By Timothy Rawles, September 2020 Issue.
Joey Pollari has a smile that lights up a room. That might be a hyperbolic idiom, but if you have seen any of his headshots you know what I’m talking about.
From his stint as a teen in the Disney sci-fi hit Skyrunners, to Lyle in the groundbreaking gay rom-com Love, Simon, Joey’s smile is a part of what makes him loveable. It should be insured. But there is one thing he’s not, and that’s typecast.
Joey is also gay. This bit of information is quickly becoming obsolete in the modern world as more and more out actors are not hiding in the closet to protect their images.
I talked to the 26-year-old rising star over the phone about being a quasi-Disney kid, being gay, working in Hollywood, and his new musical project.
What I first noticed about the actor is how soft-spoken he is. His voice has a calming effect and he laughs a lot. It’s comforting when you interview someone so pleasant because the rapport is natural. Plus, it makes me feel as if all my stupid jokes land the way I meant them to.
His current venture is in the music world with a single called “Fickle” already placing on the charts in streaming apps. But we get more into that later.
Before we started talking about his new album, I wanted to get his take on being so young and openly gay in this new more accepting Hollywood. He says although the industry has progressed since he was much younger, he picked up on LGBTQ themes in movies even if they weren’t fleshed out.
“I look back at movies — movies I was in love with as a kid, and I do see that they have queer coding in them,” he says. “They are kind of progressive in a subversive way. It’s like when the movie cuts to black after two characters start kissing and you’re like, they didn’t show it, but the silence is worse.”
His first major studio role was that of Waffle House server Lloyd in the aforementioned Love, Simon. Auditioning for the part did not go well, he recalls. “I went in, I said the name wrong, I said the casting director’s name wrong. I was a bumbling mess. I said Hanukkah wrong. They had to stop the scene, and they’re like, ‘okay it’s not Ch-anukkah.’ It was just nervousness.” To his amazement two weeks later they told him he got the part.
There are parts of Love, Simon that are extraordinary for a mainstream romantic comedy, still I wanted to know if he thought it was groundbreaking enough to audiences beyond the intended market.
“I think the movie’s incredible. Full stop, period. Not only for the context that it gives and the space that it resides in. You know, it’s not Brokeback Mountain,” he chuckles. “It’s not going to be. I mean who knows, in 10 years we might look back and have a very different view of this movie and we’ll see what the movie Love, Simon opened the doors for.”
He admits that the movie still makes him cry. “I’m like how amazing to see it as an eight-year-old boy. I mean I would have been moved. I don’t think I would have able to be like, ‘oh yeah and I’m gay’ at eight years old because of the movie, but I think it would have had a certain impact.”
Speaking of impact Joey’s next role was not so sweet. In American Crime season two, he played a young man in a prestigious private school accused of rape by another male student. It’s a role many others would have passed on, but not Joey.
“American Crime came across in my email. It was just another odd, off the cuff audition. What does happen though is that I read things and go, ‘I know this really well, I can do this’ if they would give me the opportunity.”
He auditioned for the part and that led to a callback. He says there were a couple of rounds leading up to the screen test. That’s when the magic happened as he puts it. “The muse came down … the whatever. I remember thinking ‘I don’t know if I got this, but I did what I came to do.’” The rest is history.
There is another side to Joey as an artist and that’s his musical one. He may not be able to cast himself in films or television shows, but music is a different story. He is every part of it, from the lyrics to the vocals. He is narrating from the heart, using the stage name Odd Comfort.
His first single is called “Fickle.” It’s primarily about the men in his life and all the feelings they have imposed on him, good or bad.
“This is largely a song about what I believe a lot of queer desire to be like, and loving men to be like; fickle. Desire itself too — you can take the queerness out because desire is very fickle. Your desire that was there once suddenly disappears. The verses are tracing moments through a relationship.”
Going further into the soul of the song, Joey recognizes that its meaning has a lot to do with his aspirations as well. The desire for something, as he puts it, “is frequent and I have to pull myself back from the edge so hopefully, this song finds some solace.”
The song has no resolve in the lyrical sense, but it does in a spiritual one. The whole album could be interpreted as a linear story about love, life, and loss no matter how you identify, but Joey wanted the focus to be queer-seeing.
“I did name my record About Men, I mean I wanted it to be as queer-forward as possible. Also the album title is kind of a ruse. It’s beyond a pronoun. A song on the record is called “You Love Him,” it goes beyond that for me. As the record will come out people will see it’s pretty queer.”
Music has always stirred him in the spiritual sense and the transition from camera to microphone wasn’t too difficult. He tells me as a kid he used to stand in front of the television and belt out Judy Garland, or the soundtrack to Hunchback of Notre Dame as it was playing. “I used to put a cape on and pretend to be Hunchback, and pretend to be Esmerelda and sing.”
He is not giving up acting, however. He still goes out for things and is still very much a part of that business. He says it does feel good being on his own, “being in control of how it comes across when it comes across, and what those lyrics say. Acting is pretty literal and I think my lyrics, at least in this first single are pretty poetic. You can kinda see where my interest lies.”
About Men is in part about lovers but also on some level the loss of his father. One line in particular, “You’re in the center of me,” is especially telling.
“In retrospect — he’s never gone,” Joey explains of the lyric. “The aphorisms are true: He’s with you — yeah he is. He’s in my memories, he’s in my genes. You know, he’s with me.”
The album will have eight songs in total. Fifteen percent of the money made from the sale of “Fickle” will go to Act Blue, which helps fund organizations fighting racism.
Whether it’s acting in the first mainstream LGBTQ motion picture or a provocative network television drama, Joey Pollari is making history. And now he’s making music, too.
Coronavirus may be keeping everyone at a social distance away from the things they love, but it’s also allowing for other talents to emerge.
“The industry is at a standstill, which has given me a great opportunity to come home to Minnesota and play a lot of music,” he said with that signature smile. I could almost see it in his voice.
You can listen to “Fickle” under Joey’s musical stage name Odd Comfort on most music streaming services. The album About Men will be released later this year.