‘Teenage Nation’ Michael J. Willett #YoungHollywood

Teenage Nation


Michael J. Willett Has An Army of Teenage Fans
by Glenn Garner

Any teenager in America with the slightest grasp for pop culture is familiar with his name and the winning smile that goes along with it. It’s hard to miss such a talent when his magnetic charm sets the tone for MTV’s Faking It, making yet another teen series from the network’s weekly lineup truly revolutionary.

Michael J. Willett won us over when he played Tanner, the titular “gay best friend” character in the 2013 film, G.B.F. Directed by Darren Stein (Jawbreaker) and written by George Northy (Faking It), the heartwarming coming-of-age comedy set the pace for the young actor’s career and established his place in the industry, earning him a legion of adoring fans.

That’s because his current role as Shane in Faking It has given him the platform to portray an emotional range all too real for millennials. With a new batch of episodes, Willett hints at a more vulnerable side to the confident cool guy that his youthful audience has quickly grown to love.

Although his outgoing portrayal of Shane is a departure from the stereotypical closeted supporting gay character of the 90’s, the actor’s own high school experience was more introverted. Having shed the awkward pre-pubescent phase we all experience, this young star has grown into his own sense of style that parallels his character’s sense of confidence.

With new music to be released next year and a Lifetime movie debuting, we sat down with Willett to get a glimpse at his blossoming career.

Faking It just kicked off the second half of its second season. Did you expect it to gain such a huge following?

Michael J. Willett: You always hope it does well. I guess I had a feeling that people were going to connect with it but I didn’t realize that it was gonna be on such a large scale. There are people who really feel like they’re experiencing what our characters are experiencing and that’s really cool because it’s a new generation of people and I feel like they’re experiencing things that maybe other generations haven’t. But they’re still relatable stories.

Your character has a new love interest that developed earlier in season two. What can you tell me about what’s to come with Duke and Shane?

Well in the last ten episodes, we ended with Shane outing Duke publicly, and we know that he was the one that leaked the information. And while Shane got what he wanted which was Duke, he didn’t want it necessarily in this way. There’s a lot of guilt and it’s almost impossible for them to have a healthy relationship. So it’s ultimately doomed but [laughs] it’s going to be worth exploring because it’s an interesting topic.

Although your character is gay, he’s not the typical closeted depiction of a gay teenager you see in too many shows and movies. He’s actually pretty popular. Did you have any issues when you were in high school as far as being accepted or were you kind of the same confident character you play on the show?

No, this is definitely a fantasy version of how I would like to be. There’s a lot of wish fulfillment in Shane. I was much more introverted. I mostly just kept to myself… In terms of being out, everybody knew that I was gay but it was not something that I fully accepted yet. You know, it’s private. I’m a private person. There are certain things that I want to keep sacred and I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that.

How does it feel to be such a big part of this trend of LGBT characters and storylines becoming mainstream?

I have mixed feelings about it. I don’t want it to necessarily be a trend. You know, I want us to be fully integrated into society, and I don’t see it as a luxury necessarily while I’m proud of it. I see this as how it should be. There should be gay characters because gay people exist, not because it’s special treatment.

As a gay actor, do you feel as though you’re typecast in gay roles though?

I guess there was a time when I thought maybe but I get to choose ultimately whether or not I want to play a certain role and it does seem like I’m kind of moving beyond these gay high school roles as people seem to like to call them. I just don’t really judge my characters because that’s just not what you do as an actor so I can’t put them in any sort of box. I want to have as much variety in my career as possible.

You have a very bold and unique red carpet style. Who would you say influences your look?

My two big fashion icons are Gwen Stefani and David Bowie. So I like to always have some sort of interpretation or my spin on both of those fashion icons. I am definitely into color right now so I’ve been really rocking a lot of vivid colors lately. That’s pretty much where I get my style.

Since this is for our “New School” issue, what do you remember about your first day of high school or as a new student?

Well again, my main concern was my outfit on the first day of school. So that’s usually what I was thinking about. I actually don’t remember. I kind of blocked it out. I just remember wanting to not get hurt [laughs] because I grew up in Fresno and you know, that’s where you earn your street cred.

So what advice would you give to your fans that might be starting at a new school or maybe their first day of high school?

Well I grew up with a lot of social anxiety so thinking about one aspect of it that I really liked, whether that was a certain class or my outfit or just something I could focus on, that made me feel so much better. Just focus on something that makes you happy.
Photography by Louis Botha
Styling Michael St. Michael
Grooming Dalton Heinrich
Art Direction by Dio Anthony

Featured in BELLO mag Young Hollywood September 2015 issue #86 with Ki Hong Lee on the cover – Download BELLO App for free

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About The Author

Stephane Marquet
Creative Director

First of all, excuse my French! … I was born in the South of France. Lived in Paris for 10 years and travelled the world until I moved to Los Angeles in 2008, because obviously recession was a great time to move to a new country! I also arrived around Halloween and was greeted at the Social Security offices by a nurse who directed to the window Number 6 so a witch could hand me my social security number. Welcome to America. I am a painter, a photographer and the creative director of BELLO mag.

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