It’s a tale as old as time: a family move into a long-abandoned house with the hope of starting anew – until the threat of murder, mystery and mayhem arise. Locke & Key, the latest original series from streaming giant Netflix, takes this tired trope and opens the door, pardon the pun, into a new world where the finding of keys acts as a cloak for a much more profound story of a family moving on from trauma. “I became really moved by how underneath this surface, this layer of adventure and magic there was a really well told and thoughtful story about what it means to grow up with trauma and grief, what it means to grow up in general” says Connor Jessup. Jessup stars as Tyler Locke, a character who is struggling to graduate from adolescence to adulthood in a Massachusetts town where everyone knows his name and his story. His two siblings Kinsey (Emilia Jones) and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) have to bear the same scarlet letter as they come to terms with their new life after their father’s (Bill Heck) untimely death. But while their mother, played by Darby Stanchfield, attempts to make their ancestral house a home, a mixture of childish curiosity and a well dwelling demon hinders this journey to domestic bliss.
Meet the star of Netflix series Locke & Key , as he talks season two and being his authentic self.
Though Tyler is a shadow of the boy next door, Jessup embodies all the light of day as he talks feverishly over the phone from a bench in L.A. “When I started acting, I was ten and this was the sort of role that I would’ve killed people to do,” Jessup admits. “This was the dream, to play with magic in a creepy old house, this was exactly what I wanted.” To Jessup this may simply be a dream come true, yet looking at his track record it seems like a universal inevitability. At just 25 years old, this young star has already racked up a slew of achievements so early on in his career. He received critical acclaim for his role in the Best Canadian Feature Film Closet Monster, was named one of Variety’s “actors to watch” back in 2011, and his short film Boy, which Jessup wrote, produced and starred in, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015 to rave reviews. All in all, this young actor is the full creative package, one that should have been shipped first class to Hollywood a while ago. But why did this rising star wait so long to enter the Netflix stratosphere? “I wish that it was that calculated. I wish I had that much control over my life,” he says, trying to simplify his gradual rise to the top of the acting food chain.
Jessup had been on TV shows for years as a teenager, growing up bounding from one show to another. When he began coming of age as an adult, his interest in creating his own projects and opportunities grew exponentially. “I had been doing a lot of small projects where everything was a struggle from conception, to funding, to development, and it’s all on you so the thought of coming into something that was already made and it was someone else’s thing that was really exciting to me” explains Jessup. “The more time I spent on that, the less time and space I had for acting, [so] I ended up doing mostly smaller things for a few years just because that was where I was.” Locke & Key then came around as a totally coincidental opportunity for the actor. “It wasn’t like I woke up one morning and thought this is the right time for me to do [this], it just kind of fell out the sky at a time where I had been frustrated with myself.” Before hitting our screens in February, the fantastical show originated as a comic book series, a collaboration between writer Joe Hill, son of esteemed writer Stephen King, and artist Gabriel Rodriguez.
With rumours circulating that producers Meredith Avrill and Carlton Cuse have started writing the second season, it would be interesting to see whether Jessup will grace the set of Locke & Key with his directorial hat on. “Maybe not season two,” he laughs, considering a stint behind the lens further down the line. “I mean I have never been on set as an actor, or as a director, and thought ‘I need more to do right now’.” While it would be easier to separate the two personas completely, with Jessup’s sunnier disposition working in total contrast against the portrayal of Tyler Locke, there is an element within all of us that can relate to the young teen as he tries to figure who he is in a world that is not what it once was. “The truth is everyone knows what’s it like to be sixteen or seventeen or older and not understand what you’re feeling, to not have the tools or language to express it. With trauma and growing up in general it’s not a matter of going backwards it’s more of a matter of going forwards.” Jessup is evidently well versed in the complexities we face internally as humans, flexing his method-acting muscles as he fully immerses himself in the world of the show. “The trauma is still there, the pain is still there, it’s just now it’s a part of you and hopefully it can be a part of you in a way that is healthy so you’re not the person you were,” he explains. “And I think we all feel like that. There are things about myself when I was fifteen or seventeen that I like more. I had qualities at that age that I wish I had now, but we can’t go backwards”
This is a discipline that Jessup very much stands by, he is firmly placed in the directorial chair of his own life. On the 24th June 2019, the day in which the young actor turned 25, Jessup went to Instagram to formally come out as gay. The act to progressive minds may be considered an archaic one because why should we care about a person’s sexual orientation in this day and age? That being said with Jessup’s growing following there is a certain influence that comes with being in the public eye, an influence that he understands the value of. “Part of the reason why it took me a while to do it was because I had come out in my life to my family and my friends and I felt like that was enough. I told myself that was all I needed to do and what obligation do you have to strangers essentially. And then the embarrassment of that too, it’s an embarrassing thing to come out even if you’re lucky like I was and everyone is supportive and loving – it’s still hard.” To do that and think people across the world, in Poland, South America or anywhere is interested in your story, Jessup reserves: “It takes such a level of assumption.”
Foregoing initial reservations, Jessup is now unafraid to be his authentic self, both in his public and private life. In fact, before starting this interview the actor tells me how he has just finished breakfast with his boyfriend who he later reveals is the 13 Reasons Why star Miles Heizer in a Valentine’s Day Instagram post. But though Jessup identifies as gay, Tyler Locke is notably not. This disparity between art and life continues the longstanding debate on the responsibility of an actor and whether heterosexual people should play homosexual characters and vice versa. “I don’t feel like the answer is a generalised one,” Jessup begins, “I think that in most cases the answer would be that it’s better and richer and more rewarding for people who have lived that experience to play that experience.” With that being said, he counters: “I think it’s a case by case thing. I mean obviously there is a history of great performances by straight actors playing gay characters, and a much richer history of gay actors playing straight characters. I think it is less wishy-washy when it comes to gender identity for example, I feel more firmly about that.” In a way, Jessup argues it’s a continuation of a very old conversation about art, what it means to make things, tell stories and reflect experiences. “It’s always been true, for example, that someone [who] has never been to Brazil, has never been to Portugal, can write a great book about Brazil or Portugal. But, if you’re from Portugal, and you live in Portugal know the Portuguese language, culture, food and history you will approach it with a different perspective, a richer, deeper more layered perspective.”
Throughout the show, Jessup and his on-screen siblings stumble across a variety of keys from an “anywhere key” which allows the user to travel to any location given that they’ve seen a door there before, to a “head key” which allows the user to open someone’s head and see their thoughts and memories. In a time where a simple key could solve so many issues, what key would Jessup wish to forge? “Oh my god, I mean there are so many keys you could create that could solve the everyday problems of life,” he says of the probing question. “If there was some sort of procrastination key that just made you do things, that would probably be the most effective in my life, [or] a laziness key that you stick through your ear [that] turns off the laziness switch in your head, that would be helpful.” Such an answer suggests that maybe the key to Jessup’s success is that he is not only endearing, but altogether so relatable. Locke & Key is available to stream on Netflix now