Rudy Pankow

9 August 2021

"It is not so much about figuring it all out as much as having the courage to take the initial jump, which is the hardest part. If you have enough confidence to take the leap, you have enough confidence to make anything you want work out."

The other side of the wind reveals a new Pandora's box under the rhythmic light as we reconnect with Rudy Pankow, 22, the star of Netflix's nail-biting treasure-hunt drama Outer Banks. We first touched down with Rudy ahead of the hit series' premier last year, and we couldn't possibly let this summer pass without returning to the hazy golden coast of North Carolina for season two where we unravel the hero's journey and mystery of Rudy's own quest.

Today's setting with a glistering vintage Chevrolet mirrors a renaissance for the 60s New Age Hollywood, an era that marked change, courage and burning ambition - things that Rudy embodies himself. The actor entered our screen last summer as JJ Maybank, a free-spirited, charismatic troublemaker, and although the two have similarities, Rudy's own journey from the uncharted shores of Alaska to the sun-dappled streets of Los Angeles is far from JJ's linear existence as the "latest in a long line of fishing, drinking, smuggling, vendetta-holding salt-lifers".

Mapping through the gleaming hills of Hollywood, photographer Bianca Gerasia flows through the scenery with her lens immortalising today's stories for tomorrow's spectators. From Mocambo to Coconut Grove, stylist Derek Beckman dresses Rudy in fits that encapsulate that timeless groove with an eclectic mix of vintage and atomised individuality.

With every outfit change we meet a new character of Rudy. But with each new scene, one thing remains: heart and soul, inside out. At Rudy's core is a commitment to understanding others, the Earth and ourselves in the ultimate treasure hunt of finding who we really are and what we stand for. Although he isn't a stranger to the struggle to draw the line between himself and his character off-screen, it feels that the irresolution of context has a silver lining as we can all learn from the different characters inside of us - these personas are a plot function in anyone's tale.

As we descend outside the studio, the sun pours rivers of light that taste like sweet buttercups. We don't know where the next clue hides but we can be certain of one thing: this is not an epilogue of Rudy's blossoming career - luckily for us - it is only the beginning.

Outer Banks S2 is out now on Netflix.

Hey Rudy! It is time to return to the golden shores of North Carolina and start the treasure hunt again with the Pogues and Outer Banks. What can we expect from this season?
I'm really stoked about how people are gonna react to it because my reaction to it was 'this is off the rails'; it feels bigger. Season two just feels monstrous compared to season one. But something that all of us in the cast felt with season two was pressure because with the success of the show came a set bar and we felt we had to top that - like in any profession whether it is art or sports, the bar is set after you make your first record.

Your character JJ is quite a troublemaker but certainly has a loyal, free spirit in him. Did you learn something from him?
JJ taught me things from feeling comfortable in my own skin to feeling comfortable with making mistakes. There's a lot of things that he has been able to reveal to me about myself, but I wouldn't say he did the work because I built it myself. He lives inside of me, but at the end of the day I taught myself these lessons by learning what kind of character he is. Like actors, we all have different characters inside of us and they change in different situations. The key is to learn the positive things about these different personas and start revealing who you are - whether it is with people or emotions you are having. Listening to them is very important in finding who you truly are and how to become the best self you possibly can be.

Do you feel like these characters ever act as a mask to hide our true selves? Hide the true emotions?
The majority of people don't want to feel misery and pain around their friends and they want to feel comfortable when they express these feelings. In my everyday life I do feel comfortable with people I have surrounded myself with, whether I am feeling misery, complete joy or when I am questioning my own decisions, or theirs. Nowadays it is really hard to build the confidence to correct somebody but in the age where we are constantly learning, things reveal themselves and show that we need to change. Vocalising and having the courage to correct someone in everyday life - not just online - is important but you should also have forgiveness. In a global pandemic, forgiveness of what has happened is a bridge we have to cross as a society and not be so hyper-focused on what to correct.

There is a lack of dialogue.
The discussion and forgiveness needs to happen, just like in every friendship or conversation. And I'm not just talking about people either, I'm talking about the Earth: we need to start saying sorry and figuring out a solution how to fix it so we can save some of the future generations right now. I'm not wanting to make radical decisions because I'm not a politician, but there needs to be laws or agreements to consume less. That's the next step in allowing future generations to enjoy the same beautiful planet and social interaction we have enjoyed.

