Brigette Lundy-Paine

Zoom Date: Brigette Lundy-Paine on Queer Reality TV and Reading War and Peace

Just minutes into our conversation, I get the sense that Brigette Lundy-Paine isn’t used to sitting still. As Lundy-Paine—who plays Sam’s teenage sister Casey on the Netflix original series Atypical—waits for the fourth and final season to safely commence filming amid the pandemic, they’ve been taking advantage of the Covid-mandated downtime from work by shooting a no-budget movie with their eccentric upstairs neighbor; running their online magazine, WAIF; and working their way through War and Peace. You know, just casual, chill taking-it-easy stuff.

But for Lundy-Paine, it seems, the last few months haven’t been about resting so much as they’ve been about acclimating to change. Just as New York City itself is navigating the transition from peak pandemic lockdown into something resembling normal life, the 26-year-old actor is staring down some major life transitions of their own: the series that has shaped their adult career is coming to an end, and they recently braved a mid-pandemic move into a new apartment with their partner, where they’re taking the time to figure out what they want to do next. In the meantime, though, they’ve been spending their days painting and watching the Criterion Channel. Over a recent Zoom call, we talked about Black-owned beauty brands, Lundy-Paine’s upcoming role in Bill & Ted Face the Music (out August 28), and the wonders of queer reality TV.

Brigette Lundy-Paine
 Jacob "leaf" Levy

What has your life looked like since quarantine started?

The first two months, I was out of town on full lockdown with my partner and my mom, and that felt quarantine-y as it gets. We were in a house in the woods and we didn’t speak to anyone but each other. It was like a horror movie, but fun, and we made dinner. Then we came back to New York, and my partner and I moved into this new apartment near Fort Greene Park. The only person in the building who’s here right now is this 68-year-old poet named Peter, who we’ve fallen completely in love with, but he’s out of his mind. The month we moved in there were still people living downstairs, and all of us were roped into this movie that Peter wanted to make, so we became a little pod. It started off by him being like—he’s from Boston, like real Boston, so he’s like—[STRONG BOSTON ACCENT] “The premise is, you’re all living in the building, and you two just moved in. In the movie, you just moved in. You’re a couple, and you live above a drunk.” And we were like, “Okay, let’s do it!” So we started filming, and then the protests started.

What was that like for you in Brooklyn? Were you going to the protests?

It was an energy like I’ve never experienced in New York. I mean, I’ve been part of protest movements in New York, but this is a whole other thing. People are without a job, people are furious and on this really universal level of like, it felt like everyone in New York was out in the streets. And the protests at first were massive. The March for Black Trans Lives was maybe three weeks into the protest movement, and it was enormous. It felt like we had filled the entire city of Brooklyn with people wearing white and chanting together. It was so powerful. I mean, if you’re from New York, you know how rare it is to be meeting in the streets and sticking together like that.

Yeah, even where I live in L.A., it’s been incredible to see local organizing efforts grow so fast over the last few months. Public comment during the L.A. City Council meetings would stretch on for eight hours because so many people were calling in to demand the People’s Budget.

Right. Everyone was paying attention in a really critical and engaged way. I had never watched City Council meetings before this, and it’s incredible to watch. And it’s still happening, just in a more organized way, I think. I mean, I know there are still protests happening—Freedom March NYC is organizing a lot of the marches here. They’re a group of young Black activists who were on my Instagram account the other day, and they’re all 22, and they’re just fabulous. Warriors in the Garden is another young activist group that’s been doing a lot of great stuff. But I’ve also noticed more of a teach-in energy going on now in New York. People are being so generous with their time and energy, gathering in spaces outdoors with a lesson plan sharing their knowledge. In a lot of ways, with the activism, it doesn’t feel like we’re in quarantine anymore, but then there are little moments that are reminders that it’s a pandemic. Like, I’m going to visit a friend next week who’s immunocompromised, so we’re quarantining right now.

Brigette Lundy-Paine
 Jacob "leaf" Levy

Is New York opening back up right now?

Yeah, but outside of the protests, it’s like reopening has been boiled down to the highest elite. It feels like people who are at restaurants right now aren’t even there for the food—they’re there for the experience of being served. The other day, my friend who’s working at a restaurant had to kick someone out because they didn’t have their mask on.

Other than the movie you’re filming with your neighbors, what does work look like for you right now?

It’s mostly just reading and talking to people and watching films for the time when stuff does open up, which I kind of like, because it feels like it’s coming back to a very simple observational refocusing time, at least in the acting world. Atypical is about to end after we shoot our fourth season, whenever that is, and then I’m not a teenager on a TV show anymore, so it’s nice to have a pause to be able to think, What’s next? Other than that, I run a magazine called WAIF, so we are always working on that. We had an issue come out a month and a half ago, and we have an issue coming out this week.

What is it like to run a magazine while working around the constraints we’ve all been under?

