Justice Smith (‘Genera+ion’) on representing ‘queer joy’ through Chester [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Justice Smith has found his new HBO Max series “Genera+ion” to be both challenging and rewarding. The actor plays Chester, an openly queer high school student with a flamboyant fashion sense and an outward confidence that masks his loneliness. For Smith, who is queer himself, it was a liberating experience to take on this role, even if it has asked him to go to some vulnerable places. “Most of my characters that I’ve played are very internal and feel things internally,” says Smith in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby, “and Chester’s all about wearing his heart on his sleeve.” Watch the full interview above.

While Smith grew up in Anaheim as a Black queer kid like Chester, the show has also been eye-opening for him in forcing him to confront some of his preconceived notions. Chester is often seen in attention-grabbing outfits like a crop-top and half-moon sunglasses and sporting different hair colors. “It really challenged my own ideas of gender expression,” reveals Smith. “It challenged my own internalized femmephobia and I feel like it really made me a more well-rounded person and helped me tap into my feminine side.”

At 25, Smith is eight years older than Chester, and he admittedly wishes there was a show like “Genera+ion” for him growing up. “I could’ve used this representation,” the actor states. “That was also one of the reasons why I wanted to do the show because I was like, ‘This is what I needed to see at that age,’ so that I can be that now for someone else like me who’s growing up in a conservative environment and trying to find themselves.”

High schoolers and the LGBTQ community have certainly been centered in other TV shows before, but rarely have they intersected quite as significantly as in “Genera+ion.” For Smith, it is refreshing to celebrate “queer joy” in a media landscape where so many LGBTQ-centric shows fall into either campiness or trauma. “I think this hits that middle ground of being like, ‘This is just what it’s like to grow up queer in modern day,'” explains Smith. “I think we just wanted to showcase the joy of being queer, the joy of having a niche community and I really think at the heart of our show, it’s a celebration of how far we’ve come as queer people.”

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