Jack Dylan Grazer: “No one expected me to become an actor – I wanna be a rock star”

After blockbuster breakouts in 'Shazam!' and 'It', the LA-born actor has forged an arty, alternative image online. We meet the multi-talented teen with a huge future

In Hollywood’s new Brat Pack, Jack Dylan Grazer is fast becoming a key member. Sure, the likes of Finn Wolfhard and Maya Hawke are bigger with the mainstream crowd. Yet an eclectic mix of blockbusters (It, Shazam!) and critically acclaimed projects (We Are Who We Are), paired with his charismatic, sometimes chaotic online presence, has helped the 17-year-old actor build a devoted Gen Z fan base who prefer his arty, alternative image.

“I was always a very precocious kid”

“I was always a very precocious kid,” Grazer says matter-of-factly, leaning forward on a plush, grey sofa. He’s talking to us via Zoom from Atlanta, where he’s currently filming the Shazam! sequel, Fury Of The Gods. His statement isn’t hard to believe – because his performances to date, especially the mixed-up and confused army brat Fraser in Luca Guadagnino’s We Are Who We Are, feel more mature than many of his contemporaries.

Joey, Grazer’s character in new suspense thriller Don’t Tell A Soul, is another example. He’s the youngest of two brothers whose mum (Mena Suvari) is battling cancer. Older sibling Matt (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch‘s Fionn Whitehead) is aggressive and ruthless, and when he decides to break into an elderly neighbour’s house and steal a ton of cash, he makes Joey do the dirty work while he plays lookout. Their robbery is successful – until they bump into security guard Dave Hamby (Rainn Wilson) and try to leg it before he catches them. They succeed, but only because Hamby falls down an old, empty well that’s been covered by leaves.

Don't Tell A Soul
With Fionn Whitehead in new film ‘Don’t Tell A Soul’. CREDIT: Alamy

The rest of the film takes us on a gripping journey, its constant twists and turns revealing layer upon layer of deception. It also follows Joey’s struggle to help the trapped Hamby while also protecting himself and his brother. “He’s super intricate,” Grazer says of the character. “He’s always giving people the benefit of the doubt. He’s just so human.”

The dynamic between Joey and Matt on-screen is tense and fraught. “It was pretty much the exact same thing,” Grazer jokes of how he and Whitehead interacted when cameras weren’t rolling. “We had a brotherly bond off-set – not as violent as [our characters’], but we had fun together. We were mischievous together.”

A playful grin spreads across his face. “One of the producers had a holiday party at their house and Fionn and I dropped a glass bottle off the roof onto a neighbour’s tennis court,” he says. “The alarm went off, but we didn’t get caught.”

Jack Dylan Grazer

When he wasn’t busy getting into shenanigans with Whitehead, Grazer spent time chatting with co-star Wilson – aka The Office’s Dwight Schrute. “Dwight is my idol,” he says. “Working with him is so fun. He was like, ‘Can I give you some unsolicited advice? Don’t mess up what you got, man. Never do drugs.’”

Were those the only words of wisdom imparted? “He gave me some paternal love,” adds Grazer. “But yeah… he’s a dick.” His eyes light up and that cheeky smile returns to his face. As becomes clear throughout our conversation, Grazer’s sense of humour is roguish, and is never far from making its presence known.

A quick Google search of Grazer’s name will reveal that some of his family are also involved in the industry. Born and bred in Los Angeles, Grazer tells us about his dad Gavin, who had some small roles in movies like Frost/Nixon and American Gangster, while his uncle Brian is a big-name producer responsible for Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and more. For Jack, those family ties haven’t had as much significance on his career as the wider world might think. “[My family] didn’t expect me to become an actor,” he says. “Nobody expected me to.”

We Are Who We Are
‘We Are Who We Are’ was shot near the US Army complex in Vicenza, Italy. Credit: BBC

And yet one Zoom with Grazer is enough to convince you that this is what he would be doing – and at the same level – whether his relatives were involved in the business or not. His passion and energy are infectious, even through a screen, and he seems to really enjoy the parts of the job that bigger stars sometimes find a chore. In interviews throughout the pandemic, he’s cited press runs as a big thing he’s missed.

“I love every bit of it,” he says today, shaking his head at the idea that any part of his job is difficult. “Even when I was younger, I didn’t really think of myself as a child actor [Grazer’s big break came at 13, playing hypochondriac sidekick Eddie in horror smash It] – I just felt like I was doing the same thing I’ve always been doing, but now I’m getting paid instead of getting in trouble at school for doing it.

