Young actor Hayden Byerly
has been making an impact as Jude Adams Foster in American drama television series ‘The Fosters’, which is currently in its fifth season. As a show, ‘The Fosters’ is not afraid of tackling a host of issues, whether it be growing up in the foster care system or dealing with your own and other's sexuality - it’s all about growing up, wanting to be loved and accepted. Each episode somehow manages to find a way to your emotional core. Playing a gay foster kid, Hayden's character Jude has met his fair share of challenges, and you really feel for him and what he goes through, and it's not a surprise that a lot of people have connected with and found comfort in his story. Talking to Hayden, being Jude for so long has also impacted who he is becoming himself.
Kicking off our “American Spirit” theme this month, this series perfectly highlights freedom and equality, which is what Hayden is all about. It is only fitting that we bring in photographer Amber McKee to creatively play with Hayden, letting both their fun personalities come together to create this stunning series of images. Stylist Leo Plass continues to highlight Hayden's fun and colorful side with bold patterns and bright colors, mixed with a more toned down approach, to give space for Hayden's more serious side. Hayden is all of this and he wears it well.
We talk about love, happiness, his favourite book, his nerdy side, and what the American Spirit means to him. We indulge for a moment in the sense of wonder we lose when we get older, but despite this Hayden is excited about the thought of growing up. He wants to learn and understand everything. He wants to help people feel accepted for who they are and knowing that they are loved. And finally, he wants to continue to be engaged in the foster community and LGBTQ community, two areas that have become very close to his heart. One thing I learned for sure during our chat; Hayden has a good soul and is one of the Gen Z'ers helping to drive the fight for equality forward. We also agree that sometimes life sucks. But the power comes in knowing that there will always be challenges and that we can learn to navigate through it with our own awareness and the help of the people around us. According to Hayden, it’s a beautiful time we live in, and after our chat I feel slightly more uplifted and with a dash of hope that things will be ok.
How was your shoot with Amber? She usually doesn’t let anyone get away lightly. She likes to challenge people.
It was great! It went by quick and easy, and was a lot of fun. It was definitely different and unique, but I liked it a lot.
I’m a big fan of ’The Fosters’, so I’m excited to do this interview with you. People don’t talk about this show enough. It feels like quite an important show. We’ve watched Jude grow up on screen, but who is Hayden?
That’s a good question. It took me a long time to figure that out, and I still have to figure that out over time. There are moments when people ask me the similarities and differences between Jude and myself, and I don’t know if the similarities and differences are there because I AM Jude or because we are two separate people. There are certain qualities and traits I have seen in Jude that I see in myself that I really do love. I’m a nerdy, funny, and outgoing 17-year old who likes to make people laugh. I like to have a lot of fun, but sometimes I can be a little too old and serious for my age. I try to do a lot of normal activities and fun stuff as much as I can between working, but I really love what I do.
Nerdy and serious, huh?
Basically yes, haha.
We do see you in some of these images with your favourite book.
Yes, “The Ocean at the end of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman. I like it for two particular reasons; the first is that it was given to me as a gift by someone really special. The second is that the book has a beautiful story. What I love about it is that at the end of it there are two paths you can question, and I’m going to spoil it a little bit. But it’s basically about a guy telling a story from when he was a young boy, and the way that he remembers it is super weird and crazy. By the end of it, for me, I came up with the realisation that when we are younger we perceive the world differently to when we are older. As we grow up, things get less magical. They become more dull and serious, and a lot of times you lose that sense of wonder you have when you’re a child. So it’s a really beautiful book in my opinion, because it really encompasses that well. I think the innocence of being a child not knowing anything is in a way a very blissful and beautiful thing. That’s why they say that ignorance is bliss. I do believe that the less you know, the less there is to think about, the less there is to worry about. You can just wonder, imagine and create.
So how do you feel about growing up, because the more you grow, the more you learn, and the less of the blissful ignorance you have?
Being aware of it is a big thing. When I was very little, I tried too quickly to lose that ignorance and to grow up. I wanted to know and learn more - to understand the world and everything within it, which is a good and bad thing. I can only hope to learn more as I get older, which depends on your outlook of the world. While you do lose that sense of ignorance, there are a lot of ways in which you can learn and really understand more about everything; about you as a person, and the way everything works. That’s a beautiful thing, because I don’t think you can keep that ignorance and wonder that you had as a child. If you can, you might be a very immature adult.
Or you’re Peter Pan!
