Cody Saintgnue Covers Risk V: The Revolt
"Exploring the importance of breaking boundaries, Ryan Cahill meets rising star of screen and catwalk, Cody Saintgnue."
Interview by Ryan Cahill
“Moving out to LA. I basically gave up the whole normalcy of my childhood” rising star Cody Saintgnue tells me of the biggest risk he’s ever taken. We’re sat in the suite of The Bailey’s Hotel, a large hotel in West London. The expansive, repetitive corridors make it feel as though we’re trapped inside at the centre of an intricate maze. Admittedly, it’s taken me at least ten minutes to locate room 429, which was falsely described as “on the fourth floor to the right”.
We’re alone in the room, and there’s something about Saintgnue’s demeanour that makes me feel that he’s a little uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the prospect of the impending interview and shoot, maybe it’s the jarring opulence of the room within which we sit. “I came out there with my mom that adopted me, who I love so much, and my dog Patches, and I never looked back” he expands on his move to Los Angeles at the age of 14. Before his foray into acting, Saintgnue lived in Dayton, Ohio with his adoptive parents following his placement into foster care at the age of 9. After a successful venture into the world of modelling, which saw him win a Model and Talent Expo in Texas, he upped and left to Los Angeles, intent on making it in the world of entertainment. Since then, he’s been on a steady path to acting prowess, appearing in a diversity of roles which explore a multitude of colourful characters, gaining critical acclaim for his portrayal of bisexual werewolf, Brett Talbot in Teen Wolf.
As he settles into his surroundings the initial awkwardness fades and Saintgnue opens to me about the importance of challenging the status quo, the imperative need for diverse representations in film and television, and why we shouldn’t judge a celebrity by their media coverage…
"I think when modeling, when you get a really good photographer and stylist and there’s a really cool vision, it’s kind of like playing a character as well, another extension of yourself. "
Firstly, tell me how it was that you got into acting?
It totally started with a girl! I actually wanted to become a model and so then that led into acting and I felt like it was something that I was really good at.
Do you think it was the right decision?
100 per cent! I definitely prefer acting but I love art and I think modeling, when you get a really good photographer and stylist and there’s a really cool vision, it’s kind of like playing a character as well, another extension of yourself. They’re both really fun, but I do prefer acting!
Teen Wolf came to an end at the end of last month. How does it feel now that it’s all over?
I feel good. I’m excited to move on to the next things that will come. I’m thankful for so much that I learned, it was the first show that I ever got to really be in on a reoccurring basis, so I’m thankful to take what I learned from there and apply it to the next project.
Tell me about some of the key things that you learned from Teen Wolf.
It’s more of like technical things. It’s like if the camera is here, knowing how wide the shot is, because then that affects your performance. If you’re shaking your head around and it’s a real tight up shot, you’re going to mess up the show, so it’s learning to scope your performance with who the director and the camera people and your awesome DP’s have set up the shot for you.
I think understanding the social media side, what is appropriate to tweet, what’s not appropriate— being mindful of that.
" I can’t tell people what’s the right thing to do. I don’t think it’s my job to make them believe what they want to believe. "
Teen Wolf was a show that tackled a lot of issues around gender, sexuality and race. Why do you think it’s important that TV shows like Teen Wolf tackle these kinds of issues?
I think it’s important because — actually, I know it’s important! It’s funny they always say stuff like, “it’s just like in the movies”, so I think a lot of our culture gets defined by what’s in the light and what we’re brainwashing people with; the content that we’re showing. I think that Teen Wolf and Jeff Davies did such a great job of making things that people aren’t familiar with, such as LGBT and characters like that, for people that are not open to that or have never seen that because they live in the Mid-West or they’re just not used to it, the way that he normalised it — as it is normal — was really progressive and forward and showed a lot of humanity and so I think that stuff is really important.
What were your experiences of playing an LGBT character?
I think people really enjoyed it, but to be honest they [Teen Wolf] didn’t really explore it too much. There was one scene where I danced with a girl and then I danced with a guy and that was really the extent of it, and then they talked about me, like Mason having this attraction to me, but I thought it was really cool. I was happy to play a character that little boys and girls can either relate to or give them permission to know that that’s okay, because Brett was kind of the muscular jock-y character and so I think we have seen in shows such as Teen Wolf, Shameless, lots of these characters breaking the mould of what someone who is into men or into women might have to be.
Do you kind of think that directors/producers have a social responsibility to explore issues surround injustice and inequality?
