Nolan Gerard Funk was the male lead in Nickelodeon’s version of High School Musical, Spectacular! (the exclamation point is part of the title), and may be best known for singing and dancing in a handful of episodes of Glee. But Graduation Day has arrived. Now the 27-year-old Canadian actor is onscreen wearing nothing but a skimpy pair of turquoise briefs and having an affair with Lindsay Lohan.
Funk is one of the leads in The Canyons, the intensely-tracked low-budget modern noir with a screenplay by novelist Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero, American Psycho) and directed by Paul Schrader (American Gigolo). America’s most famous porn actor, James Deen, is a co-star. When the Kickstarter-funded film is released in theaters and on-demand on Friday, the message is clear: After years of playing the teenage hunk, Nolan Gerard Funk is all grown up. He has the sex scene with Lindsay Lohan to prove it.
“I liked that the movie was kind of raunchy and something that you would not expect someone from Nickelodeon to be doing,” Funk tells The Daily Beast. “I had been looking for something to gritty up my image a little bit.”
What he didn’t expect, however, was for a megawatt media spotlight to be pointed at him while he did it. “I had no idea the movie would be such a tabloid story,” Funk said, with everyone from TMZ to The New York Times following every development of production once Lohan was cast. “I just really liked the script.”
Still, if Funk looks at home in those turquoise briefs—and the swift, fervent screengrabbing of the quick glimpse of him flaunting them in the trailer indicates that many of you think he does—it may be because, prior to this whole acting thing, Funk was a competitive diver back in his hometown, just outside of Vancouver, Canada. In other words, he’s seasoned in the art (and isn’t it one?) of wearing Speedos. In fact, growing up, Funk wasn’t really a performer at all, shirking school plays and community theater to train as not only a diver, but a gymnast, making it as far as the Canadian nationals before a broken foot ended his career.
It was another injury—a toothache—that launched his transition into his acting. “I got a new dentist,” he says. “I told him I wanted to be actor.” The dentist’s kids just happened to be enrolled in acting school, and between drillings, he convinced Funk to do the same. Soon an agent discovered Funk, and he landed he first acting gig: a Canadian Hot Wheels commercial.
His big break as a high school crooner in Spectacular! was followed by his casting as the hip-shaking Elvis Presley lite, Conrad Birdie, in the 2010 Broadway revival of Bye Bye Birdie, which was, shockingly, his first live theater job.
Considering the résumé he was building, the natural next role would be on Glee, which he says he auditioned for multiple times over the years, before the audition combo of “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol and Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” landed him the role of smarmy, pot-stirring head Warbler Hunter Clarington on the most recent season of the Fox hit. (That backflip in the performance of “Whistle” was really him.) An arc as a high schooler on the MTV series Awkward followed.
Despite carving himself a successful niche in the teen idol wheelhouse, he was eager to throw dirt on that image. When he came across the script for The Canyons, he was so enamored by it that he waited nearly a month to send an audition tape, nervous that he was setting himself up for heartache if he didn’t get it. It would take months before he’d find out that he was cast as Ryan—an aspiring actor having an affair with the girlfriend of the producer about to give him his big break—and that none other than Lindsay Lohan would be the actress with whom he’d be having that fictional affair.
There is lots of sex in The Canyons. Gay sex. Group sex. Nude, explicit, raunchy sex. In other words, not the stuff you’d see in a Nickelodeon TV musical or an episode of Glee, but the stuff that tells the world that you’re capable of more than kid-friendly fare. Stuff that, say, Lindsay Lohan was starting to do a decade ago while trying to shed the “Disney girl” image.
But Lohan didn’t immediately commiserate with Funk’s mission. An incendiary New York Times Magazine piece released in January titled “Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie” describes first table read for the film: “Across the table, Funk could see that his name had been crossed out in Lohan’s script, and underneath were the names of three or four actors as possible replacements.”
Funk confirms that really did happen, though he quickly clarifies that the next day, her tune completely changed, as she dove head first into rehearsing and working on the script with him. However, when asked a follow up about those rehearsal sessions, specifically about the Times piece’s anecdote about Lohan being late to set one day because she had been up until 3 a.m. going over the script with Funk, it becomes clear that he’s uneasy and cautious about how he talks about shooting with the troubled star.
“Um … it’s one of those questions I don’t know how to answer,” he says, fumbling, when asked if the all-night study session really happened. “I don’t know how to answer … uh … um … I mean. I don’t know how to answer that. I mean, if I say yes, that means one thing. You know what I mean?”
He also talked, somewhat vaguely, about the “little surprises” that arose on the day he shot his big love scene with Lohan. “Lindsay accidentally burned her hand on a curling iron right before we were shooting,” he says, before quickly catching himself. “Is it bad that I just said she burned her hand on her curling iron?”
Still, for all the dirt that the Times exposé managed to dig up about the production, Funk is miffed that it missed out on the funnier and, he thinks, more interesting moments from filming. Like how he was forced to don those turquoise briefs on the very first day of filming. (“I couldn’t believe it—I went in kicking and screaming,” he says.) Or how guerrilla and nimble the cast and crew was forced to be, shooting on such a small budget: “Being on a street corner with shopkeepers yelling at me that they’re going to call the cops while I’m trying to stay in the scene as an actor,” he remembers. “Or shooting a scene with paparazzi swarming you from everywhere.”
Already, the film has proved unsurprisingly polarizing. Variety gave the film a glowing review—with special praise for Funk—while The Hollywood Reporter is among the publications giving it a pan (“lame, one-dimensional and ultimately dreary”).
“I can’t really think too much about that,” Funk says. “I just hope people enjoy my performance.”
And, at the very least, he’s officially left Nickelodeon behind—and in a supremely memorable way. “I’ll always have that—my first sex scene was with Lindsay Lohan.”