Right, or that! But sadly, as far as I know, Neverland is not there. But it’s a beautiful thing to mature into yourself - to accept the world that we live in and make it vibrant, colourful, and beautiful. Just because you’re older doesn’t mean things have to be boring. I was thinking about it the other day; a lot of kids in grocery stores will jump on the back of the shopping cart and run around. Why don’t adults do that? I think it’s just not accepted at that age. Adults are supposed to be more mature and aren’t supposed to do things like that. But to me, that’s just quite random and fun. If it doesn’t hurt anyone, what’s so bad about it?
Aren’t you very insightful and mature. This is very delightful. I would love to have a conversation with you in 20 years and see where you’re at then and see what lessons you’ve learned!
Thank you, and me too! I’ll fly out to London for that, and I’ll have an excuse to go there, haha.
Great, and you can tell me all the wise stuff you’ve learned. Can’t wait. You mentioned earlier that you sometimes feel a bit similar to Jude that you play on “The Fosters”. What similarities do you feel are there?
One thing that they really touch on is that Jude when it comes to people in his life that he is intimate with is a relationship guy. He is someone who really wants to be with someone that he loves in a serious and committed relationship, and I feel the same way. I’m not the kind of person who wants to hook up with people, I want to have one person that I’m in a relationship with and create something beautiful. That’s one big similarity between Jude and I. I mentioned that I’m a nerdy, outgoing, and funny guy, and I think Jude and I both share the nerdy quality. And we’re both funny, although I think I’m a little funnier than Jude, haha.
This feature is part of our “American Spirit” theme in March. What is the American Spirit all about to you?
I think the American spirit is often linked to baseball, freedom and apple pie. Now it has a bit more of a messed up presence. I go back and forth. The positive about the American Spirit is a lot of the privileges we have, how progressive we are, and all the things we earned. I don’t know if we really earned all of them, but we have them. Things that we should be grateful and thankful for. The freedom that we have and the progression we have within equality of men and women, different ethnicities, sexual orientation, and religion. There are so many things that continue to be accepted in America. I say American as a generalisation, and there are plenty of people out there who don’t, but I think American as a whole is meant to accept, to love and bring people together. And then, of course, you’ve got old white dudes making policies for people they don’t understand and a lot of stuff happening now that shouldn’t. At its core, America is a beautiful place, but with every country, there is a lot going one inside. It’s just how it is.
What is it like being young in American today?
It’s crazy. Honestly though, growing up in general sucks. You’re changing, you’re failing, and you’re messing things up. That’s really what growing up is about, but as long as you have a good outlook on it that’s all that matters. I’ve been on an amazing TV show for five years and got to do something I love, working with incredible people and be really lucky - but I’m still growing up and I can tell you that it still sucks, haha.
Try being in your 40’s, it never stops sucking. I think it’s all about learning to live with the challenges, and knowing that they will always be there. Nothing is ever perfect.
On the other hand these are the most progressive times. As a society it’s so crazy how we’re moving forward with so much stuff. It’s really remarkable to be a part of that. There are so many things and communities I’m passionate about. I want people to feel accepted, loved and equal. It’s really crazy to be in a really cool era. You always hear from your grandparents how you could buy gum for a nickel back then, which sounds nice that things were that much cheaper, but I think it’s a beautiful time we’re living in.
I agree, I think there is so much great change happening. What are some of the communities you’re passionate about?
The two that has always stuck out to me the most is the LGBTQ community and the foster community. Playing Jude, I’ve learned a lot about these communities, and I really want to make things better. I even have my own charity for foster kids, HelpHHT.
That’s beautiful, I love that. Let’s talk a little bit about Jude. For someone so young, Jude is very lucky in love!
Yes! Jude has been very lucky. Initially, Jude was in a very abusive foster home. He didn’t feel comfortable, not only in his sexual orientation or identity, but who he was as a person. And he was lucky enough to come into a family who was nurturing, loving, and accepting and really wanted him to be whoever he was. Jude is a young representation of a lot of problems you see in the world and a lot of what kids go through, so it’s comforting to know that you are not alone in the struggles of life. We all go through so much crap and it sucks, but the thing that makes it ok is knowing that you’re going to make it out on the other side and that you’re going to have people who care for you. I’m really happy that people have loved Jude, and have accepted him. Initially, there was a little backlash, and it’s interesting ‘cause I would take it a little personally, to know that it wasn’t me.
I had an interesting conversation with David Mazouz, who plays young Bruce Wayne in ‘Gotham”, who said that when Bruce fails to save Gotham it hurts. So it’s interesting to hear you say that when your character received feedback, you felt that. This role has been a part of you for so long, how do you separate the two and how does it merge together?
