Keiynan Lonsdale is a household name Down Under. The Australian-bred import has some impressive credentials to add to his name. From being a VJ for MTV Australia to starring in the musical theater show called Fame to then making his TV debut on Dance Academy, there’s no denying he’s had a steady track record.
And now, the 23 year-old actor is marking his territory on American soil with his first big film debut as Uriah in Insurgent (which hit theaters on March 20) the sequel to Divergent—both based on the New York Times bestselling Divergent book trilogy by Veronica Roth. Not bad for a kid who was making singing and dancing YouTube covers of Usher five years ago.
“I have been trying to go to L.A and New York multiple times and trying to figure out like, ‘How do I build up a career to have longevity?’” he told VIBE. “And so the weirdest part is just realizing that now I have a really great team. I’m not just looking up at the buildings as I walk past; I’m inside the buildings doing the meetings. Or I’m not just looking at scripts hoping that one day I can land my first job. I’m getting to work with really great people.”
Keiynan recently stopped by VIBE HQ to talk about navigating his way from Australia to the USA and working with two big-screen bombshells.
VIBE: How did you first start acting in Australia?
Keiynan Lonsdale: My first experience acting was in a musical theater show called Fame. I was originally just the understudy, like the ensemble dance member. But when the lead guy had gone off for the season, I replaced him. I felt most comfortable with the acting. Then after that, I did my first TV show called Dance Academy.
How was the transition like from Dance Academy to now starring in your first big debut film?
It’s kind of strange to be honest. I finished Dance Academy a little while ago, but I hadn’t really done that much work back home in Australia so then to jump from that to such a pretty big film was a big unexpected shock for me. I felt like the feeling on set was pretty similar, I didn’t feel any more pressure—obviously at first I did. But the actual feeling on set felt the same. It was pretty relaxed and comfortable. Everyone was just doing their own thing.
Tell me about your character Uriah.
Uriah is part of the Dauntless faction. He’s also Divergent so that means he’s got traits of different factions. He’s a deep thinker. He’s also a bit of a comedic relief moreso in the books, but in the film, he’s a little cheeky and charming but he’s a cool guy, and a bit of a bad ass; more than I am. (Laughs)
Can you relate to Uriah’s character?
In a lot of ways, yeah [I do]. I describe him as a bit of a goof. And I would like to say that my jokes are often very bad, like his. And my timing is off. (Laughs) But I don’t think I will be in Dauntless if I was in a faction. I don’t think I would really survive there whereas, he definitely would. I felt like we had pretty similar energy.
How does it feel like working with Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet?
It’s crazy. You grow up obviously knowing who they are, watching their films and you don’t really expect to be on set with them in the same scenes. It was pretty nerve-racking, but it was awesome. I was like, ‘I’m really lucky.’
Have you learned anything from them so far?
It was cool seeing two people that are so successful and seasoned actors. I noticed that both of them still worked with their vocal coaches, even though they’ve been doing films for so long so it’s good to know that the training never stops, and I think that’s really important.
Was it challenging for you trying to get rid of your Australian accent?
I didn’t find it too challenging actually. I feel like I’ve watched a lot of American TV growing up because in Australian TV, we mostly get US content, aside from reality shows. I found [the process] okay. I like imitating people. I felt like that’s kind of what it was. It was really helpful having an accent coach, doing the exercises and making sure you felt really warmed up. Especially because it’s one thing to do the accent and then do the accent when you’re nervous and filming for the first time. Working with the coach, I felt like that was one last thing I had to worry about.
When you found out you got the part, you had to teach a four-hour dance class right after. Is dancing still something that you want to do?
Not so much. I mean I enjoy teaching. Teaching kids is something that I had to do for so long to kind of get by and then I kind of got used to going into the studio, yelling at the kids, playing music and joking around. (Laughs) But yeah, it’s definitely not something that I want to focus on. It’s moreso something that I’ll do every once in a while.
You’re going to be in another film, The Finest Hours. How was it like filming it?
It was challenging. It was based on a true story in 1952 of a coast guard rescue mission to rescue crew members of a sinking ship and we worked on these mechanical ships. We were dealing with blizzards, storms and all that water everyday, all day so we were always wet, covered up and couldn’t really move. It was pretty crazy. It was also such a different environment because I was the youngest on set. A lot of people in Insurgent are the same age so for me to then step onto a project where there’s a difference in age, like 20 years, it forced me to grow up and learn a lot. I loved it.
What type of films do you want to do next?
I want to continue with more action but I’d love to do comedy and drama. I would really love to play roles that stretch outside of the box. I would really love to be a versatile actor and be given the opportunity to do a lot of different types of films that explore different stories, and play people that are really different and think differently [than] me. People that I almost can’t relate to so I could figure out how to get it into their mind, and then challenge myself.
How does it feel like to be the person being interviewed for a change?
When I was [a VJ], all I was thinking was, ‘Shit. I’m nervous. I have to get these questions right; and I have to listen to the person.’ Now that I’m on this side all I’m thinking is, ‘I hope I’m not giving a stupid answer.’ I guess it makes me a little less nervous knowing that both people just have a job to do and you kind of focus on that.