Nick Robinson is trying to answer a question until he loses his train of thought. “I might need to get some more coffee,” he says, before bursting out into laughter. It’s a busy time for the fast-rising actor, who’s been on a constant upward trajectory since appearing in a long-running sitcom (Melissa & Joey) and major blockbusters (Jurassic World). In a year where the world remained stagnant, Robinson kept moving forward. His hectic schedule leaves little time to recharge, and in a metaphorical accident so on-the-nose, his phone dies in the middle of our conversation before we pick up where we left off a few minutes later.
Robinson is currently in Toronto filming the upcoming Netflix drama Maid starring Andie McDowell and Margaret Qualley, but he’s also been on our screens in the FX on Hulu miniseries A Teacher as Eric, a high school senior who starts a relationship with his English teacher (played by Kate Mara). It’s an uncomfortable watch, as the show takes a nuanced approach to the relationship by directly addressing what it is: a flagrant abuse of power. (Each episode is bookended with warnings of grooming and a link to support for victims.) It all crystallizes in its powerful final episode, with Robinson pulling off a shattering monologue that outlines the trauma Eric suffered.
A Teacher also marks a turning point for the actor. It’s hard to deny that he has perfected the role of the emotional soft boy, seen in roles like the weepy Everything, Everything and the queer rom-com Love, Simon. (How does he play them so well? “I was one,” he says, simple as that.) But now he’s graduated and looking to the future. “I’m not really necessarily modelling my career after any particular person,” he says. “I’m just making it up as I go along.”
To mark the ending of A Teacher, GQ caught up with Robinson to talk about his research process, what the show says about masculinity, and that devastating finale.
GQ: When you were reading the scripts for the first time, was there anything specific that stood out to you that made you want to take this role?
Nick Robinson: I met with [creator] Hannah [Fidell] and Kate before I read the script and Hannah walked me through the general idea. The show is grappling with some complex ideas around consent and in Eric’s case, he’s a kid. He’s not an adult yet, and Claire is, and she’s in a position of authority. It’s also taking a closer look at male survivors of abuse, sexual or otherwise, and the ways that male survivors are treated differently from female survivors. And the way that men will internalize that abuse and the way that it can express itself later in life.
You’ve talked about your research which involved speaking to a psychologist who specializes in male survivors. What was your perspective or knowledge on the issue before you signed on to the role? Did your viewpoint change at all as you were learning more?
When I first heard the pitch, I was guilty of what I think a lot of people’s first reaction is when they hear about a relationship like that, like, “What’s the big deal?” And the more that I read the scripts, and spoke with the psychologists, the more that opinion did a full 180 and completely changed. The show is very subtle. I think that’s what makes the show unique. It really shows the insidious nature of grooming, and the slippery slope of consent, and all the grey area in between. If you saw Eric and Claire on the street just holding hands, you probably wouldn’t think twice. But Claire is in a position of authority and she abuses that position. And it’s a breach of trust for Eric. He should be able to go to school, and trust that his teachers will remain his teachers.