Timothy Granaderos educates me on the happy side of the internet. He reels off a list of Instagram accounts dedicated to promoting only positive news and recommends a couple to follow. Given the 1.2 million followers on his personal account, it’s no surprise that he’s developed a nuanced understanding of the online platform. The Michigan-born actor is best recognised for his portrayal of high school jock Monty de la Cruz in the hit teen drama 13 Reasons Why. Initially only set to appear in a couple of episodes, Monty’s arc reached new heights in the second season after committing brutal sexual assault on his fellow classmate and consequently became the central antagonist by the time of his sudden death in season three’s finale. Timothy’s experience in unpacking the controversies in his work is reflected in the ease with which he delves into backstories and anecdotes. Yet as he walks and talks to me whilst on a morning stroll at the beach, there is a sense of gratitude and excitement at the chance to now move beyond.
In this expansive stretch of the unknown, empty concrete paths stretch out before him. Photographer Elizabeth Weinberg catches Timothy in the upside down - a place of rebirth where he is able to shed the skin of his previous character and wave goodbye. It’s a transitional time; a playful one and the camera documents as Timothy enjoys his newfound breathing space. Whilst the actor is indebted to all that 13 Reasons Why taught him, he is equally happy and humbled to be back on the grind - for it is the times you are not working that you learn about yourself, ‘almost more so than the times you are working’, he says.
Stylist Luca Kingston brings structure to this shoot with a dystopian edge. Simple necklines, selected palettes and limited fuss remove the actor from the external influences of an industry that is often filled with distraction. Timothy appears to have made peace with the unusual - sometimes ridiculous - bubble he finds himself in, and attributes this to his grounding midwestern roots. Mid-conversation we are distracted by a stranger’s impromptu photoshoot and he recommends another account to add to the list - @influencersinthewild. It becomes clear that for Timothy, this period is about sand between toes and finding pleasure in the mystery, and silliness, of it all.
13 Reasons Why season 4 premiers on Netflix 5 June.
Who is Timothy?
Ahh, I knew you were going to ask this question! It’s scary, it's a big question. It's always weird to talk about yourself... I like to think of myself as driven; as family/friend oriented. I grew up in Michigan, so Midwest roots now living in Southern California. Obviously, I'm an actor. I'm just trying to be present in every moment - I think that's who I am. I'm constantly discovering new stuff about myself, so it’s always changing and evolving. What's the right answer to that question? My god!
Do you miss the Midwest?
I do. I miss the Midwest a lot. It feels like a different country. It's just a slower pace of life. The rain, the weather. The people in the Midwest especially. I'm lucky because my closest friends from Middle School moved out to California as well, so I get to see them all the time, but the people are just so nice out there. But I miss aspects - I don't think I could go back there right now. My parents are still there, so I get to go back for Christmas.
In what ways has that background shaped the person you are now?
It's given me my outlook on life. Especially being in this industry. It can get a little chaotic and you see a lot of people change when they get to LA. There are a lot of outside influences here - and that's part of discovering who you are - but I feel I'm so rooted in the Midwest that I always come back to it. And I feel like a lot of people can see that: there’s a genuine kind of personality attribute that comes with being from the Midwest because it's a humbling place to grow up. A lot of blue-collar workers. I grew up in a neighbourhood where we had 15-20 kids, so we were riding bikes and outside playing. It's a different lifestyle and I think I only realised as I got older that it’s so ingrained in who I am.
How do you keep rooted whilst in LA?
My girlfriend, definitely. She's also from the Midwest. I also have my brother and sister out here, so my family. I have a large group of friends that are actors and entertainment people, but as I said, the majority of my other friends are independent of this industry. So when I leave set, I go hang out with them and they're completely different worlds. They're obviously my biggest fans but I can leave all the actor jargon behind and just go be with my buddies.
Tell me about your start in the industry. You majored in advertising at Michigan State University. Was that the plan prior to acting?
It was kind of a weird path into the industry. My sister was out in LA, she's a makeup artist, and I stayed with her one summer in high school. After college, I just knew I wanted to be out here so I moved out. Pretty much from the get-go, I didn't do a single thing with my degree in advertising (sorry mum and dad) but my sister got me onto sets working as a production assistant on commercials and then eventually some Disney stuff.
I took up an interest in being in front of the camera and signed with a modelling commercial agency and started going to auditions and castings. Then I started taking scene study classes while I was working as a production assistant on a Disney show. I remember the first monologue I did in scene study class. It actually went really, really well even though I was nervous as hell. It gave me that feeling that I hadn't felt in a while. I’d been an athlete my whole life growing up, and had left that behind, so it felt like I was getting that adrenaline from performing as an athlete. Instantly, I knew that no matter how long it was going to take, no matter what I had to do, I wanted to chase that high of performing. Then it kind of snowballed. You get a couple of lucky breaks, you meet the right people, you keep working and now we're here!
Was the plan ever to go into advertising, way back when?
