Rising actor-musician Ross Lynch has been working since he was 13. He’s played a teen heartthrob (Disney’s Austin & Ally), a romantic leading man (Status Update), and even a serial killer (My Friend Dahmer), but his biggest gig to date is a main role in Netflix’s witchy reboot Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Anchored by a compelling lead performance from Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina Spellman, a half-human, half-witch teen living in the fictional town of Greendale, the show has been a huge hit for Netflix since it premiered in 2018. Lynch plays Harvey Kinkle, the spell-casting title character’s charming on-off love interest. Because Harvey is a well-meaning mortal in a supernatural world filled with danger, he also provides the show’s relatability and plenty of emotional ballast.
“There are times where Harvey’s dealing with crazy devastation because the witch world has basically torn his family apart,” 24-year-old Lynch says of his character. “But like, I always laugh about Harvey because everybody else has these extravagant costumes and [Michelle Gomez’s character] Madame Satan is wearing $4,000 designer shoes, and yet I’m still wearing the same stuff from season one.”
Part three – as the show brands its seasons – premiered in January to largely positive reviews, and in a cleverly far-sighted move, the producers decided to get season four wrapped by March. The new episodes are set to air later this year.
“I definitely had fun showing more of Harvey’s range,” says Lynch of the next chapter. “You’re definitely gonna get to see some anger from him.”
Right now, Lynch is holed up in his Los Angeles home, where he’s quarantining with two of his brothers and actress girlfriend Jaz Sinclair, who plays Sabrina’s feisty best friend Roz Walker. Lynch says he hasn’t really been in touch with the show’s producers since coronavirus – or for that matter, anyone outside of close friends and family.
“I do check in with my agent and castmates to see if they have any news,” he clarifies. “But I think because of COVID-19 and everything that’s going on, nobody really knows what’s going on.”
At the same time, Lynch is also facing corona-chaos in the music world. Since 2018, he’s been the singing half of The Driver Era, a perky alt-pop duo he formed with older brother Rocky. They were due to tour Europe and North America from May to July, including a trio of UK dates in June, but COVID-19 put paid to those. Lynch acknowledges it’s a “really strange time” to be working in entertainment, but doesn’t seem completely fazed. Then again, he’s been balancing the twin pressures of singing and acting for more than a decade now.
Born in Littleton, Colorado, where he was raised until his family relocated to the West Coast when he was 11, Lynch has been working in the entertainment industry since his early teens. In 2011, he landed the male lead in Austin & Ally, a Disney Channel sitcom about two very different singer-songwriters who form an unlikely musical partnership. Lynch’s Austin Moon is cool and confident, while Laura Marano’s socially awkward Ally Dawson suffers from stage fright. It might sound like a slim premise, but the show ran for 87 episodes and turned Lynch into a major star.
While acting in Austin & Ally, Lynch also pursued a music career as the singer in R5, a wholesome pop-rock band featuring his brothers Ross and Riker, sister Rydel, plus another actor-musician, Ellington Ratliff. The Driver Era didn’t so much rise from the ashes of R5 – whose second and final album ‘Sometime Last Night’ cracked the US top ten in 2015 – as pick up where they left off.
On March 1, 2018, six months after the band’s last single ‘Hurts Good’, R5’s social handles were changed to @TheDriverEra and all previous posts were deleted. A day later, Ross and Rocky announced they’d launched a new project as a two-piece. “First off, I would like to ease your mind by saying this is not the end,” Ross Lynch reassured R5 fans at the time. “After all, we are family and there really is no escaping each other.”
He wasn’t bending the truth to let fans down gently – Riker and Rydel flesh out The Driver Era’s touring line-up, and will join The Driver Era for their first UK gigs this November. The five Lynch siblings – they have another brother, Ryland – were home-schooled after being born within half a decade of one another, so it’s no wonder they’re incredibly close. “Sometimes I’ll fantasise about what high school might have been like – I mean, not really, but I flirt with the idea,” Lynch says. “But mostly, I’m really grateful to be able to travel the world with my family. I think that’s one of the coolest accomplishments that anyone could ask for.”
Lynch’s commitment to The Driver Era, who released super-hooky debut album ‘X’ last year, meant he might have missed out on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Lynch had told his agents he wanted to focus on music rather than a time-consuming TV role, so when the show’s producers first contacted his agents, they didn’t pass on the message. Fortunately, showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was persistent and Lynch got to skip the “tedious part of the audition process” and head straight into a “chemistry read” with Shipka.
“Once we were in the room and reading together, it just kind of fit,” Lynch recalls. “I remember saying to Roberto and Kiernan, because filming was supposed to start in Canada in like a week, “Yo, good luck in Vancouver, have a great time.” And later, they both told me that they were thinking: ‘We’ll see you there.’”
Given that playing Harvey meant putting The Driver Era on pause and moving to Canada for nine months, was he conflicted about saying yes? “I think the first thing I did was ask Rocky’s approval because he’s my music partner,” Lynch says. “And he was like, ‘Bro, you can’t really turn that down’. Everyone was really supportive, so I made the decision to do the show.”
“After ‘Part Four’, the future of ‘Sabrina’ is really up in the air”
Four seasons – sorry, parts – 28 episodes and millions of new Instagram followers later, it looks like the right decision. Lynch says Sabrina has built a “really big fan base” over its relatively limited run to date, which makes it all the more surprising when he describes the show’s future as “really up in the air”.
“I don’t even think the producers know if Netflix wants to pick it up or not,” Lynch adds. “And it’s hard to say, too, because we’ve now done four parts and we all kind of think that’s, like, the typical amount of seasons that a show would get nowadays on Netflix.”
