There’s a certain image associated with young Hollywood actors -especially when you consider that this particular one got his start playing hunky love interests in Disney and Nickelodeon tween shows like Hannah Montana and Zoey 101.
Even more if the said star has a widely publicised relationship with former High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens. But whatever that image might be, it doesn’t seem to apply to Austin Butler, the 22-year-old actor playing the role of Sebastian Kydd, Carrie Bradshaw’s brooding on-again-off-again boyfriend in the Sex and the City prequel television series set in the ’80s, The Carrie Diaries.
I meet Austin Butler in one of those ubiquitous cafes in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with a chalkboard menu and bored, tattooed baristas. He’s living there as he films the second season of The Carrie Diaries. Six feet tall and thin, he wears well-fitted dark jeans and a slim black pea coat. Perfectly side swept blonde hair? Check. Piercing blue eyes? Absolutely. In looks, he is the quintessential Disney Channel commodity, carefully designed to get teenage hearts racing. But Butler doesn’t seem motivated much by attention or fame.
“I just want to follow whatever I love to do,” he answers when asked about his future career. “And I’ve thought about, what if I just move to Costa Rica and played [music] in tiny dive bars? And that sounds awesome. I think I could be happy doing that. I think I could find happiness no matter what I’m doing.” His happy-go-lucky outlook is the opposite of the bad boy character he plays on-screen, an angsty rich high-schooler with Porsche-sized family issues and a record of boarding school expulsions. It also lacks the jadedness that comes with growing up in Hollywood. At one point of the interview, he told me without a hint of irony that one of his favourite things to do was to watch magic shows–“It feels like believing in Santa Claus!”
Raised in California, Butler first got screen time as a background actor at the age of 13 on shows like Ned’s Declassified Survival Guide, before landing brief story arcs in Hannah Montana and Zoey 101. He then went on to star in the children’s adventure film Aliens in the Attic and the High School Musical spin-off television movie, Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure. Now, as a lead on The CW’s The Carrie Diaries and boyfriend of oft-covergirl Vanessa Hudgens, he’s getting more screen time and paparazzi shots than ever.
But despite the fame that comes with being part of H-wood’s post-Disney Kid generation, the most striking thing about Butler – in conversation at least, and minus the lips – is his introversion. Not so long ago, he was so shy he “could barely order food for myself at a restaurant,” he says. “I don’t know how it shattered, but acting kind of started chipping away at it. The more hours I spent on stage, I realised, I’m not going to get hurt. It might be embarrassing, but nobody’s going to hurt me.”
On a day-to-day basis, it’s still a bit of problem – nightclubs are his idea of hell, he says. Big groups? They terrify him. “I get anxiety – events or award shows, you have to drag me out of the house to attend.” So how does a 22-year-old star enjoy his success without popping bottles at clubs? While most people his age – and in the small screen game – are busy wading through their social lives, he’s a certified spiritual type. “I love walking around the city just playing music. It’s like you’re in your own movie”. I laugh because, well, he has his own television show with a soundtrack, so that’s a strange thing to get excited about.
And life after The Carrie Diaries? “I want to try doing a play because it scares me so much. Lately, I’ve been trying to use fear as a compass toward where to go. Wherever you feel resistance, you almost have to force yourself to walk into.”
Words: Koun Bae
Fashion Editor: Lauren Blane
Photographer: Ben Rayner