Our last issue was called THE HONEST WAIF—we had that title before quarantine started—and it ended up being perfect because we were reaching out to artists who were just starting to quarantine and were terrified of themselves, but we got back such beautiful work because people were able to just be alone with it and sit in it. It’s like it squeezes something out of people to be left alone with their thoughts. I’ve felt that capitalist edge fall away from a lot of the work I’ve seen myself and my friends doing. It’s like, “We’ve got time. There’s no reason to rush this. Let’s settle into it.” I did a photo shoot for [a magazine] the other day and it was all screenshots, and I was amazed. Like, we get to take screenshot photos, and I’m in my own house! I tried to bring out my dildo and they were like, “Too far.” And I was like, “Cool, cool, cool.” In a studio environment you’re pretending that you’re famous, and everyone’s pretending to be something other than just a human in their house who is scared, which is all of us right now.

In a studio environment you’re pretending that you’re famous, and everyone’s pretending to be something other than just a human in their house who is scared, which is all of us right now.

What are you doing for self-care right now? Do you have a skincare routine?

I was using Biologique Recherche, but I ran out, so I started using Fresh, and I really like it. I wash my face every morning and night, and then I put the Fresh morning cream on and the night cream when I sleep, and I don’t really do anything else other than that. When I’m working, I have a whole routine to stay young-looking because I’m an adult playing a child, but I keep it really simple. You’re a beauty writer—do you have recommendations for organic or Black-owned beauty brands?

Yeah, there’s an amazing marketplace called Black + Green which basically collates eco-friendly products by Black-owned brands. There’s some good stuff on there. Then there’s Limegreen, which is a vegan Brooklyn-based skincare brand, and all the products they make are multitask products. I also really like Ode to Self and Undefined.

Oh my god, this looks amazing. Anytime I go on a beauty or skincare website, it makes me want to start doing all the things. Thank you so much for these. I want to start being more purposeful with the products I use, because I feel like it’s so easy to fall into whatever’s next to you.

What else are you doing to take care of yourself?

I read a lot, and I spend a lot of time alone. My partner and I have separate bedrooms, which is dope because we get to tuck ourselves away. I stretch, I think, I paint, and I read, those are the big relaxers. I did a painting of my friend, and now I’m doing a nude of my partner, which I have to hide whenever someone comes into my room.

What have you been reading that you’re really liking?

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry. I finally read Just Kids, and Patti Smith reads a lot of Rimbaud, so I started reading him. I started reading e.e. cummings and T.S. Elliot. And I’m reading War and Peace, because I read Anna Karenina at the beginning of quarantine, which was so beautiful. I’ve been trying to read everything on U.S. history that I can get my hands on, so I’ve been reading A People’s History of the United States, and a lot of Cornel West, and I started a family book club for Angela Davis’ “Are Prisons Obsolete?” So I’ve got my toes in a lot of different genres, and they circulate when they need to.

Brigette Lundy-Paine
Jacob "leaf" Levy 

You also said you’ve been watching a lot of stuff lately.

Yeah, my partner is obsessed with the Criterion Collection and has a very curated watch list. We watched the Swedish film My Life As A Dog recently, which was very beautiful. I’ve been watching a lot of Isabelle Huppert films, because she just shakes me to my core, no matter what she does. I’ve been watching some TV as well. I May Destroy You was gorgeous and really haunting. I had a moment where I realized everything I was watching was about sexual assault, and I had to pull back and take a second, because when you’re alone in a new house, that’s really not what you need to be focusing on. I guess foreign dramas are what I gravitate towards, but I am also re-watching Peep Show, which is my favorite show and a full guilty pleasure.

It’s become really apparent how valuable TV and film can be as a form of escapism. I actually feel like it’s amazing timing for Bill and Ted to be coming out right now, because it feels perfect for that.

I know, and it really is that. It’s such a silly franchise. I watched the first movie only after I was cast, and I fell in love with it immediately. It’s an incredible movie, and it’s something I would have loved when I was younger. Alex and Keanu are so cute, and it’s such a sweet story; it’s so funny and there’s such an innocence to it. I just felt like the perfect thing to do, to go into an audition room and be able to do that California-dude accent was such a dream. I think the movie is gonna be really fun.

Yeah, I think we need that right now. We need stuff that’s fun and stupid.

It’s vital. I’ve always been comforted by the fact that the smartest people I know watch the stupidest TV. Like, all my friends who are scholars watch Survivor and Real Housewives. I’ve watched a few episodes of The Bachelor but the only thing I’ve stuck with was the queer season of Are You The One last year.

Oh my god, so good.

It’s so good! It’s perfect. It was like finally getting a satisfying meal after years of scraps. I hope that they make another one—I felt like the ratings were so low, and it made me really sad.

Everyone I know is obsessed, and if not, I force them to watch it. I recently met Basit, which changed my life.

I saw Basit perform in Williamsburg back when the season was still airing.

Oh, I would die. I miss… I miss, so much, the night. The nights and the dressing up and the going out. I tried to have a dance party for my birthday at a park, but my speaker was so quiet that everyone felt shy.

I think it’s hard to hit the right balance of escapism versus acknowledgement of what we’re going through right now, with regards to both the media we’re consuming and the activities we do to keep ourselves busy.

I know. I feel this paradox of, like, I don’t want anyone to capitalize off this moment, and yet I don’t want anyone to make or do anything that’s not about this moment because it feels completely irrelevant otherwise. And it’s like, you can’t have it both ways.

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