Do you have a favourite place on Earth where you feel the most connected?
Alaska, as that's where this mindset was born, and I really hang on to that. The beaches of Alaska were where I learned a lot of who and what I stand for.

Do you think you will return to Alaska one day?
I would love to go back home. I am not sure why but I think I'll figure that out.

Nowadays you live in LA which is quite a polar opposite to Alaska. How do you deal with life's roller coaster in the cement jungle?
With two things: taking some time by myself and knowing that I need it. Being by yourself on a mountaintop or on a beach gives you the chance to reflect on yourself. And then the other side of the coin is after you do spend time alone, talk to somebody about it. Having perspective of what they've learned, and their views and morals is how you stay grounded. Depending on the person, you can either fully open up or just have a light conversation of what you might've learned, it doesn't mean you need to spill your heart out.

It can be truly hard to find 'alone time' time nowadays. But what is something that not a lot of people know about you?
A lot of people think of me as JJ and I think there's a little bit of JJ in there, but not a whole lot. There are characteristics between me and JJ: he is kind of sporadic, and has a lot of energy at times. But I'm not going to a beach all the time and pulling out a gas and popping off some shots. That's not who I am.

Who would play the part of Rudy in the story of your life?
Honestly, although he would never agree to it, my little brother. Because of my childhood, he and my big brother know me the best so they would be my choice for the role.

What kind of characteristics would this guy have?
The key characteristic with my brothers is competition - it's out of love though! My older brother is a genius and he set the bar scholastically very high which I couldn't keep up with. My little brother is such a self-motivator, he can put his mind to something and get it done no matter what, and no matter what anybody else says he never second guesses himself.

I love the fact that all of you chose a different path, but you can still learn from each other.
I haven't given them and my family the credit that they deserve for raising me. Fun fact, the first person that acted in my family was my older brother. I honestly thought it was amazing and then all of a sudden I was like, 'man, I really like doing this too,' - just because I saw him doing it. And this is the story of how I really got into acting: I was coming up in senior year, trying to figure out what I wanted to do after and my dad asked me to do a play together. We made a pack that if I auditioned he would have to, too. He didn't get the role, which is the funny part, but I did. But that was the moment when I realised how much I love acting and when I decided to make the jump.

What's your process to get into a character and do you have any habits before a scene?
You have to do your background work to understand the reasons behind the character's actions. For me the key to understanding JJ was a Zippo lighter - that's a little thing that he does when he is by himself or when his dad gets really angry at him, or he doesn't know what to say. I wanted to understand the importance of playing with a simple Zippo lighter for him. I am even doing it right now with my chopstick! When I am trying to figure out what to say, I am playing with something in my hand and that actually really unlocked the character to me. All those little details you can find from your background work and then you can understand the reasons.

Do you feel like you can get lost in the character?
When you are beating up a scene next thing you know you're in it. It really helps when you have a great set, cast and crew that give you space to really do so. In the Outer Banks cast, it's about telling a story to and amongst each other; sometimes we didn't know that the cameras were rolling. You do lose yourself in times but the lines are not the work, the work is about being there. The fact that the show was so well received is a testament of how well we worked together.

Do you remember the first day you walked through the set?
It was all about the nervousness of the game that you're about to play and want to do your best. People looking and feeling that energy of whether it is going to come through and feeling the pressure. It was similar this time around when we wanted to create something as amazing as season one. We felt that pressure of what we had previously created and dealing with that helped me grow a lot as an actor.

How do you deal with pressure?
When I am dealing with pressure I think about what I am trying to do. You have to think about why you are under pressure and that makes it evaporate and you can focus on your job.

When I moved to LA, I had to gain a lot of confidence and be certain what I was doing and believe it was going to work out. But you have to remember that if something isn't going to work out, it's okay to change your mind. It takes confidence to make the jump to the unknown but I'd say it is not so much about figuring it all out as much as having the courage to take the initial jump. If you have enough confidence to take the leap, you have enough confidence to make anything you want work out. In cities, not just LA but any big city, you might not have anyone to look up to but there are so many people for you to look to. And going back to acting and Outer Banks, the responsibility of bringing it all to life ties together with that initial jump.

