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Jordan Gonzalez

Jordan Gonzalez is getting a bloody lesson in love, life and identity as he heads into Pretty Little Liars: Summer School.

Jordan Gonzalez is getting a bloody lesson in love, life and identity as he heads into Pretty Little Liars: Summer School. Boosted to a series regular as the spin-off returns for a second season, he’s ready to show people what he’s made of as an actor. 

When Jordan Gonzalez was told by friends he should become an actor, he told them to f**k off. Moving to Los Angeles from Roswell, Georgia, the star had never really considered heading down that creative path. Growing up, he was a soccer star in the making. But fast forward to 2022, and after a short stint on The L Word: Generation Q, Jordan landed the role of the ‘older than his years’ Ash on Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin. An out-and-proud trans man, Ash is quick to form an attachment to the timid and quiet Mouse (Malia Pyles), who is forced to keep him at arm’s reach as a killer terrorises her teen friend group. 

Jordan made such an impression that he was bumped up to a series regular for the second season, Summer School, which premieres on May 9. Now he’s in on the action with a new terror threatening the girls, becoming a character he declares is “the Watson to Mouse’s Sherlock”.  But in doing so, Jordan has become a rare representation of the trans-male experience on screen – something he is all too aware of and ready to tackle head-on. 

1883 Magazine catches up with Jordan to discuss the beauty of choosing a creative outlet, the power of trans-male representation in Hollywood, and where he hopes his future lies beyond Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin/Summer School. 

What led you down the path to become an actor in the first place? 

Honestly, I have a really interesting path on how I got here, in a sense that I never in a million years thought that I would be an actor. Growing up, I never really had an opportunity to explore the arts. At a very early age, I was put into soccer, and I was playing that pretty competitively on a professional development team, Olympic development team, high school varsity and a club team. So I kind of didn’t really have time to explore anything but sports. So when I moved out to LA, obviously I stopped playing sports, but I kind of was like, ‘I don’t know what I want to do’. I am good at a couple of things, but I’m not really in love with anything. I landed a job in marketing, which landed me a job in public relations, and I was an assistant and PR. When I was there, I began my medical transition and I just realised that there was no trans men in Hollywood. Which was sad because you know, growing up in the South, I didn’t have any representation on television and media. So it took me a really long time to figure out what I was actually feeling. 

I went out to drinks with three of my really good friends who are also Cuban and they’re also actresses, and we were sitting down and having a margarita, and one of them just looked at me and was like, ‘Jordan, you have to act’… and I said, ‘Fuck off.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to do that, it’s horrible. I watch you guys go through it’. I don’t want to walk into a room basically naked, and bare my soul, and someone’s like, ‘thank you so much’ and that’s that. I’m also a Taurus, so I love stability. I love the finer things in life. So usually that does not come when you choose to be an actor. It’s a lot of hard work. But a couple more drinks in and I was like, You know what, what if I did just try it? I have said yes to a lot of things in my life and it’s led me to where I am now, and it’s never really led me astray, my compass, so I was like, ‘I’ll try it, see if I’m any good at it and see if it works out’. I threw myself in acting classes and in a very, very short amount of time – which I know is not the norm for anyone – I was getting pinned left and right for all these roles. 

Aside from it even working out, I finally found the thing that I love and it’s just so incredible to make art. I’m sure you understand, with a publication, and a magazine and editorial, it’s art, and to actually put time into something that you really love and care about and then to see it actually happen… it’s intoxicating, and I fell in love with it.

I feel like you touched upon a subject with trans representation in that answer, with regards to trans male representation on screen. It seems so much more rare than trans-femme representation on screen. Why do you personally think Hollywood is more willing to explore the trans-femme experience than a trans-masc one?

I don’t know, I’ve thought about it a lot, and I don’t know that I have the answer to that. I do think it’s really interesting. What I will say is that I think they’re so deserving of their stories being told, and I’m so happy that they do. I just hope that the industry realises that not only are there trans women who need that representation, but there are young kids who are trans men, or will be trans men, and need that representation equally. I don’t know that I know the answer, I don’t know that they even know the answer, you know? I think they’re doing… they’re not doing the best that they can, but in their mind, they’re doing the best that they can.

