Meet Kalama Epstein, the 16-year-old actor who recently took on the role of religious gay high schooler Noah on Freeform’s The Fosters. Epstein’s character is the new love interest for Hayden Byerly’s Jude, a lead character on the show.
While a recurring role on a major network drama is a tall order for any teenager, Epstein’s responsibilities are only magnified by the fact he’s playing gay, something that even a few years ago would have been the subject of much closer scrutiny. And The Fosters isn’t exactly catering to just a niche audience: it’s one of the most popular shows on Freeform, and won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Drama Series in 2014.
We sat down with the teen to talk about what it’s like playing Noah, the shows he’s watching right now, his thoughts on Suicide Squad, and what’s coming for him in the future.
Out: Do you identify as straight?
Kalama Epstein: As of right now, I’m keeping my sexuality private. Just because of the fact that there are so many reactions. No matter what I say, there’s going to be a big reaction online, so I’ve decided to keep it private as of right now.
This role on The Fosters has been your first gay role. What’s the reaction been like from family, friends, and fans to you playing gay?
My whole entire family and friends have been incredibly supportive. I come from a very liberal, left-wing family, so they’re all very accepting. And all my friends have been huge fans of my character on the show. It’s been amazing.
Do you feel like the role has had any larger impact on audiences? When I was in high school just a few years ago, this gay relationship on TV would have been very taboo and rejected.
We haven’t really gotten to see as many openly gay characters who are also religious—Noah’s mom is a pastor—so this character, his church openly supports him. They’re very accepting. Normally these churches are depicted as very right-wing, and not accepting. So to see this kid who is openly gay, and proud of that, and can talk about this with his community, I think that’s great. I’ve gotten a lot of messages from kids saying they’ve never seen this before, and this character is really helping them. Which is very heartwarming and incredible.
Have you seen in your lifetime so far a major shift in cultural attitude toward gay people?
I think it’s definitely—I think the world has definitely gotten more supportive. There are still bigots out there, but just in general—the sad thing is terrible words still get thrown around like their nothing, which is hard, and gross. But definitely in general support for the LGBT community has grown immensely in past years. I think everyone has gotten a little more accepting.
So this show is very different from some of your past work, like Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. This environment is more PG-13: there’s drug use, and sex. What’s it been like transitioning out of those more G-rated shows into something a little more adult?
I’ve done a few more mature projects in the past, but this is definitely a lot more fun. This is more my personality. I have a trash mouth. I’m much more into the mature movies and television. Going from Nickelodeon and Disney into that, it’s much more how I like to work, and the roles I like to play. It’s what I like to do. So it’s been fun.
What kind of shows and movies are you watching these days?
Game of Thrones, but it’s off the air right now, which is sad. Catching up on Preacher, and I’ve got a few that I’m watching—I need to watch Stranger Things. Everyone’s telling me it’s amazing. I just binge watched the two seasons of Rick and Morty. I just saw Suicide Squad and Sausage Party. I disagree with the critics on Suicide Squad—I very much liked it.
What did you like about it?
I liked all the character work they did. There were a couple moments in the film that didn’t quite make sense. There were a good amount of plot holes and other stuff. But overall it was a fun comic movie for me. I had a lot of fun watching it. And that’s all that really matters. I’ve been on the hype train for this film for a while, so when it came out all I really wanted from it was to walk out of the theater with a smile, and I did. That’s all I wanted.
I was reading that your first passion is directing. Do you have any directing projects in the works right now?
As of right now mostly focused on acting. I’m writing a few things right now, and hoping to do my first short in a couple years, just to show people what I can do and for getting into film school, and stuff like that. I’m hoping to get one of my own short films done, an official short film, in the next few years.
What sort of things do you write about?
Definitely right now leaning more toward horror/thriller type stuff. Not necessarily slashers, but psychological thrillers.
Are there any gay character in any of those scripts?
Yes, actually. The short film I’m writing right now, the two leads are both gay.
Yeah, I’m hoping I can get that one done in the next couple of years. That would be my goal.