Gavin Leatherwood

20 April 2020

Photography Emilia Staugaard
Fashion Jamie Ortega
Interview Hedvig Werner
Grooming Dan Duran
Fashion Assistant Kallie Biersach

"There's an insatiable amount of curiosity in me, particularly towards people, but really anything. I'm here to create and connect - if I was a computer program, I think those would be my two basic functions. To create art or things or stuff or words and to connect with people. If you're not connecting, then there's no point to the creation itself."

I call actor Gavin Leatherwood an hour into his morning and with him barely having made it out of bed, I decide to ask him all the questions you usually don't expect to answer before your morning coffee. We're in one of those 2 am type conversations at 10 am, Gavin points out after we've finished discussing his emotional spectrum. It didn't end there because little did he know I was about to ask him to visualise the feeling of falling in love. Fair to say, it was nearing the end of the day London time, so I was all in for the existential bits. As is one of Gavin's basic functions - if he was a software, that is - I was curious to figure out who this guy is that had graced my telly - tied up mostly in hell - during Sunday binges of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, so I decided to just ask him straight, right off the bat.

Gavin's character Nick basically had the worst time ever in part 3 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. After sacrificing himself for the sake of the world at the end of part 2, Nick literally went to hell and back, played host to Satan and dealt with a serious case of PTSD as his visitor turned out to be the worst imaginable type of Airbnb guest. Nick dealt with some incredibly dark stuff throughout the season, so he closed up into a troubled shell of his former being and distanced himself from the coven and particularly, Sabrina. It looked as though 'Nabrina' was no more. As is usually the case with secretive Netflix shows, Gavin can't reveal anything about part 4. All he can say really is that Nick will slowly make his way back to his old self, however, these events will have left a permanent mark.

During Gavin's press tour in New York, photographer Emilia Staugaard immortalised Gavin and the city's iconic skyline. On the streets of Chinatown, she met a Romeo in the making whose charm melted his surroundings. In more quiet frames, a creator sprung before her in a diverse display of characters. Stylist Jamie Ortega mixed tailoring and more casual attire, supplying a look that was somewhere between a boy and a man, which proved suitable as Gavin later revealed, "I'm not a boy, not yet a man".

I'm just going to go right in there straight. Who is Gavin?
I feel like I have been focusing on parts of myself that I enjoy and fuelling those. The parts that I don't like about myself, I try to do less of. There's an insatiable amount of curiosity in me, particularly towards people, but really anything. I'm here to create and connect - if I was a computer program, I think those would be my two basic functions. To create art or things or stuff or words and to connect with people. If you're not connecting, then there's no point to the creation itself. But really, I'm an alien in disguise from outer space. Don't tell anyone that, okay? That's just between you and me, Hedvig.

Haha. What makes you happy?
So many things. I feel like the secret sauce to life is finding the silver linings in any situation. There are always two ways you can look at everything and there are always going to be things that make me happy and things that make me sad. My family makes me really happy. Nature makes me really happy. Creating makes me really happy. Connecting makes me really happy. Those two basic functions, you know - if I'm not doing those I typically start to stray away from happiness. Or even more deeply, joy.

What makes you sad?
Just basic human things. As humans, we experience emotion on the entirety of the spectrum. We are bound to have experiences in life that evoke emotional reactions. Heartache makes me sad. The death of a loved one makes me sad. I try to pay attention to how I'm reacting emotionally to things and developing a sense of self-awareness from that about what provokes me emotionally. It's an interesting thing and I don't think we're looking at it half the time. I don't think most of the time we're recognising that 'oh, I'm feeling sad about this situation'. I like studying it because I'm in the business of understanding characters and people and I often forget that I, myself, is a character, in my own way.

