Lots of people live their lives thinking about the “what ifs.” But right now, the only one in Blake Jenner’s life is What/If, the new Netflix neo-noir thriller series he co-stars in with Renée Zellweger and Jane Levy. The 26-year-old actor has had an amazing, diverse career spanning both big screen (Everybody Wants Some!!, American Animals) and small (Glee, Supergirl). Right now, his starring role as honest, hard-working EMT/bartender/husband Sean Donovan on the binge-worthy new series has been an opportunity all actors would relish. We sat down with him to talk working with Zellweger, tackling the thriller genre, and dancing to the Backstreet Boys.
You’ve acted in a wide variety of genres, from comedies to musicals to crime drama. What drew you to What/If?
I was able to binge the whole [script] upon reading it. I said if I liked it, I’d be open to hopping on the phone and talking about it. I responded to the wild ride that every character goes on, especially Shawn, so I felt very inclined to play the part, if given the opportunity. This character goes from one to 10 in ways that I haven’t gotten to do before, so I def was up for the challenge. I was interested to learn about the wrongs of his past and how that kinda levelled out with the present.
There is a lot of physicality to the character too, especially in the pilot episode. Did that take lots of preparation or was it pretty natural?
To be honest, in some of the stuff I think I was up to the challenge but then you feel your knee click and you think, “Oh, I gotta walk this off quick.” This guy’s a very active dude but other than that, I was just having so much fun with all he does for his job and all he does day-to-day. I loved that part of his character was how he carries himself and how he works with what he’s got.
You’ve worked with a lot of iconic actors before. In this, you’re opposite Renée Zellweger. What was it like working with her?
It was just a dream. When you get to work with someone like that, you fanboy out until you get on set. I was just so excited to get in the ring with her. Watching how much she gives to her character both on camera and off was inspiring, but so was seeing how she treats people on set, treats her co-stars, and seeing how she is as a person. She doesn’t sweat all her accomplishments and everybody views her as such a pro. It makes you wanna up your game as an artist but also as a person. It makes me always have my humility. Across the board I loved working with her.
Were there any really big highlights for you shooting the series?
It started off with a bang! We got married the first day and it was the perfect thing to do, so we could end up trusting each other right from the get-go. A lot of this series deals with the trust and love between these two characters, and starting with that gave us so much skin in the game with each other and brought our walls down. That was a really beautiful day and everyone there, with the exception of a few members of the cast, were strangers to us and we had to portray this like these were the people we actually invited to our wedding. So it was a pretty trippy day surrounded with love, and I felt it was a long time coming. That was def one of the standouts for me. And shooting the Backstreet Boys dance — that was one of the most hilarious things I’ve had to film on camera.
Yeah, it seemed like you had a lot of fun with that!
Yeah absolutely! I ran out of dance moves, so I had to do like, fake ballet and a bunch of ridiculous stuff while trying to keep from laughing. That was a lot of fun for me to do. When I first read the script I was looking forward to those bits and they lived up to my expectations. I had a ball.
You’ve taken a lot of both big and small screen roles over your career. What would you say the difference between the two are?
I’ve always worked with the nicest people in the industry, so I’ve always felt it’s like a family experience. I guess it’s the amount of time you have with a certain character. On something like this, it was like four months; every movie I’ve ever shot has been like a month and month and a half. In a limited series like this, you get to live with your co-stars and live with this person you’re playing for quite some time and you feel a bit more ownership of things and a bit more broken-in with how this character ticks at certain moments. This was my first time doing something like this, so it’s something that had more time to simmer.
And speaking of shows, are there any that currently have your attention or that you’re watching now?
I’m excited to see Stranger Things when it comes out. I’m all up on that. I just finished watching Barry. I finished the last episode and I thought I had one more, but then I realized it ended where it ended and I was like, “Aww crap.” But I really loved that show; I thought Bill Hader was awesome in it. I binged Umbrella Academy and I enjoyed that. It’s like a cross between X-Men and The Royal Tenenbaums. I need to finish Sex Education ’cause that’s hilarious, but I haven’t finished it yet, so don’t ruin it for me if you’ve seen it all.