles (47.19 km) were maintained by the municipality and 24.99 miles (40.22 km) by Burlington County. The only major roads that pass through are County Road 542 and County Road 563. Limited access roads are accessible in neighboring communities, including the Atlantic City Expressway in Hammonton and the Garden State Parkway in Galloway Township, Port Republic and Bass River Township.
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