Would you say you're an emotional person and do you find it easy to share those emotions with other people? Or is acting an outlet?
Yeah, I think so. I definitely feel things. If it wasn't for my friends and family, I feel like it would be a lot harder to do this job. I don't think that acting is the opportunity to display those kinds of emotions for your own gain or benefit, you know what I mean? It's going be such a separate thing. If you're bottling up your emotions and you're unwilling to share it with friends or family, but then you explode in a scene in order to sort of deal with it - I feel like that's an unhealthy way of balancing this crazy job. I think you've got to have a balance and that's by dealing with your own personal stuff with your own people. Understanding characters and diving into emotions that are not yours is such a tricky business and I'm figuring it all out as I move forward, but I'm pretty sure that things should remain totally separate.

I understand. I'm guessing part of acting is also kind of mastering your own emotional spectrum in order to understand someone else's emotional spectrum. Would you say that's true?
Yeah, it's interesting. Having a level of empathy as well as a level of stoicism. Allowing yourself to be there for others and engage in emotional moments with them. To not necessarily look or label anything as good or bad. Everything is just kind of happening and it's up to you what you choose to do with it and how you want to react to it all. We're getting deep here first thing in the morning. I woke up less than an hour ago. This is normally the conversations that I have at 2 am in the morning with someone haha.

Haha, that's the BBG way. In part 3 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Nick literally went from hell and back, and then was dealing with - what I would describe as - PTSD from being the host of the Dark Lord. How did you go about relating to his experience?
A lot of different things. I tried to sort of understand the mindset of what was happening. When we first got back from our hiatus and we started shooting, I felt like the first couple weeks of my job were like me being shirtless and tortured and tied up. I had some good easing into it when it came to like actually being on set and doing the thing that we were doing. The prep as far as all that goes was about understanding what sort of duality was going on within Nick. There's totally this side of him that is trying to keep everything nice and happy with Sabrina. Everything's okay sort of but then he has these crazy breakdown moments that only she really sees at first. It's not until later on during The Hare Mood that the coven sort of notices it. They all just know something's going on with him but he's trying to keep face sort of; trying to pretend that everything's okay.

But then deep down, he feels completely alone, like no one understands what is really going on underneath it all. I don't know what your experience is like but I feel there's some sort of duality in all of us - a part of us goes out into the world and show face and then there is this other side of us that is kind of different when we're home and alone. I think it's a little unhealthy. I think there should be a sense of vulnerability and authenticity and honesty throughout living but, as we are people, that's kind of something that we do deal with. I looked at that and imagined what is the worst form of torture I would be able to endure 24/7. How do you come back from that? How do you reassert yourself into a society that has no idea what you just went through? I just kind of played with that for a while and like I said, I tried a lot of things. I looked at Jekyll and Hyde and Gollum and Smeagol for some of the devil and Nick stuff. I found that to be interesting. I love the idea of playing two separate people in one person. The Talented Mr Ripley was another really great film for that. That duality of like wanting to be loved but then having this weird, almost psychopathic side.

Considering that Nick's experience in part 3 was quite stressful, how did you cope with that emotionally?
I learned early on thanks to a great mentor Michael Leoni that when you're in a scene, you dive into that scene, but as soon as the director says "cut", you pull out of it. It was just sort of drilled into me to do that. To go fully into a moment, whatever the moment might be. It can be good or bad acting, it doesn't matter - just so long as you're committing yourself to whatever the moment feels like, but then immediately taking that off as soon as you hear "cut". That was helpful on the day, but what I didn't anticipate was a more long-term feeling. I didn't realise it until like the last two or three months of shooting when I started to feel this weird weight I guess; sort of like the character's weight on me.

I didn't anticipate it or expect it but it was really just combated with a lot of self-love and reflection and meditation and journaling. Journaling is a great way to talk to yourself in a way that is tangible and was a really helpful, therapeutic thing for me. As well as just discussing it out loud with fellow actors. Face masks. All the self-love. Getting massages. Going to Reiki sessions. I started seeing a Reiki healer in Vancouver named Angela Paterson and she was great. But yeah, I mean, I think everyone's different and different things work for different people. That just happens to be something that I'm fascinated with and all these methods worked for me, personally.

