GREATEST: Jordan Seamón
The 20-year-old actor on her breakout role, gender questioning and not recognizing Kid Cudi on set in Italy.
A myth still held in some corners of American film and television is that a teenager is one specific person: a fully formed adult with bad hair, worse decision-making skills and a curfew. Those of us young enough to actually remember those harrowing years recognize the error of this immediately. We remember that, at 15, kids just two years older than us seemed like an advanced breed. We remember the feeling of instability and inadequacy that seemed to accompany every social interaction. We remember how our assumptions about the world and ourselves had only just started to come undone.
Jordan Kristine Seamón remembers all this pretty well too. The actor began production on Luca Guadagnino’s We Are Who We Are, the HBO drama about life on a fictional American military base in Italy, when she was 16. As Caitlin Poythress, the gender-questioning daughter of a stern, conservative lieutenant colonel, Seamón channels a palpable mixture of angst, wonder and fear, often wordlessly and behind a placid, almond-eyed expression. It’s a spare and affecting performance, presenting the period between adolescence and early adulthood less like the steady conveyor belt to personhood promised by mass entertainment, and more like the progressive and regressive stumbling into self-knowledge and self-embodiment that it actually is.
GREATEST spoke to Jordan Kristine Seamón about her experience working on We Are Who We Are, what it was like seeing herself on TV for the first time and how Caitlin’s journey mirrors her own.
This feature originally appeared in GREATEST ISSUE 05. Discover the full magazine at select stockists.
Tell me about what it was like when you got the role. Were you freaking out?
Definitely, because it was the first thing I had ever done. I wasn't really sure what the process was like. A lot of other young actors know the steps and they recognize at what point they have the role. I didn't know any of that.
Once I found out that I actually got the role, I was ecstatic. I was super-duper happy. I screamed at a young lady who was taking my order at McDonald's. I was like, "I'm going to be on TV." She didn't care at all.
What was it like the first time you saw yourself on TV?
I could look at myself but there were times where I had to close my eyes because I didn't want to see it. All my kissing scenes [...] immediately I wanted to close my eyes. I was disgusted. Not because of the people—I love them, I love my cast—I just don't like watching. You don't watch yourself kiss when you're normally kissing!
How did Luca Guadagnino and the writers of the show explain Caitlin’s character to you the first time you guys discussed it?
The original log line that I read for Caitlin was that they were a strong young person experiencing a gender-questioning period. When I met Luca for the first time he explained the same thing: how it was a character that was supposed to be strong, but, at the same time, struggling and having issues finding someone to help them through that struggle. It’s something I was able to relate to a lot at the time; I felt like I was perfect for the role.
What aspects specifically did you most identify with?
I could relate to Caitlin with respect to being in and participating in so many different extracurricular activities. Also, with the gender questioning. At the time, I was questioning my own gender. I had just come out as bisexual to both my parents. Not to the world, but I was out, and I'd finally become very comfortable with my sexuality and then gender just came in and was like, “Hey.”
Caitlin's obviously thinking about what it means to be a girl, what it means to be a boy, what it means to be attracted to girls and what it means to be attracted to boys. Are there things that you feel like you learned about yourself while having to process some of those thoughts?
I was figuring out that I was gender-fluid. That's the big thing I always talk about, but I generally learned to be a lot more confident.
I was nervous going onto set, for a multitude of reasons, but mainly because I was the only person there that was new. I hadn't done a lot of professional acting before like everyone else had, and I was working with so many known talents that had done so many amazing things. I wasn't sure if I was going to do well.
But Caitlin is so confident and really knows how to hold their own and to portray that. I had to get myself together and learn how to do the same. I felt better knowing my self-worth, at least when it comes to working with people and not doubting myself as much when it comes to standing alongside so many other great actors and creatives.
Your character, Caitlin, has a tight-knit group of friends but doesn’t always feel comfortable discussing everything with them. Did you and the other actors spend a lot of time together off-camera to explore these characteristics? Did you have conversations about gender and sexuality?
We definitely did. We spent about a month together getting to know one another before shooting because we were portraying characters that have known each other for years. I spent extra time with Spence [Danny Poythress] because he plays my brother, so we could form that sibling bond. Since I don't have any siblings but he has a sister, he and I were really able to bond. We had a lot of discussions, late nights watching movies, talking about what we thought the show was going to bring out.
I read that you had talked to people who were considering questioning their own gender and sexuality in the process of building Caitlin's character. What was that like?
Sometimes doing research can be difficult depending on the role you're playing, to the point where you’re only able to do textbook research. So it was nice to have actual people I could reach out to and ask, "Hey, what was your experience like? What advice would you give someone?"
It helped me portray Caitlin because I had real details from real people's lives who I knew personally, giving me information and letting me learn about these processes from different perspectives rather than from a black-and-white perspective. Because not everything's black and white.
