In an early episode of the Robia Rashid–helmed Atypical, Sam Gardner, the high-functioning autistic teenage protagonist, dons a sleek leather jacket in the dressing room of a clothing store and declares, “It doesn’t feel like me.” Gardner, played by 24-year-old Keir Gilchrist, knows who he is and what he wants. It’s this unassuming, unapologetic assuredness that makes Sam so likeable—so watchable—as he navigates family, dating, and high school throughout all eight episodes of Atypical’s first season on Netflix.
Talking with Keir Gilchrist, I feel the same way. The London-born, Toronto-raised actor, even as a twenty-something, knows who he is and what he wants. He vehemently avoids talking about acting; he’d much rather discuss ancient history or Whelm, his grindcore band he still gigs with regularly around Los Angeles. He tells me that once, after filming The United States of Tara, he left town and spent an entire summer working on an organic farm, raising sheep and picking fruit. Keir Gilchrist is not your archetypal Hollywood young star—he’s the opposite. It’s also the likely reason he’s made a career out of playing misfits and outsiders on-screen, none more fully formed and captivating than Sam Gardner. Following the highly anticipated release of Atypical, Gilchrist spoke to The Laterals about the pressures of leading a television show, his distaste for celebrity culture, and how he defines weird.
How do you pronounce your name? Is there a story behind it?
The correct way to pronounce it would be keer. It’s a Scottish name that means “dark one.” My mum loved the name, and she got to pick it because she almost died having me. 47 hours of labor. My mum's a boss.
You grew up in Toronto. Would you ever consider moving back to Canada?
I mean, I love Toronto, but that's not really where the work is for me. I love LA. California in general is amazing. Can't beat the weather.
As someone who started out in the industry at such a young age, are there things you think you missed out on? Do you ever regret going into the business so early on?
I definitely didn't have a conventional childhood, and, as a child, I felt that I was missing out on a lot of important experiences. But, in hindsight, none of it really was that important. The experiences I had because of my career were far more impactful. I was also able to strike a pretty fair balance. I wasn't consumed by the film industry. There were multiple times that I would get off of work on United States of Tara and head out to a backyard punk show in east LA. I also don't think there's much good that can come from spending your time regretting the path you've taken. It all led me to where I am today.
Atypical was your first time as the lead of a television show. How was that experience?
Being the lead on a TV show was the most difficult experience I've had in my career. It was utterly exhausting working that many hours, and there's constant pressure to not let everyone down. You can't get sick. You can't be late. You need to be on your game every day.
What was the hardest part about being on-set every day?
The hardest thing about filming every day is losing track of time. You work so many weird hours that your body doesn't know when to be tired or when to eat. It's like jet lag.
How did you decide how Sam’s autism would manifest itself physically, vocally, and emotionally?
It was really a collaborative process. I think people often give an actor too much credit when it comes to making decisions. It's not like Robia [Rashid] and Seth [Gordon] just said, “Go ahead and do whatever you want.” We worked together to figure out who Sam was and how his mind would work. I definitely worked hard to embody him as a person on the autism spectrum and did my own research, but we all contributed to how Sam turned out.
You’ve been open about your struggles with depression and anxiety. Do you think acting has magnified these struggles or helped you cope with them?
That's a difficult question to answer. Acting has certainly put a lot of extra pressure on my psyche for a long time. But I've also worked through a lot of issues while playing certain roles. I'm also just prone to anxiety, so anything I do can make me feel overwhelmed.
You’ve shared that you’re more passionate about music than acting. Why?
I think, for the most part, I'm just kind of bored by the film industry. Living in LA for 7 years surrounded by people who just talk about it constantly. Don't get me wrong. I find filmmaking fascinating, and I love watching and creating film, but all the celebrity culture is so boring.
What are you listening to these days?
Lots of Black and Death Metal. And going back to my crust routes and re-listening to a bunch of 90's and early 2000's crust punk, which was my favorite music in high school.
The primary theme of Atypical seems to be the idea that no one is normal, that everyone is weird. What does being weird mean to you?
To me, weird is a term of endearment. My friends and I call each other weird all the time as a compliment. When I really like a new band, I'll often say that it's because they’re weird. I'm attracted to people that don't care if the majority of society thinks that they're weird. People who strive to conform and gain acceptance from everyone don't interest me.