I played soccer in college. So advertising to me was a degree that I could do whilst pursuing being an athlete, but it also allowed me to be creative. I didn't know exactly where I wanted to land. I think in college they expect you to just jump into this career path and you're spending so much money. It's like, what? I don't know what the hell I want to do! So advertising to me was the most appealing because it allowed me to be creative and continue to be a full-time athlete. When I graduated, the more I heard about the profession, the more I was like, that sounds fucking scary! I don't think at any point I was drawn to work in advertising. I was like, ‘if it happens, it happens’. If I didn't study advertising, would I have ended up where I am? Probably not. Everything happens for a reason. I'm a big advocate of trusting the universe and the way you feel at that time, and it'll lead you to where you need to go.
I’ve heard that for series regulars, leaving a show after your character is killed off can often feel like a break-up. What has been your experience since Monty departed 13 Reasons Why?
That character becomes such a huge part of you. You spend so much time with the crew, the other actors, the writers. I remember the phone call with my showrunner… It was getting towards the end of season 3, and I knew what was happening with my character. As an actor, you live by your job. So as when one job ends, you have to start looking for another one - kind of like a relationship. I remember pulling off the side of the road and being like, ‘all right. I'm going to call in, and I'm going to figure out whether or not I should be looking for a new job'. And I remember he told me and was like "I think this might be where the story ends..." It is
like a breakup now that you say that, man! But I knew it needed to happen. It was a mix of emotions because you're not going to see these people that you've seen every single day - especially the crew. A lot of actors live in LA but the crew, these people become your family. It's kind of heavy. At the same time, I felt ready to part ways. Monty was a heavier character to play and morally I didn't align with him in a lot of ways. You have to know when to call it quits, I guess. Just like a bad relationship – or a good one!
Obviously, at the start of Season 1, you had no idea of the kind of actions Monty would be capable of. However, did you ever have any reservations about committing and attaching yourself to such a divisive, dark character?
When I was so lucky to book Monty, he was only supposed to be in a couple of episodes. Our showrunner Brian Yorkey even told me that I was just supposed to be that quintessential bully type. They didn't really have a plan besides the few episodes that I was in so I was not hesitant to sign on. I was like, 'let's do this'. And I didn't really know what was to become of him and his storyline because the audition was so short - it was like three pages of him playing video games and pumping his friends. All you wish for as an actor is to find the layers in each character you play.
Our showrunner would call me or pull me aside and be like, "Okay, I have this new idea for Monty". Every time I would shit my pants right on the spot! I was just so nervous. But that fear is good because it drives you and you know you’re going to grow. Throughout the three seasons, I was constantly nervous and had that feeling of ‘how am I gonna pull this off?’
What was your preparation to get inside Monty’s head? Did you have an on-set ritual?
He was so far from my understanding as a person because he would just make fun of people. He was like a bully: he’d push people around mentally and physically. I am so conscious of other people and their feelings that I had to disconnect from that. Almost in my everyday life I would have to turn off this emotion for caring for other people. Then later down the line, you learn where everything comes from within him and it kind of all makes sense. A bully is not born that way, right? There are so many things going on in their home life, at school, inside their head, that you don't even realise so in the earlier seasons, I created these backstories that kind of came to fruition later on. In preparation for him, I just really had to think about why he’s acting the way he is.
I can imagine you’d need time on your own to decompress after filming, especially during the heavier storylines.
Well, it’s funny actually. I'm a very social person. So it's hard for me to go to set with my headphones in and my head down and not talk to anyone, but that's what I needed to do. I needed to shut myself off because that's what Monty did. But as soon as those scenes were over, it was such a release that I'd be like, ‘Hey guys, I'm back!’ I don't like being in that headspace, that's just not who I am. It's draining and exhausting. It's easier for me to be social and happy. As soon as they called cut on the last take, it was like, ‘I'm back! Let's go get a donut'.
The power of social media is a big talking point for us at BBG. I know that you received some pretty disturbing messages from fans of the show who were seemingly unable to separate the actor from the character… How did you manage that?
Honestly, it's always been a compliment to how I play the character. Because if they wouldn't ever have this visceral reaction towards Monty and what he'd done, then it would have meant that I didn't do my job correctly. I wouldn't say it's fun, but it's also like a pat on the back. Like, 'okay, you did what you needed to do for that character'. I think more so as the seasons went on, especially after season 3, I received a lot of messages after people found out what Monty was going through. I got a lot of very cool ones saying "<Hey, I kind of relate to what's happening with him or what he's going through, or it's inspired me to maybe reach out". Those are the cool things we get to see as actors.
Did you ever feel a need to overcompensate by projecting your true personality online to balance public perceptions?
Haha actually yes! Totally. I think that's the cool thing about social media, because our fans can really get to know us as individuals and disassociate ourselves from that character. I've always used social media to say ‘hey, look, this is who I am. These are the things that I believe in; these are the things that I want to promote'. Especially after people see Monty as this bully type, it's cool to be able to express yourself and your everyday life. It's also kind of dangerous because you're putting yourself out there all the time. People feel like they know you. There's a fine line to walk between sharing and sharing too much.