What was it like working with Jack Dylan Grazer, your co-conspirator in the show? I imagine you guys must have grown close. Were you nervous about the relationship you'd have to form with him prior to going into the experience?
He's such a nice person. He spreads so much positivity towards all his castmates. He was so kind to everyone and he has so much energy. Some days you come on set and you're exhausted because you stayed up too late reading scripts all night and he's just, like, ready to go! He’s coffee in a person. That’s Jack. He's a wonderful, wonderful person and I love him a lot.
Is it true you didn’t recognize [co-star] Kid Cudi?
I met him in Italian class [for the show]. Between that day and the next day’s Italian class, someone had told me he was Kid Cudi. It wasn’t even 24 hours. He had come in, sat down, did the class with us and then when class was over, he left. I was like, "Alright, bye, Scott."
Then we were chilling and someone mentioned him.They were like, "You know that's Kid Cudi?" I was like, "What? No. That's who?”
Are there any emotional or artistic lessons you took from working with Luca Guadagnino?
He was always letting us know that he believed the actors knew the characters best, even though he wrote them.
Sometimes we would do a scene and I would ask, “What should I be doing when this happens? Should I react this way?” And he would always tell me, "What do you think? What do you think your character would do? Just try something and if it doesn't work, we won't do it and if it does work, now we have this amazing new dynamic that you've just added to the script."
There’s a fervent response to the show online and it makes sense: It's telling a story that not many other shows are telling. Have you heard what fans think of your character specifically and how your character has impacted them?
After the whole season aired, I got a lot of responses from people telling me how thankful they were to have a Black character that was experiencing gender questioning and was LGBTQ+. It's not something you see very often. It felt good to know I was a bit of an influence to some young people.
It makes me believe that in the future there will be more content, films, TV shows, music, whatever that is inclusive and inspiring, and created by young people currently watching We Are Who We Are.
What have you been working on since We Are Who We Are wrapped?
I have been fortunate, especially during the pandemic, to have finished my first movie, Supercell, which will be out soon. It gave me the opportunity to work with another great cast and crew, and I’m excited for the world to see it. I also landed several branding endorsements from Miu Miu and Bvlgari, and got the chance to star in my first commercial in collaboration with Nike and the Legacy Women’s USA Olympic team. Besides that I’ve just been working on new music and spending time with my family.
Tell me about your musical journey. What are your earliest memories of music, and when did you first start performing and writing?
When I was younger I listened to music so much that now as an adult, I feel like I need music to do anything—literally to function! I was always listening to oldies, R&B and gospel with my grandparents, or hip-hop with my mom.
I think I wrote my first song when I was six or seven? It wasn’t that good, but you have to start somewhere.
I believe my first performance may have been at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, which is the first HBCU [Historically Black College/University] in the country. My parents graduated from Cheyney and eventually were employed there, and I basically grew up on the campus. Because my mom was a professor at Cheyney and both of my parents were very active at their alma mater, I learned the Black National Anthem [“Lift Every Voice and Sing”] and the Cheyney school song at a very early age, and recall singing those songs and reading poems at various University programs.
I was always performing at family gatherings as well, playing the piano and singing. I loved doing it whenever they gave me the chance. I had a lot of confidence as a kid and I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was the coolest ever. I’m working on getting little Jordan’s confidence again…
You just released your debut album, Identity Crisis, under the artist name JK. How did your experiences on the show influence the writing of the album?
I had the opportunity to play a character that allowed me to experience so many things, people and places. If I’m being honest, some of those experiences were good and some weren’t, but I needed to experience all of them in order to become the person that I am today. I grew so much [while on location] in Italy, on and off camera. I learned a lot about myself and the kind of person that I was at the time, versus the kind of person that I want to be. Going through that metamorphosis—and I am still going through it—I wanted to talk about it in the way that I know best and that’s through music.
Every day I was writing stuff down in my [iPhone] Notes and recording little tidbits. I was coming up with lyrics while I was saying lines. I would mess up a take and feel horrible but think, “That thought that I had in the middle of that take would be a great song lyric. Let me write that down real quick.”
The character that I played inspired the metamorphosis within me, allowing me to discover my fluidity and learn more about my sexuality. I wanted to talk about that and express that by creating a fluid, carefree album.
Your love of the Marvel Universe and comic books all around is well-known. What do you find so compelling about the Marvel franchise? Which characters, if any, do you identify with most? Are there any roles in particular you’d like to play?
My dad, Jermaine, is the reason I’m a comic book and superhero fan. In terms of Marvel, what [initially] got me hooked was all of the special effects, and the idea that there could be superheroes out there doing all of those crazy missions. The reason that I still find myself in awe is the storytelling. The way that Marvel is able to string together different stories and characters from different universes is so impressive. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen, really, and to now have so much more diversity within those stories makes me really happy.