The show as a whole is quite dark, so I can imagine the other actors are probably experiencing similar kinds of feelings in relation to their characters. You guys seem like a very close-knit cast from what I've seen on Instagram. It looks like you have a lot of fun together.
Typically, the vibe is so light, so that darkness doesn't really get to us. It's fun. We understand that we're on this show that is sort of geared towards the younger adult audience. We realise we're having fun. There are campy moments in the show, which is great, and then there are these really serious, dark and gory moments. However, when we're doing our thing, we're able to laugh in-between scenes. I'm sure at some point, people do have their moments by themselves as well, sort of like I was explaining earlier about myself not realising that this was something that was hitting me. I'm sure those moments come for others as well, but that's part of the reason why we're all so close on the set - we're just having a blast being little kids and hanging out and playing music and laughing and playing games. We don't really sit in the darkness of the show when we're filming it. It would be exhausting if we did.

Haha, I can imagine. You guys recently wrapped filming for part 4. How do these experiences of part 3 carry on into part 4 for Nick?
It was quite cool filming the two parts back-to-back. I've never experienced that before and it's my most consistent job as an actor. It's quite wild to go from one part to the other because they feel like one giant part. Whenever I'm asked specific questions about part 3 and 4, I'm like, 'wait, where does part 3 end and where does part 4 start?'.

The key bit at the end of part 3 is that there's this moment with Nick which seems tender and nice. The thing I wanted to see for Nick was for him to communicate and have some sort of reconciliation. I realised when rewatching part 3 that this is that moment where he really is in the first steps of integrating himself back into the community. He's on his own and there's a moment where he's not like in high spirits but he's at least more like himself in that very moment. There was originally a little bit more to that scene - but it was cut - which actually indicated that more of his own self was coming back to him. We see him kind of step back into his own as part 4 comes along. There will always be a struggle within him, but he definitely gets a better grip on who he is.

After Sabrina performed the candle spell to rid herself of her love for Nick and Harvey, what is the future for Nick and Sabrina? Or 'Nabrina', the Internet's couple name for the two.
I hear that at least 10 times a day haha. Loving and adoring fans - it's the cutest. I mean, I can't really say anything but I will say this... For one, who knows if that thing even worked? It could have been some bs magic. And two, if there's one thing Nick really knows deep down, it is that Sabrina showed him what love was for the first time. She was the first person to ever show him what love is. And you know, his brain in part 3 is so, so claustrophobic and crammed with other thoughts and feelings that he has completely lost sight of that. But as he begins to gain more clarity, I think he'll remember what an amazing thing that was, and at least show some appreciation for it. Your first love... I remember mine, you'll never forget it.

So, as we're on the topic of love, how would you visualise the feeling of 'falling in love'?
Wow. You really aren't holding back haha. I imagine it's like that surrealist feeling right before jumping out of a plane or something. There has to be some sort of adrenaline or tingle. It's one of the greatest mysteries of this existence and it continues to baffle people and make people do crazy shit and confuse people and frustrate people and set people free. I don't think there's one way to describe this... It's like the sound of a cello being tuned perfectly. I don't know if my personal experience has allowed me enough experience yet to encapsulate it. I feel like I'm still finding it. Maybe it's like the sun hitting your skin or a cool breeze on a hot day. It could be so many things.

If you fall in love several times, maybe it's different every time?
Yeah, maybe it's like experiencing a bunch of different colours. Everyone's a different sort of feeling or vibe.

What does being masculine mean to you?
That's a good question. It's definitely not drinking beer and eating meat and being this stereotypical man of the 50s. I think the most important thing we can do right now is to build each other up. I grew up around my mum, my granny and my sister. My dad was around a bit, but he was - I mean, I love the man - a bit more of a private man. So, I really have this strong love for all of my ladies and always looked up to them. They supported me and I supported them. I think it's a beautiful thing for men to be in touch with their femininity just as much as their masculinity. I think a strong man is sensitive and is vulnerable and is emotional and is not afraid to show that. It's so funny that for some reason we thought hiding our emotions was a strong attribute - so outdated and such bullshit. It's stronger to be more open as a person and to be able to express things.

