Historically speaking, Austin Abrams has always been the nice guy. He’s the dorky, sweet know-it-all you pray to be partnered with in a chemistry lab. He’s used to playing the guy your mom thinks you should date—and even if you don’t really like him, maybe a few years later, you understand what she was talking about. (Looking at you, Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’s Diary.) He’s a soft boy.
Abrams has cemented himself in this archetype with roles like Ethan in Euphoria, Dash in Dash and Lily, and even wisecracking Ben in Paper Towns. But now, he’s using that nice-guy status to rip the rug out from under us. Finally, Abrams has turned his sweetness into something more conniving: playing the villain in Do Revenge.
The fact that he’s played the nice guy so frequently—it’s impossible to look at him without seeing sweet Ethan from Euphoria—only makes his villainous entanglement more delicious. His character, Max, often uses his popularity to leverage himself into new romantic relationships, posing himself as a kind little boy instead of the absolute misogynist monster he actually is. Max is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
At the beginning of the ’90s-inspired Do Revenge, Max dates Drea (Camila Mendes), the “It Girl” of a posh private high school. Max demands that Drea make a sex tape with him. She obliges. Some creep leaks it to the school (presumably Max, though he argues he was hacked), and Drea’s downfall begins. In order to climb the totem pole again, Drea enlists the assistance of newbie Eleanor (Maya Hawke), who will take down Max if Drea agrees to “do revenge” on Eleanor’s ex-girlfriend as well.
Abrams (who is, thankfully, a nice guy in real life) says he was able to hide under his sweet-guy facade to add to the dastardly twist on his character. For example: He launches a new club, the “Cis Hetero Men Championing Women Identifying Students League” in the middle of the movie. This is, perhaps, a club one of his other characters (Ben of Paper Towns, Ethan of Euphoria) would pitch unironically.
It’s a fitting shift for Abrams, who is also hoping to transition out of high school roles and start playing older characters. Perhaps the evil streak in this movie will be his grand farewell to the genre. The Daily Beast’s Obsessed sat down with Abrams to chat about Do Revenge, a bit of Euphoria, and finally playing the villain.
We’ve seen you play the nice guys in a lot of movies and TV shows, but now you’re full-on fuckboy. What was that like?
It was fun. With these characters, you can’t really do anything wrong. When it’s a nicer character, it’s slightly more constraining, in a way. With this, if the audience doesn’t like me, lovely. And if the audience does like me? That’s good, too! You can do anything. It’s so flashy.
Did you base the role on any specific villain? Any jerks you know in real life?
Gosh, there’s definitely an inspiration from the modern-day people in pop culture. There wasn’t really anyone specifically. It was more of an amalgamation of all the guys. Not exactly in their duplicitousness, but more in their vibe. Maybe even the way they dress.
There are a lot of cruel men out there. Just look at FBoy Island!
Yeah! Just the nice boy kind of thing, but looking at it as this guy that was using that to be popular.
In one of your last scenes, you get to go hog wild. Snorting coke off a girl’s body, screaming, shouting, telling everyone off—did you like that?
It was really fun. That scene was really fun, messing around and improv-ing. In Boogie Nights, towards the end, Alfred Molina is dancing around in his robe, and I felt like that. I love that long shot down the hallway. To go in and really just yell at everyone, it felt big.
A lot of people are probably going to like your character more than hate him, just because he’s so larger-than-life.
That was part of my goal. I wanted to be fun to watch. I love those people where you enjoy watching them, especially when they’re playing a villain and they’re enjoying themselves. Gary Oldman’s played a lot of villains. He was a little bit of an inspiration, just in how much he revels in it. Especially towards the end, the whole bonfire thing where I state what’s been going on, he was an inspiration. When he does it, it’s big, it’s still fitting whatever genre the movie is doing, but it’s honest. It comes from a place of actual emotions. That was the thought in my mind.
You have this club in the movie, the Cis Hetero Men Championing Female Identifying Students League—it’s a mouthful.
I know. I remember laughing out loud when I read that. Just hilarious. I can’t remember if that was a rewrite or something I read further down the line. It was probably something [director] Jen [Kaytin Robinson] came up with. It’s such a funny club. This thing happens to Drea, and then my character turns what happens to her and makes it all about himself.
Did you have trouble remembering the name?
It took me a little bit. Cis Hetero Men Championing Female Identifying Students League. That’s right, right? No, is that wrong?
It’s like the quadratic formula. No, that’s right.
No, it’s—wait. It’s Male Identifying Students League, right?
Cis Hetero Men Championing Female…that is right. Oh, okay. I did it.
You’ve done a lot of high school roles. Are you planning on doing more, or would you like to venture out into other genres?
For me, personally, I feel like it’s the end of my road. I’m getting old, I’m 26 now. I definitely feel like I’ve run the gambit of the nice, shy guy, and now this popular guy. It’s been fun to really do all these different kinds of characters that are in high school. But yeah, I’m getting too old to keep doing it. Just emotion-wise, it’s hard to identify with high schoolers. I’m in a different stage of my life than that.
What roles would you want to do next?
I don’t feel a desire to play a specific character. It depends on the story, and if the story is really compelling and who’s working on it. I’m open to whatever character it is. Sometimes, you get surprised. Right now, when I think of it, there isn’t really anything specifically.
Did you get your ears pierced for this?
I’d wanted to pierce my ears for a while for some reason. I don’t know why. But you start working, and you’ve got to take them out. During the start of the pandemic, I was like, “This is the only time I have to do it.” I pierced them myself.
It contributes to the great overall evil look you have in Do Revenge.
It was really fun, coming in every day and picking out to wear what felt right that day. From the painted nails to all that stuff, it was really fun. I hadn’t really played something like that, where you come in and you’re like, “Alright, what’s my costume today? What are we going to do?” Of course, Alana [Morshead], the costume designer, had a lot of options, but it was fun to collaborate with her and try to figure that stuff out.
The music is really great, too.
I know the Haim sisters a little bit through some mutual friends. I was really excited to hear that Este was doing the music because of that. They did a great job. It’s definitely very ’90s, early 2000’s inspired. Jen really loves those kinds of movies and wanted to emulate them. I love the Haim sisters.
There are a lot of ’90s and ’00s vibes in this movie. Do you have any favorite movies from that era?
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dazed and Confused, things like that. I love those movies. I’m sure there’s a lot of other ones I’m not remembering right now.
You’re working with Netflix again. What’s it been like since they canceled Dash & Lily?
It’s been good. I like Netflix. I feel like they’ve treated me well.
And on another show—your “I Need a Hero” Euphoria dance sequence just won an Emmy for Best Choreography.
No way. That’s awesome. When did that happen?
Last night. Literally 18 hours ago.
Sick. It's awesome that Ryan [Heffington] got something. So cool.
Will you be cheering on your Euphoria co-stars during the Emmys?
Totally. It’s exciting. Hopefully I’ll get to see some of those guys again. I love to see them.