It’s not really about how it merges together, it just does. I never really intended for it to do so, but growing up and being this character there are plenty of moments that it has affected my personal life. I definitely went through some internal conflicts and had my own world shaken up by Jude, and when I thought I had it figured out there were plenty of things I questioned and was confused by. I think most actors encompass their characters and take this person into them. The hardest part is leaving them behind, knowing that you’re not this person, you’re someone else, and you have to let that go at the end of the day. There are still times when I’ll come home and carry something with me from Jude that has nothing to do with me - you just have to be aware and know that you are two people. You are separate.
I read somewhere that Jude was the youngest character to have a same-sex kiss on national television. That’s a pretty cool achievement.
Yeah, it was wild to hear about, really crazy. I think that when we filmed it, we were expecting a lot more backlash, but the majority of people were very excited about it. It was a big time for the LGBTQ community in general and they were already been fighting for a lot. It was something that encouraged them and moved them to fight harder, so it was a really beautiful thing.
And again, why I feel this show is important. As a bit of a romantic, what does love look like for your generation?
I think there are a lot of different types of love. You can love one particular person in a very close and intimate way. You can love friends that are close to you that you care for. You can love your family. It’s all different. You can love a lot of people, but love them differently. Love is just a very very strong form of like.
I talked to a boy in Mississippi, who we are featuring in a couple of weeks, that grew up with two lesbian mothers. He gives a really interesting insight about the judgment he felt growing up, the struggle of acceptance in the community and how it has impacted his life. This ties quite nicely into ‘The Fosters’ and the two mums at the core of the family there. I think we all want to have the mums on ‘The Fosters”! What are the thoughts on same-sex parents?
Same-sex marriages and couples are just a normal family. They’re different in a beautiful way - in a way that we’re all different and should love and accept ourselves and anyone else for that difference, but they’re also just a couple. Stef and Lena go through the same problems every marriage go through. They have the same arguments and conversations - at the end of the day it’s just two people who love each other. Love, whether it’s between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and a man, it’s just love. Love doesn’t discriminate between people, it’s something that everyone can have, and my favourite thing about Stef and Lena is that they are just a married couple and two mums. They are all the things you’d expect in a relationship raising this family, and they do such a beautiful job at it. Sherri and Teri do such a great job at really nailing these characters, they are such talented actresses, and do a lot of justice for the roles. They really are remarkable. As Hayden, I am very lucky to have these two as my onset mums, and I know Jude is very lucky to have them as his mums.
Have you learned something from them personally?
A lot! I have learned about myself and my craft as an actor, and most importantly to have fun with it all. When you have something as beautiful and lucky as we do, to really enjoy it and have a great time.
Jude’s story is an inspiration for a lot of young gay guys - how do you feel about being in a role that has a positive impact on so many?
I think it’s amazing, I’m very honoured to be a role model to the gay community. Jude is someone who I didn’t think would be this influential, and I love how the community has really loved him. I love Jude for who he is, so it’s beautiful to learn from him and know that some people might be proud of who they are because of Jude. Jude has been through all these struggles, so people who go through it don’t feel alone, and they know that there are plenty of people who go through the same things and deal with the same issues - straight or gay. It’s important for them to know that they are not alone.
Being on this show has been part of your life for so long. How has it helped shape the person you’re becoming?
I think it has completely changed and shaped who I am. I don’t think I would be who I am without Jude. The things I’ve learned and the ignorance I’ve lost has been really remarkable. Knowing all of that I’ve also realised that there’s a lot I don’t know. We’re all just trying to make it through, trying to make our way through life.
What makes you happy?
Waking up every day. Knowing that I’m me. Loving who I’m with and the people I surround myself with. Happiness is something you just have or are. I’ve been very lucky to find a lot of things that make me happy - people, activities and simply me.
What do you do when you’re not working? Is there any Hayden time left?
Yeah, a little bit here and there. I have a couple of different friends I hang out with and do normal teenage stuff. You know, get into a little bit of trouble here and there. I have a girlfriend that I get to see a lot, and I also like doing stuff on my own. I skateboard a lot, I’ve moved to the beach, so I have tried to start paddle boarding a little bit. I play video games, read a lot of books and watch movies.
As an actor, what dreams do you have?
To do everything. I know it’s a big goal to set, but there is so much I want to do and so much I want to be. I really want to be on set, I love that environment more than anything else, and I really want to continue to do that. People always ask me if I want to continue to be on TV or in movies, and I want to do everything, ‘cause I love it all.
If you could change the world in any way, how would you like to change it?
Weirdly enough, I don’t think I would change anything. I feel as though people have to change and go through everything on their own. If I was to change something, people deep down wouldn’t understand why, so I think people need to understand change on their own.
'The Fosters' is currently airing its fifth season on Freeform.