You know what? It’s a tricky question. I can’t tell people what’s the right thing to do. I don’t think it’s my job to make them believe what they want to believe. It’s that thing where you either get it or you don’t, and I think that if you do get it and if you are all about love and everyone being equal and respecting one another regardless of any preference or culture in life, it’s absolutely your duty. I’m not judging the ones that don’t feel that way, but I think that if you do get in it and if you have the power to do it you should absolutely do it!
How would you react if you were offered a role where you had issues with the way your character was depicted?
It’s very situational. Could you go more into depth about that?
For example, if your character Brett in Teen Wolf was more stereotypical, in a potentially negative or offensive way…
Oh — well I think it all goes in the intention! It’s always about the writing, its about how they’re shooting it, how the writers are having it come across, because to be honest, there are so many different types of people in the world, there are people that exactly fit that mould and that really are that to a T, and on complete opposite ends of that spectrum and every level in between there’s grey areas. I think that it depends on the overall tone of the whole project, is this a project to make fun of and demean? Or is it playing into a cliche that people might actually relate to and [find] it funny? I think it all depends on the intention of what they’re trying to do that would sway me to do it or not do it.
"When dangerous stuff is happening and people need voices, I’m absolutely there to be a standing light for that and to shed my power where I can to help."
On a personal level, how passionate are you about tackling and speaking out about issues surrounding as sexuality, race, gender…
When dangerous stuff is happening and people need voices, I’m absolutely there to be a standing light for that and to shed my power where I can to help. I’ve done charity benefits and I love charity! I love helping shed light where there’s darkness.
Do you think that other celebrities should be doing more with regards to humanitarian work?
Again, another tricky question! We don’t know what their daily lives are, I think some of the most charitable things are never even talked about. A lot of the things celebrities do, a lot of the time, unless they’re trying to make a statement, doesn’t really get talked about and so I think the easy answer would be yes, celebrities should be doing more! But, we don’t really know what they’re doing or not doing. I like to believe that people are doing what they can and what they’re comfortable with and I wouldn’t ask someone to do something that they wouldn’t want to do. If anyone were to read this and if they related to it and they felt like they could be doing more, then they absolutely should.
Would you consider yourself to be a role model?
Yeah, totally. I think to my family, to my cat [laughs]! I have a following online and so I absolutely am a role model to a lot of people, but at the same time I think the biggest lesson I can tell all of them is that I’m a human being. I’m just human I think something that I’m learning in show-business; we put so much pressure on people to be these super humans and to always do the right thing, even our parents! We always expect them to never mess up or [with] celebrities, it’s like they are supposed to be these perfect human beings. I just noticed [that] as a society, we’re so harsh on one another when someone messes up. We don’t know what kind of day someone had, we don’t know if someone spilt hot coffee on themselves or if their boyfriend or girlfriend just yelled at them, or if they haven’t been able to eat as much because of work and they’re cranky. We weren’t born out of hate, we were born with love!
Tell us about what you’ve got coming up work-wise.
I’m definitely going to be going to New York, I’ve been trying to work on producing some projects and really just working with my team lining up the next job. It’s about finding the right script and the right team!
What kind of roles are you attracted to?
Hmm. I’m willing to try any character if I resonate with the writing. It’s all about the writing. The writing really fuels me and gives me ideas and inspires me, so I’m all about story. Not just my character, but the other characters that I’m going to be working with. The whole tone.
How do you prepare for a role?
Research! I think if it’s a period piece I’m completely juicing all the information I can around that era. I look at whether this movie or tone remind me of something else that’s been shot to get some inspiration, and I figure out how can I myself bleed for this character, if you will. It’s all a treasure chest box, I have to think “oh, what tools will work for this?”
And tell me what you are hoping to achieve in the long term?
Happiness, and continuing to get to work on projects that I’m inspired by. You know, I would love to be doing roles that I think are forward and progressing and that people relate to. I would like to continue working in TV and film, continue modelling and continue to work with charities that I love.
Photography by Antonio Eugenio
Style by Oliver Vaughn
Hair by Eliot McQueen using L'Oréal Professional
Skin by Bari Khalique using Bobbi Brown
Photographic Assistant : Ezra Holy
Styling Assistants : Lina Yordanova, Josefin Rickan
Model Cody Saintgnue @SupaModels
Special Thanks to The Bailey’s Hotel for a warm welcome in their establishment.