[WATCH] Joey Pollari (‘American Crime’): ‘It was such a transformative experience being on that set’

“It was such a transformative experience being on that set,” says Joey Pollari as we chat via webcam (watch above) about his breakthrough role on “American Crime.” In the second season of ABC’s acclaimed anthology drama by Oscar-winning writer John Ridley (“12 Years a Slave”), Pollari plays Eric Tanner, co-captain of a private school basketball team who becomes embroiled in allegations of sexual assault against a fellow male student. “I learned a lot,” he admits. “Just sharing scenes with people like Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman; that for me was the most beautiful thing I will take away from this experience and I am deeply grateful for that.”

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Midway through the season, Pollari’s character comes out as gay after a harrowing suicide attempt. In typical “American Crime” fashion, the character became sympathetic as we the audience discover that there is more to him than an aggressive jock accused of raping another student. Eric ultimately buckles under the pressure of the allegations against him because he is also dealing with his own painful struggle as a closeted gay teenager. “It’s exactly what you want as an actor, for people to ‘quote unquote’ feel for the villain,” Pollari declares. “My goal for each and every scene was to put so much love into it, and show his need for love, as the core, and then piling things on top of it, so that need was hard to see.”

Indeed, the actor welcomed the challenge of portraying an aggressive and internally angry young man struggling with his true identity and sexuality. “I initially thought this part was about coming out,” he explains. “It was about masculinity, acceptance and identity,” he says. “I drew from my own experiences, as a man. There’s an enormous amount, culturally, of what you’re expected to be, how you’re expected to act.

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“Everything about him, story-wise, was contained. He’s trying to hold his story in, trying to hold himself or who he is in,” says the actor. “There’s not much music in his voice. He’s trying to control his voice, control his body, all from a deep fear of being revealed at any point of who he is. It’s interesting how that tended to bleed into the idea of masculinity in general,” Pollari elaborates. “Don’t talk that way. Make declarative sentences. Be aggressive, don’t use your hands, walk a certain way.”

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