Was it hard for you to find a support group in LA?
You have to have an intuition about people and if their morals and values are the same as yours. Judging that is hard and one encounter with somebody won't reveal it. I think it takes work to have the feeling about anybody and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. When I moved to LA I was very fortunate to find a group of people pretty early on in my acting class that had the same work ethic and view about the craft we were doing. They were doing something every single day to take a step forward, whatever it might have been.

You have also been on stage in The Nutcracker, Mary Poppins and Oliver Twist. Do you feel more of the pressure in front of a live audience?
I love the pressure of things. I love going into something and feeling like 'why am I here?'. Once you can point to the reasons why you're there, that pressure becomes excitement and adrenaline. Being on stage has the same feeling of when you are snowboarding, on top of the hill, looking down thinking whether you are going to be okay. And then adrenaline kicks in. When you start a scene the audience is wondering whether the actor is going to be okay and remember their lines - and you're feeling that too. And then you just go for it.

You starred as a lead in the dramatic comedy The Crusades by Leo Milano, which follows three friends trying to survive their final week before meeting their rival school. How was the adrenaline kick in that one?
The pressure of a lead character was something new. I think it felt different because the stakes felt higher, and I felt that if I wouldn't be at my best, it would affect the person next to me. But I told myself to breathe, and not to put that on myself. You just have to focus and trust you have done your background work. The Crusades revealed how I work as a lead character and now I understand exactly what I have to do. If I am ever - fingers crossed - in a lead position again, I know how to relax in the ability to identify with the character on set and be in the scene. I did a lot of prep work for that role but I still felt a little lost - but when I was paying attention to what's happening moment by moment in the movie, rather than focusing on where the character is going, it clicked.

How did you metabolise all the attention that came after the first season of Outer Banks?
As JJ, my job is to do my very best to help express his story and so that people watching the show can relate to him. My job is to make a relatable character that might help someone that watches the show and I just want to thank those people who watched, learned and took something away from him.

At the end of the day I am not JJ, but at the same time in the age of social media, I'm not quite ready for the entire world to know exactly who I am. I will continue to work on that and respect that in myself. Going through this transformation with the cast has made us close and it happens quite often that people think of us as the characters that we play. Some of the cast members are ready to express who they are as their real selves, rather than their character but I'm more of a person that's job is to relate with people through characters not quite as Rudy - yet.

Do you feel you almost could use JJ as a character you play in your daily life?
I would say JJ was more of a version of who I am. And then there is a version of who I was when I was Leo in The Crusades. I hope all those characters are relatable, as best as they can be. They have gone through a struggle and learned something, just like I am learning something every single day in my life personally. That's what I want to express on screen. Social media makes it a little harder to draw the lines between a character and your actual self - I'm currently working my way through where I am and where JJ is.

What's the best compliment you ever received?
The best compliment is when someone says your character is relatable. There have been some really sweet things people have said but for me when someone says they can relate to my character, that means a lot.

What's next for Rudy, what are you excited about?
I'm excited about so much! I'm excited to grow as a human being and as an actor and challenge myself in more ways than I can possibly imagine. I'm excited to challenge myself in my craft, myself as a human being and my relationships with others. I want to grow and to be the best version of myself I can possibly be. On-screen and off.

Is there anything you want to add?
I'm looking forward to the age of forgiveness and the time of healing is coming soon. The conversations need to happen, but then the forgiveness needs to follow.

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Above Left: T-Shirt and Trousers by Calvin Klein, Rings by Gucci and Personal Collection
Above Right: Shirt by Varsity Vintage, Trousers by Saint Laurent, Rings by Gucci and Personal Collection.

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Above: T-Shirt, Trousers, Suspenders and Boots by Calvin Klein, Rings by Gucci and Personal Collection, Sunglasses by Varsity Vintage

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Above Left: Sweater by Helmut Lang, Trousers by Saint Laurent, Belt by Varsity Vintage, Necklace Rudy's own, Rings by Gucci and Personal Collection
Above Right: Jacket and Trousers by Lanvin, Shirt and Boots by Calvin Klein, Rings by Gucci and Personal Collection, Sunglasses by Varsity Vintage

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Above Right: Denim Jacket and Denim Shirt by Calvin Klein, Denim Pants by Madewell, Sunglasses by Varsity Vintage, Bandana by Harley Davidson, Rings by Gucci and Personal Collection

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