Are you able to easily switch off from it all?
I actually just did a little detox from Instagram because it becomes too consuming. A lot of wasted hours just scrolling. But I think I am pretty good at turning it all off. Something I've learned is that the stakes always seems so high when you're expected to book a job or make money, but not everything is that life or death, you know? It's okay to put your feet in the sand; it's okay to go on a road trip; it's okay to not make money for a week; it's okay to experience new things. So I think I am alright at disassociating myself with all these things that are expected of me. I think that a lot of that is because of sports and also, being an actor, having to explore what makes me think the way I do. But it's important to take yourself out on dates and go on trips and experience life. Be nice to others. Those are all the things that make me happy.
Do you think that society does enough to encourage young guys to talk about their feelings?
That's a good one. Um, no, I don't. I think we're trending in the right direction, but we still have a really long way to go. I can even see it sometimes with my friends, it's like you hold back on what's really happening inside. The more you talk about things, the better you feel, so why wouldn’t you use your friends, your family, the people around you? I grew up in a household where my dad would always tell me if you need to cry, cry, it's a release. It’s part of human nature. I feel like I've gotten better at being in touch with my emotions, but even as a man now there are still walls that I break down every day.
How can we create a safer environment so that toxic masculinity no longer needs to exist and people like Monty feel safe?
I think it really starts with educating the parents and instilling this idea at a young age in young boys. If you can speak about your emotions at a young age, that'll carry over into your adult life. And maybe just promoting it in schools, right? That’s the area where you feel the most insecure or judged, so why not open it up so it just feels normal to talk about how you feel? I think there'd be less bullying. There'd be less ignorance if you get kids talking, and not just get them talking, but challenging how they feel; making them try to understand why they feel that way.
Also, going back to social media, I know I have people I look up to who I follow. It’s cool to see what they go through and relate to them. I would hope that someone who follows me can say, "Hey, look, it's okay for him to talk about how he's feeling". So maybe they pass it on to their friend. It's just making it more socially normal.
Which accounts inspire you?
I've talked about this in every interview, but I love the band Incubus and Brandon Boyd. He’s just so artistic and is always creating. I follow @tanksgoodnews, which is probably one of my favourites on Instagram because it's all positive stuff happening around the world. The good is easy to lose. News syndications love to promote the bad stuff but there is a lot of good happening at the same time. I love People Magazine
because they do a similar thing. I follow a bunch of different accounts of people who live in vans and they just drive around and a part of me so badly wants to be that person. Maybe one day. I don't know if my girlfriend Katie would be up for it, I’d have to try and really subtly talk her into it…
How have you adjusted to life outside of 13 Reasons Why?
Coming off work for a number of seasons on 13, you just jump back into the audition grind and it's so humbling. You go from being a series regular - working, getting paychecks – to being thrown back into the mix of all these other talented actors competing for one role. That's what I'm doing right now. I actually have an audition later today. You have to constantly be working, and constantly stay driven or else you fall to the wayside. Working on a show like 13 has definitely given me credibility, but you always have to work and I think that translates into other parts of my life. You’ve got to stay on top of it.
Is this period what you imagined it would be?
Yes. Kind of. It's hard for me to predict where this is going to go because this industry is so fickle that I just try and ride the highs and also ride the lows. I'd say the lows come less often when you're working for sure - when you build a name for yourself in this industry. But you have to be able to manage your expectations, and I don't think I ever set them too high or too low. I'm just going to keep working and the next job will come but like I said, it's also humbling. You learn a lot about yourself in the times when you're not working - almost more so than the times you are working.
Do you have any ambition to ever pursue the production side again?
I've thought about that. Maybe one day, but I'm so focused on my craft. I feel like I started a little later so I want to get better at this every day. Maybe down the road I'll pursue other avenues in this industry.
What’s next for Timothy?
Hopefully, book another show or a movie or something! Honestly, I'm just living hour by hour, day by day. I'm trying to be present here and take care of my body and mind. For me, this year is about experiencing new things. I want to expose myself to art, and riding motorcycles, and music, and yoga, and being healthy, and running on the beach, and then I want to book a job that is challenging - something different.
In an ideal world, what does that look like?
I love sci-fi, so something sci-fi. Or I'm really hoping to do an indie movie or something where I get to not be mean. When you play a character for so long, people see you a certain way. The next role I book is hopefully something completely different so that when people look at me they don't even recognise me from 13.
What is the ultimate dream?
Oh boy, the ultimate dream…. To be so comfortable in my own skin that no matter what life takes me through, I know who I want to be - in my relationships, in myself, in the moment to moment - because I think that is the foundation for happiness overall. You never know where life is going to take you. In the future, I’d like to start a family but balance family and working in this crazy industry. Just to stay happy and healthy, really. I think that's important.