Keiynan Lonsdale has come a long way—and at super speed—since spending his days chatting up celebrities as an MTV VJ in his native Australia just a handful of years ago. The 25-year-old is currently holding it down as Kid Flash on The CW’s popular comic book series The Flash.
Lonsdale made his Hollywood entry in 2015 after scoring the role of Uriah in Insurgent, the sequel in the young-adult Divergent franchise. The rising actor has since appeared in the third blockbuster chapter Allegiant and drowned his wet feet in Craig Gillespie’s disaster-at-sea drama The Finest Hours opposite Chris Pine and Casey Affleck. And wouldn’t you know it: Lonsdale dances and sings, too. To say that he’s a mere fan of Michael Jackson would be unjust and cruel. Also, for someone who was mute for a short time as a young boy, he’s certainly making up for it nowadays.
Following up on last week’s one-off musical crossover episode of The Flash and Supergirl, FAULT sat down with Lonsdale to discuss his childhood dreams of performing on stage, the unexpected impediment that comes with donning the Kid Flash suit, and his idolization of Michael Jackson.
There’s a lot of hype around the musical episode that’s airing next week. Are you excited?
I’m excited for everyone to see what was put together. There’s some really good production value. I think it’s going to be something totally different that we haven’t presented before.
You guys have an intense and devoted fanbase—a Comic-Con audience, essentially—so it’s all about the secrets and reveals. Are you good about keeping things under wraps?
It’s funny because the fans I meet always want me to give them the lowdown. But I’m pretty loyal to the show. I do my best not to spoil anything. I definitely let something slip before by accident.
So what happens then? Is there like TV jail?
[Laughs] I think it would depend on what information you’re revealing. When I started working on the show last season, I revealed by mistake that an actor had returned or that I had bumped into them [on set]. I got super nervous. I called the producers: “I’m so sorry! This is my second week and I already ruined the show!” But they were super cool about it. They obviously know absolutely everything that’s going on, so they have even more information to keep locked away. They get it.
What are the added challenges that come with acting in costume as Kid Flash?
I just couldn’t hear a lot of stuff. [Laughs] But we made adjustments. I also just got used to it. Also, it’s all very tight fitted. You can’t just casually move the way you normally would, which is actually kind of cool because it separates you from the now superhero. If you’re going to turn, you’re going to really turn, you know what I mean? It’s not some lackluster motion.
I’ve come to learn that you’re a huge Michael Jackson fan. When did you start idolizing him?
Gosh, it was crazy because when I started to become aware of Michael Jackson, I was super young. I was like 2 when I started watching all of these things, every day. There was so much content for me to grab onto because he had been around for so long at that point. I was heavily obsessed with numerous songs and iconic moments. I did have my own “Thriller” costume and dance—that’s how I always performed and felt most comfortable doing. I knew that when I did “Thriller,” I would win the dance competition because this is the one. I remember watching the behind the scenes for the music video and thinking that it was such a crazy process. It’s such an extravagant and marvelous music video, and the best music video of all time. “Of all time!” to quote Kanye West. [Laughs] So I would say that, but every moment in his career was legendary.
It was shocking to find out that you were mute for a couple of years when you were young because I didn’t talk for a good year in elementary school. That you would be so shy, yet so incredibly eager to perform at the same time is both heartbreaking and endearing.
My mom definitely helped and we were always super close. She knew that I wanted to perform because I would tell her, “I want to dance on stage with Michael Jackson.” But I didn’t like people looking at me or talking to me. [Laughs] Eventually, she said, “I’m not going to take you to dance class anymore,” because I would go to class and cry or sit down. I was so nervous to be with the other kids, parents, and teachers. My mom said, “Look, I’m not going to let you do this until you accept the fact that people will be watching you. You’re going to have to be okay with that because that’s what you’re asking for.” I did some weird things. When I started doing competitions at 4 years old, I got my mom to hide me until I was on stage because I didn’t want anyone looking at me until I was up there. Then as soon as I got off the stage, I would sneak around the back until I got back to my seat. I just didn’t want any attention at all. As for the whole being mute thing, that was purely out of shyness. It was hard for me to communicate with anyone outside of my house.
Do you still struggle with social anxiety?
Oh yeah, it’s there. I’ve had so many experiences and jobs that force me into that position. I worked for MTV Australia as a VJ for two years, which obviously makes you feel quite exposed. Your job is to host, interview, entertain, and show off your personality. I found that really difficult, but it also showed me that I could push through a lot of challenges. I freak out when I’m around a lot of people. If I’m told that I have to speak in front of a bunch of people, I get so nervous. But then I’m like, “Wait, I did do this for two years as my job.” I just forget, you know?