It’s frustrating, for sure. It’s hard and to be quite honest with you, in my own personal journey – and this is not everyone’s own personal journey – but my end goal is not only to play trans roles. Two things that I’m doing after this are feature films where I’m not playing a trans man, I’m just playing a cis man. And to me, I find that equally as important as playing the trans representation in media because then, if you know that I’m trans, cool. Not the coolest thing about me, not the most interesting fact about me, I’m so much more – just like everyone else. But it kind of makes people think, because then they can see me, someone who is passing, and someone who is just playing a cis male character. They can be like ‘hey, I really liked that kid. I like what he does. I like his look, I like his style, I like the way that he acts’. And then they can find out that I am trans and then, maybe they would have had preconceived notions about that beforehand, maybe that’ll change their mind.

It’s something I actually really love about Ash on this season on Pretty Little Liars. We’re introduced to him in season one, and it’s made really clear you’re a trans man, but in season two, while being trans is obviously a big part of his journey, he’s not made the sum of his parts, if that’s the right way of saying it. He’s just in this happy relationship with Mouse, and that’s how it plays out.

I actually love that you just said ‘sum of his parts’ because the next tattoo that I’m getting is the Vitruvian Man, but I don’t want him to be a cis man, and I’m going to get ‘a man it’s not the sum of his parts’ underneath it. I resonate with that a lot personally, because none of us are. We’re all, if you believe in souls, souls in these meat suits trying to do the best that we can do, and enjoy this experience on this planet that is an incredibly difficult planet to live on. 

For Ash, I think it was an interesting thing to try to balance – making that very important piece of him known, without it being a tragic coming out, without it being overly done and talked about, but also the people who pay attention, get it. There were a lot of people who didn’t get it, to be quite honest with you, and that’s fine. That’s totally fine with me. Then he just gets to be a kid, which is important because that’s all I ever wanted to do, was just be a kid. That’s all that other trans people want to do is just be a kid, just be a human being. There’s already so much going on in high school that you’re trying to figure out, if you’re secure in yourself, which he is, then it doesn’t need to be discussed, in my opinion. And I think that Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] and Lindsey [Calhoon-Bring, showrunners] do a really good job of balancing that out.

That was actually one of my next questions. What was it like working with Roberto and Lindsay? I mean, Roberto specifically is such a character within himself, away from his shows which are always larger than life and kind of weird but in a cool way, and have this real core teen, cult audience. So what was it like working with him away from that reputation?

Honestly, he is a mastermind genius in his own way that I’ve never seen before. He’s such a character in and of himself, and it’s just like, it’s so fun to play in his universe and Lindsay’s universe because it is otherworldly in a sense. I was a massive fan of Sabrina, personally. I love Sabrina. So when I got the audition, I was like, ‘No f**king way’, I finally get to go in and read for this mysterious Roberto! When I did my chemistry read and callback, I finally got to meet him and Lindsey, and it didn’t let me down at all. 

They’re incredible. They’re smart, they’re kind, they’re thoughtful, and anything that I wanted to bring to the table, in terms of the trans experience, they were 100% open and accepting, which is something that you can only dream of when someone does write a trans character who maybe isn’t from the trans experience. It should be a collaborative experience like that, if you are writing a character who is trans and you’re not of the trans experience. 

What was Ash like when you first were introduced to him?

Very different. I got the audition for Ash and basically, the character breakdown was ‘openly trans kid in Millwood, leader of the Spectrum club, LGBTQ on campus, wise beyond his years’. That’s it.

Wow, so you really did help flesh him out. 