Lynch says that among Sabrina castmates he’s speaking to, opinion is pretty much split down the middle. “I feel like a lot of people are thinking it might not come back, and then the other half are pretty certain it will – so, it’s super-undecided,” he adds.
But if it does end with Part Four, will fans be happy with how Harvey, Sabrina and the gang bow out? “You know, I think fans will be disappointed if it ends – I think they definitely would be bummed out,” Lynch concedes. “But one thing I do like about this show is that even when we finished part two, I felt like there was a good period [full stop] to the episodes that preceded it. I feel like [the writers] do a good job of making sure that if it does end, there is a period there, if you know what I mean.”
Although Lynch says he’d be “excited” to shoot new episodes with the “really close-knit group of people” who make Sabrina, he doesn’t seem panicked by the prospect of Netflix pulling the plug. “I try not to have a ‘lack mentality’,” he says. “I just prefer to think about things in abundant terms. I’m not necessarily scared by the idea of it not coming back because if anything, that just means a new opportunity can come.”
Perhaps other, more adult jobs will drop into his inbox – after all, Lynch has already displayed his range by playing infamous American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. A year before Sabrina, he won rave reviews for his performance in My Friend Dahmer, an indie film about the disturbed murderer’s formative years. After five years playing a chipper pin-up in Austin & Ally, it’s hard to deny this was a pretty dazzling volte-face from the young performer. Compared by The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw to a “very young Philip Seymour Hoffman”, the role opened Hollywood’s eyes to the multi-talented young artist.
But since then, Lynch has made just one more movie, a lightweight romcom called Status Update. Does focusing on music mean he’s especially selective with acting roles? “That’s absolutely the case – and I do appreciate the fact I’m fortunate,” he replies. “I kind of get to wait until I’m super-excited about a role, whereas some other people are just eager to work. I’m definitely more selective with [acting] projects because getting to travel the world with my family, playing music every night, is definitely a big pull for me”.
What if a Marvel superhero role was on the table? After all, he’s already proven himself to Disney, gatekeepers to the MCU. “If the timing was right and the character was right, I would definitely consider it,” Lynch says cautiously. “But I dunno, sometimes I think it might not be the best version of success for me because sometimes those roles can be a bit limiting – not the roles themselves, but the opportunities that come afterwards. So, I’d just really have to consider it.”
“Kurt Cobain would be really fun to play, because I’m a big Nirvana fan”
Lynch says “the best version of success” as far as he’s concerned would be “predominantly music-focused”. He’d maybe spend nine months a year touring with his family, then take on an acting role in the downtime. When I ask if he’d consider combining the two strands by playing a rock star in a biopic, he picks out Kurt Cobain as a potential challenge.
“Once upon a time when my hair was longer, I would get Kurt Cobain look-alike references,” Lynch says. “He would be really fun to play, because I’m a big Nirvana fan for sure. How can you not be? I think actually, you know what, Courtney Love actually tweeted me one time and said ‘you could be our love child’. Straight up.”
Theoretically, what kind of Kurt Cobain biopic would he like to make? “When you see people talk about Kurt Cobain, they say how funny he was, contrary to how he held himself in the public eye,” Lynch says. “From what I’ve heard he was actually quite a lighthearted, funny dude and I think that could be shown more if there were to be a biopic.”
He also says he’d like to speak to Courtney Love and others close to the Nirvana frontman before portraying him. “It’s one thing to watch a load of videos of someone on YouTube and it’s another thing talking to someone who loved that person,” he explains. “I’d want to ask all sorts of questions.”
“I’m really inspired by Donald Glover”
Lynch says another dream is to work with an A-list multi-tasker who makes pivoting between music, movies and TV seem effortless. “I’m really inspired by people like Donald Glover who are such multi-faceted artists,” he says. “I’d love to work with someone like that just to see how they manage their time effectively, because there are so many things that I wanna do.”
11 years into his career, Lynch says he’s contemplated the fact that “being a mega-famous person seems like it could be a bit lonely”. But thanks to his Disney Channel stint, he’s already used to being asked for photos. “One time, me and my brother said we didn’t have time for a selfie, and this guy straight up almost fought us,” he recalls. “Like, this guy started getting aggressive. Like, ‘my daughter’s the reason you’re famous’ and all that kinda stuff. It was kind of sketchy for a while because it got kind of physical.” Fortunately, Lynch’s father and a roadie were there to extricate the Lynch brothers from a potentially grisly situation.
Lynch also says he “hasn’t fully processed” the fact he has 8.4m Instagram followers, and seems pretty ambivalent about social media generally. “I hope this doesn’t come across too harshly, but I don’t really see the benefit of spending my attention on a bunch of people’s random selfies,” he says. “As far as spending my morning indulging in TikTok, I’d just rather not.”
He also seems remarkably calm and comfortable in his skin for someone who’s achieved so much before his mid-20s. “When I was younger, it was definitely more calculated. I wanted to be on the Disney Channel and I wanted to do a movie like My Friend Dahmer,” he says. “But after that happened and I’d done a few years of touring, it became more about me becoming present and finding joy and trying to figure out where that takes me, instead of being so focused on achievement.”
“I don’t see the benefit of [looking at] a bunch of people’s random selfies on social media”
For this reason, quarantining during coronavirus hasn’t presented too much of a challenge – even while he waits on Sabrina news. “It’s nice to have so much time just to be with my family, like, hanging out, with no real pressure to get anything done,” he says. ”Right now, I feel like I have time to focus on the things that really matter.”
‘Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina: Part 4’ is due to arrive on Netflix later this year