I feel like in the last - I don't even know how long - 10 years or whatever, there's just been this shift. I remember growing up and having certain ideas of what a man was, but then as I got older, I started to think, 'well, I feel like this is what a man should be'. I've constantly looked at others for what it should be; trying to find good, strong men to look up to in order to understand whatever masculinity means. I'm still discovering it myself, but I feel like I'm somewhere in-between a boy and a man. You know that song, "I'm not a girl, not yet a woman". I'm totally going to parody it and do a cover and sing "I'm not a boy, not yet a man".

Yes, please do. I love the Britney reference!
I feel like I'm somewhere in-between, so I'm still learning all that, but, ultimately, I feel you should just focus on being a good person and whatever that means to you. Don't get caught up in any sort of stigma of what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman, but just look at what it means to be human. At least from what I understand, it's a bit of empathy and understanding and compassion and openness and non-judgement. I'm still learning.

Do you think society is changing in terms of these labels?
Yeah, I think so. I think like the pendulum swings, it goes one way and then it goes the other. Beyond just like toxic masculinity, I think there's the struggle between the ego and the self in everyone. It's like this fundamental issue that we struggle with as humans. Everyone's got an ego and it tells them lies or it tells them that they're better than that person or that person's better than them or 'screw that guy' or whatever. I loved reading the book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle as it was so enlightening and eye-opening and informing. The fact of the matter is, we all have bullshit to deal with and it is our responsibility as people to learn how to differentiate between the ego and the true self. The best way to do that is to listen and connect and talk about it freely. I definitely think there's been this programming in the past telling us what we should value and who we are and what we should do and that making money is important and being the biggest, bad-dest and strongest is the way to go. There's been so much backwards thinking that has conditioned who we are. I think it's time we let go of all the outdated teachings and focus more on this new wave of existence.

I've seen some pictures and videos here and there of you playing the guitar and singing. Are you interested in pursuing music?
Yeah, absolutely. Definitely. I really just like creating on all fronts. It's kind of funny - I have trouble just focusing in on one. I love to paint. I love to write. When I say paint, I mean on my iPad because it's 2020 and actual painting is really messy (and I have such respect for it). The iPad is just a lot easier. Digital painting and writing music and writing words and acting - I've got respect for all of those art forms and I love focusing on each one individually. Music definitely does hold a special spot in my heart. Whether I get more serious about it, time will tell. I haven't quite decided yet.

What's the dream?
I kind of feel like I'm living it, you know? Life was so different two years ago. It's insane how much has changed and I have such gratitude. I feel like the one thing you can never have too much of is gratitude. I tend to not focus too much on things that could be, so I try to focus more on what is right now. Each day is kind of one movie or one dream, I guess you could say. I just want to make it better each day. I just want to live a cooler dream today and then tomorrow an even cooler one. I'm totally happy and grateful. I definitely want to work on other projects and movies and work with talented directors and actors. That's a dream - to just be surrounded by other creatives that are talented. To learn from them and grow as a human. I just want to continue growing and learning.

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Above Left: Gavin wears Suit by Stella McCartney
Above Right: T-Shirt by Raf Simons from James Veloria Vintage

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Above: Suit by Stella McCartney, Polo by Givenchy and Shoes by Nike

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Above: Jacket and Shirt by Stella McCartney

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Above Left: Outfit as Before
Above Right: Jacket by Comme des Garçons from James Veloria Vintage and Shirt and Scarf by Daniel W. Fletcher

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Above Left: Jacket by Comme des Garçons from James Veloria Vintage and Shirt, Scarf and Trousers by Daniel W. Fletcher

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Above: T-Shirt by Raf Simons from James Veloria Vintage, Trousers by John Elliot and Shoes by Nike

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Above Left: Jacket by Comme des Garçons from James Veloria Vintage, Shirt and Scarf by Daniel W. Fletcher and Shoes by Nike
Above Right: Outfit as Before

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Above: Jacket and Shirt by Stella McCartney and Shorts by Alyx

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Above: Jacket and Shirt by Stella McCartney, Shorts by Alyx and Shoes by Nike

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