Photo: Lukas (James Paxton) and Philip (Tyler Young) in Eyewitness.
Teen love can be heartbreaking, but in USA Network's tense crime thriller Eyewitness, it's deadly.
Adapted from a popular Norwegian show by Adi Hasak, Eyewitness explores the repercussions of the killing in a small, sleepy town and how it threatens to expose the secret relationship between two gay teens.
Outsider Philip (Tyler Young) and popular kid Lukas (James Paxton) witness a murder during a romantic night at a cabin in the woods. When the boys become the killer's next targets, Philip wants to tell his foster mom, who happens to be the town's sheriff (Julianne Nicholson), what happened. Fearing he will be outed, Lukas hides evidence and gay bashes Philip at school.
Paxton and Young both agree that the drama's crime element serves as a metaphor for the anxiety about coming out.
We spoke with the 20-something actors separately, but merged their interviews into one edited conversation so that they could better discuss their collaboration.
Jame Paxton: Once I got [the part] we hung out a lot in L.A. We got really comfortable with each other. Tyler's one of my best friends now; he's like a brother to me. He's a very sensitive, cool dude. We had to kind of bare our souls to each other in a way that I've never had to do for any other project.
Tyler Young: James and I became very close very quickly. We really had no choice. Catherine Hardwicke (director of Eyewitness' first episode) didn't want us to hold anything back. I think both James and I are the kind of actors who, when we jump into something, we give 150 percent of what we have. We wanted to give full life to these characters and this story. We came from a place of trust from the very beginning and we established friendship in our personal lives. That really helped. I think it comes across on screen and people will see that in the characters.
JP: Tyler and I would get on set every day and we would kind of just fall in love as the characters. I always approach a role thinking it's not my moment on camera, it's the character's moment to live, to come to life and breathe.
TY: I'm sure the question is going to come up: What was it like kissing another boy? But that wasn't ever a thing for James and I. We approached it as we're just doing a love scene and we're doing a kissing scene. Our genders never were an issue with us.
JP: We did a private rehearsal of the first scene in the cabin with Catherine. That first kiss on screen in that cabin is not the first time that Tyler and I kissed. We fully went for it in rehearsal.
TY: It's always this odd thing when you're really trying to be in the moment and allow these two characters to have this really important connection. You're seeing the camera guy and the director is hollering at you about your body positions and things like that. It's one of the least sexy experiences you can imagine. But I think it looks pretty sexy, if I do say so myself. I was actually pretty impressed. But honestly, it's weird to watch yourself kissing somebody. Is that what I look like? Whoah.
JP: I actually have one friend in particular that I spoke to, in depth, about the part. He's lived through a lot and he actually, weirdly enough, had quite a parallel experience in his high school. It sounds very cliche but it was absolutely real. He had a secret relationship with the captain of the football team who had a girlfriend like Lukas does in Eyewitness. He was totally like Tyler's character and the captain of the football team was like Lukas. I really wanted to hear what that struggle was like between them.
TY: James would change his whole demeanor from Lukas's private persona to his public persona. It completely shifted. I think he did a really nice job. Lukas is so desperate to keep that side of himself repressed he gets violent. But when it does come through in private, he is very tender. Throughout the season you can see our dynamic change.
JP: It's really horrible [how Lukas treats Philip], but that just comes from Lukas being violently closeted. It's a very simple kind of instinctual reaction, actually, for somebody who is so afraid of getting outed and whatnot.
TY: Philip and Lukas both have to come to terms with who they are throughout the course of this season. Especially for LGBQT youth, there are so many different paths or different ways that people do come to terms with themselves and come out. In this story it's nice to see two young men of the same age who have such different experiences and how they're affected by one another.
JP: I really did my best to understand something that, in my personal life, I haven't had to go through. One of the main things I kept coming back to was just that love is love and this was no different. I just tried to find the truth in two human beings in love. We're united in so much more than just our love for each other.
TY:Eyewitness, first and foremost, is a crime thriller. It's trying to entertain people. And I think it's really cool that they put a love story between two boys at the forefront of it. That, in and of itself, possibly can show LGBQT youth that their stories can be a part of mainstream entertainment. They don't have to be this sub-genre.
JP: I think that still, in America and other countries, the only way many people are educated about and see openly gay relationships and the LGBT community is through the media, television shows and [other entertainment]. I want people to realize, I can watch this show. These two people are in love and it's a beautiful thing.
The Eyewitness premiere, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, will air on USA at 10/9c on October 16.