PULL QUOTE: I didn’t like people looking at me or talking to me. I just didn’t want any attention at all. As for the whole being mute thing, that was purely out of shyness.
So you come from a big family. You were the youngest of six children growing up. I know you have more siblings on your father’s side as well. Did you find your place as the entertainer?
It’s always played into the family dynamic because dancing was my life 24/7. My siblings were very much aware of that because I took over the living room every day. Now that they’ve seen me getting to do some cool things—they were watching The Flash before I was even on it—they’re really proud. They’re all creative in their own right as well, which is awesome. It’s all good vibes.
When you come from a big family like that, that’s really your first audience, right?
Yeah, exactly. I remember when I had my first movie premiere, I was nervous, but I had so many family members that I got lots of cheers whenever my face would show up on that big screen. It made it sound like the whole audience was just loving it. It was very helpful.
This is a fairly recent one: What do you remember from shooting The Finest Hours?
It was the hardest shoot that I’ve ever done because of the rain and the water elements involved. But it also felt like this really tight-knit group because the whole cast and stunt crew were going through the same thing. It created this cool bond. It was fun and physical and inspiring and draining… I got to meet and work with some really incredible actors. It was also beautiful because it was the first time that I got to take part in something that’s based on a true story.
I know you bonded with Jai Courtney on Insurgent and talked about making a similar transition coming from Sydney to Los Angeles. Is there an Aussie circle in the industry?
There’s definitely an Aussie circle. I know that when I came over here for the first time for pilot season, I came with six other Aussies, we lived together, and then went to dinner with a bunch of other Australians. It made us feel really safe and it’s a great community. In L.A., I feel like half the town is Australian. That’s obviously not the case, but it feels like that. It’s crazy how many Aussies are out here working and just doing their thing. I think if you come all this way and put all this work in, you might as well do the damn thing and give it all you have, you know?
Have you ever had the opportunity to ask a filmmaker, a producer or a casting director, “What made you hire me for this job?” I just think I would be endlessly curious about that.
I’ve never been like, “Why did you cast me?” [Laughs] I don’t want them to reconsider, you know? I remember having dinner once with the producers on Insurgent and they were explaining to me how they saw my tape and it just felt right. That’s not super helpful, but it’s such a nice thing to connect with someone like that. We go through so many rejections as an actor, but the majority of the time, we’re not the one. We’re just not the guy for the job. So when someone tells you that they saw your work and, for whatever reason, you were that character, it’s quite humbling. It makes you realize that there are certain roles for you and others that you’re going to miss out on. That’s all.
I guess it is this ephemeral thing, too. Casting is so intuitive. It’s hard to explain.
Yeah, exactly. It’s not a formula. It’s so subjective.
What’s happening on the music side of things? It looks like you put that on the back-burner.
I did put it on the back-burner. When I booked Insurgent, I had just released a song out into the world. A terrible song. [Laughs] When I booked the film, I wanted to really immerse myself into acting, the role and to where my life was taking me like, “I have to do this. I have to give this everything I have. All of my attention.” I feel like there was maybe like ten months where I didn’t write a single song. Eventually, I sort of found a balance. Now I’m at a place where I can go shootThe Flash on a 14-hour day, head home, and write a song for three hours. To be able to have that balance is really cool. Whenever I have a few days off, I’m giving sort of everything I can to create. I have a lot of content. I just want to make sure that it’s right and take the time to make sure it’s right because I can be quite impatient. Then I can share it with whoever wants to listen.
Based on what I know about you, I think you might like this project I just made up: a Baz Luhrmann musical starring yourself, Michael Fassbender, and Rachel McAdams.
Oh yeah, that would be everything. That cast and Baz—all of that. You should write the movie and cast us and have Baz direct it. [Laughs] Make it happen. That would be marvelous.
The business of acting is unpredictable in countless ways, but you’re still at the steering wheel with the choices you make. Where would you like to ultimately end up?
I really don’t know anymore. I always had very creative goals. I still do, but I’m learning to let go of all the pressure and the permanent attachment of wanting to be at this place at this time. That’s when I go a little bit crazy. I just want to continue doing what I’m doing right now. I couldn’t be happier with life. I get to be creative and chill out when I can chill out. Also, I’ve surrounded myself with really good people. I want to live that life where I get to do all of those things, experience the world, and experience new stuff all the time. That’s what I never want to stop doing.
WORDS: Reto Sterchi
PHOTOGRAPHY—Nikko La Mere