“Music is everything for me”

“I love playing a character and then doing the weird little meticulous things,” he adds, before describing how he went full method (“walking around really awkward and meek”) to prepare for We Are Who We Are. That role arguably took Grazer to another level after It – proving he could be more than just the kid who nails punchlines in a blockbuster.

“That was probably the first time I was really ever acting,” he says. “Shifting my own mind into this other entity. That was a really crazy feeling.” Having his hair dyed blonde and filming far from home in Italy contributed to not feeling like himself, and he just “surrendered to the character and the story.” “I would look in the mirror and recognise this person as Fraser, not as Jack.”

Jack Dylan Grazer
As Eddie in 2017 horror smash ‘It’. CREDIT: Alamy

When filming was over and it came to go home, Grazer felt “bereft” and found it hard to let the role go. “I felt very empty, purposeless and really down for a while,” he says. “We were both experiencing these identity crises at the same time. I was playing and experiencing these exact same things within my own hormonal evolution or whatever. It was just weird.” It might have been an unusual coincidence but, ultimately, Grazer found immersing himself in the role helped him process muddled feelings. Like Fraser, some of them related to his sexuality and gender identity – the actor recently came out as bisexual during a TikTok live stream and now goes by the pronouns he/they.

This honesty with his fans and palpable passion during social media sessions is part of the young star’s unique appeal. Watching him meet, share song recommendations with and dole out sass to his Instagram followers feels like sitting in on a conversation with a friend – comfortable, accessible and life-affirming. When he’s not goofing around online or performing, you might find him shooting incredibly chic, edgy fashion editorials, like a mini Timothée Chalamet.

Other interests include practising guitar (which he often plays online for his followers) and making extensive playlists for whichever part he’s rehearsing at the time. “Oh, I made one for Joey!” he remembers, before grabbing his phone and reeling off a stream of artists: “Count Five, The Who, a lot of Rolling Stones… We were in Kentucky and I was feeling this bluesy, rock vibe from this character,” he explains.

“‘Shazam! 2’ is my shot at redemption”

Music, for him, “is everything”, whether that’s getting into the right zone for a role or indulging in other forms of creativity. “I’m really easily influenced by music – that’s how I come up with ideas for stories and [my own] scripts. I listen to a song and then visualise a scene with it, build a story around the scene and then it all unravels.”

It’s an interest he shares with notable Gen Zers Wolfhard, Hawke and Dylan Minnette – who also pull double duty with their own musical careers. Is that something he harbours ambitions to do too? “Yeah, totally – I wanna be a rock star!” he replies quickly, before taking a second to think about it. “It might be easier to play a rock star in a movie though.”

Even with his seemingly unlimited enthusiasm for extracurricular activities, Grazer still only has so much time in a day to master them all. Right now, he’s juggling classwork with filming Shazam! 2, as the titular superhero’s sidekick, Freddy. It’s a role Grazer has been longing to return to ever since the first film debuted in 2019. “I walked out of the premiere and was like, ‘Ugh, I want to be Freddy again – there are so many things I could have said better or made funnier’,” he explains. “This is like my shot at redemption, almost.”

Jack Dylam Grazer
Alongside Zachary Levi in ‘Shazam!’ CREDIT: Alamy

He doesn’t think the first film was bad, he just knows how he can improve on it the second time around. “I really want to play it up – I am playing it up a lot for this one. We’re all having fun. There’s a lot of cool elements added.” Such as? He grins conspiratorially and shakes his head. There’ll be no leaks coming from him today.

As for other roles he’d like to try, Grazer lists iconic archaeology adventurer Indiana Jones and “some nasty villain”. The latter appeals to him, he says, cheekily repeating the phrase in a mock English accent, because it would be different for him. “I haven’t played a bad guy before,” he shrugs. “I’m always playing nice, vulnerable things and that’s so far from what I really am.”

Getting into a vulnerable space and tapping into his emotions is something that feels natural to Grazer – perhaps a product of his generation’s innate openness with their feelings compared to their elders. He admits he finds it hard to leave characters behind, though. “[After We Are Who We Are], some mornings I would wake up and feel weird and sad and down,” he explains. “But then I’d be like, ‘OK, this is the part of the movie where the character’s at his lowest point – and then what?’” He plots out the rest of an imaginary story arc, ending in a chaotic, high-pitched rush of excitement at a happy ending. “It’s like that,” he finishes, calmer for a second before the next fizz of ideas takes hold. “Another day, another dollar baby! Don’t let nothing stop you. Don’t let nothing get in your way. I go out and get whatever I need to get done – I’m working towards the goal, working towards that Oscar one day.” After spending an hour with this engrossing and inspiring teen, we wouldn’t bet against it.

‘Don’t Tell A Soul’ is available on demand from July 12

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