I really just had to decide what I thought that would look like. I did the read, got the call back, got pinned, and then went in for the chemistry read with them, and I did it again and Roberto was like ‘I love that. Could you just be even more swaggy?’ I was like, ‘for sure I got you!’ Had a great laugh about it, did it, within a week found out that I booked it and then got on set and, funny enough Lindsay and I were having a conversation, and she was like, ‘you know, when we had thought of Ash, he was not going to be at all you and who you brought to the role’ Ash was going to be a little bit more of a smart kid, maybe more reserved and a little bit more booksmart and less teen heart-throbby’. And they were like ‘but when we saw you, we knew you had to do this and you had to play him’. It was a really big honour, because Ash is someone that we collaboratively kind of made together, instead of a lot of roles that, you know, someone makes a decision and it’s exactly what they were looking for, and it’s very in a box. With this it was very much so what I personally brought to Ash that they just genuinely loved and they were like, ‘that’s Ash right there’. 

It must have been nice to get the call that you’ve been upped to series regular for season two. How did that feel?

Incredible – and that was Roberto and Lindsey fighting to keep me on the show. I had an offer to go elsewhere, and I wanted to be on this show so badly still, I wanted to stay in this world and they fought tooth and nail to make sure that they could do that, and that is all that you can dream of as an actor on a show. To be respected in that way that they do want to keep you on – especially on a show where people are dropping dead left and right!

It’s always a good sign that you’re surviving!

Yeah, because I mean, fuck, they could kill me tomorrow! you know? Everyone’s dying. So to get that call was amazing. I remember just getting that call that the deal was done and they wanted me to stay. I was funnily enough watching my friend’s condo in downtown LA at the time, and she had loaned me her Porsche, and I was just ripping down the highway in the Porsche right after I got the call: windows down, top down, hands out the window, like totally out of a movie. It was just the coolest feeling.

Yeah, I’m so grateful. I was talking to Malia the other day, and I was like ‘I have impostor syndrome so bad’ because it’s only been three-and-a-half years since I started, and it’s ‘boom, boom, boom, boom, boom’. It’s a tailwind, headspin of, ‘Oh, I just said yes to something and all of a sudden I have this incredible thing’. It really does just feel like a wild movie dream. Whoever’s playing my video game in the matrix is killing it.

Let’s talk a bit about Ash and Mouse this season. What can you tease?

I can tease that at first they might not be in the most steady of places. She has just gone through an immense amount of trauma, so has all of the other young ladies, but Ash is finally in the know, which is nice and not being lied to maybe as much. I think at first he really is worried, and maybe a little sneaky himself, but I think eventually they do find their footing and their ground and I think they’re stronger than ever, and they’re fully in love, having the time of their life going on this mystery together. You know, riding the motorcycle, looking for Bloody Rose together, and he really becomes a Watson to her Sherlock, 100%, and is kind of either ‘I’m 100% in on this madness, or I have to be out and this relationship no longer exists’. I think to him, this is how she deals with her trauma – Spooky Spaghetti – and he has to be okay with that or he’s going to lose her.

How was working with Malia when it comes to sharing scenes together?

The second that I stepped on that set in season one, I knew that I was in phenomenal hands with a scene partner. She’s just a superstar, and she’s so good at what she does with Mouse and she’s so intentional. We both approach our craft in very different ways, which is honestly super cool. I’m a very audio person, and so I will always make a playlist. So season one playlist for Ash has a bunch of songs on it, season two playlist Ash has a bunch of songs on it that are very different. And it kind of takes you on a journey of where he starts, where they’re at in the middle, and then where they’ve left off. We would send each other songs back and forth and talk about what we think that scene and that song would go with, which was a lot of fun. It was just instant trust in each other which makes having an intimate, loving relationship on screen very easy.

Seeing as you brought up in the last question, have you got any playlists songs that you would recommend to fans that you think would sum up Ash’s experience in Season Two?

For sure! I’ve got Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crue, Stupid Girl by Garbage, Where Is My Mind by the Pixies and…. Stayin’ Alive by the BeeGees, I have to! [laughs]. 

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School launches May 9th on MAX. 

Interview Tilly Pearce
Photography Timothy Fernandez

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