By Nina Metz
CHICAGO — When I sat down with actor Gavin MacIntosh not long ago, I asked him to describe his first TV job as a day player, four years ago, on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.”
Don’t get too excited, he warned. “It was a small part. I played a Pawnee Ranger, a Boy Scout type kid, and I was only in the background. It was the director’s decision to pick someone out of this group to walk up to Amy Poehler and ask her a question in the scene, and I wasn’t picked. Another kid was picked, so I remember watching the episode and I saw a glimpse of myself, like a blur. Like: Oh, those are my shoes right there.”
It didn’t take long to progress to roles that featured his face, as well. Since 2013 he has played Connor on the ABC Family series “The Fosters,” a show featuring a pair of interracial lesbian moms and their young family of biological, adopted and foster children. More recently, he was in Illinois this summer shooting an indie film two hours northwest of Chicago in Jo Daviess County.
“It gets a little creepy at night,” he said. “There are a lot of cornfields, and I don’t know if you’ve seen ‘Children of the Corn,’ but I watched that right before I came. Bad idea.”
MacIntosh is originally from Tucson, Ariz., and started acting at his mother’s encouragement: “It was to break up my shyness. Like, I would go into Starbucks and the lady would say hi to me and I would hide behind my mom — I was that kind of kid.”
A role in a local production of “The Music Man,” he said, “broke me out of my shell. After that we started commuting out to Los Angeles for auditions. Commercials, TV, movies. I probably wouldn’t have gone that path if my mom hadn’t guided me. She saw that it was an interest. And she’s really the one that paved the way and drove me there and back, there and back, there and back, three times a week. She spent so much money on that, and, looking back, I don’t know how she did it.”
At 16, MacIntosh is old enough to handle an interview solo. But I wondered, did he come here alone? “Oh, my mom’s out in the car,” he said. She’s sitting out in the car the whole time? “Well, no, she probably went and got some coffee and is walking around.”
Their set-up actually sounds like a good compromise, allowing MacIntosh independence without dropping the reins altogether.
I asked about other early roles. “I did ‘Raising Hope’ and I had this line where I call someone a ‘jackass.’ I went to a Christian school at the time, and my teacher — very, very Christian — saw it and kind of freaked out and tried to give me a speech about why that was a bad word and all that.” Pause. “So that was fun,” he said, shaking his head no — it was not pleasant conversation at all. “After that is when I started homeschooling.” Though he is technically a junior, he has worked ahead and plans to graduate in May.
The family didn’t move to Los Angeles until he got “The Fosters.” Was it hard leaving your friends, I wondered?
“I didn’t really have any. I know this sounds sad! But I didn’t,” he said. “The school I went to only had 60 kids, pre-K to 12th grade. So there weren’t a lot of people to make friends with. I wasn’t sociable. I was kind of reserved and shy.”
It’s funny hearing that, because MacIntosh wasn’t shy about publicly calling out a major media player this past spring, and he did it pretty forcefully. YouTube had deemed a clip from a recent episode of “The Fosters” — featuring a chaste but meaningful first kiss between two boys, MacIntosh’s Connor and Hayden Byerly’s Jude (a pairing dubbed “Jonner” by fans) — off-limits for underage viewers.
When MacIntosh found out, here’s what he posted on Twitter: “WHAT?! YouTube blocking #jonnor scene w/ age restrictions? 100 percent discrimination & homophobia! SO innocent compared to what’s on YouTube!” (The tweet was later deleted.)
Here’s MacIntosh: “That was ridiculous. I couldn’t believe YouTube did that. I wasn’t going to let that stand. When I saw it, it was a shock — ‘did YouTube really just do that?’ They probably have thousands of videos of a guy and a girl kissing, and those aren’t age-restricted, those aren’t blocked to people under 18. So why would they block a video of two males kissing, why is it so wrong? Someone has to stand up and say something about that. It just didn’t seem right.”
The show’s creators, he said, “supported me and they always have my back. You probably can’t say that about every show’s producers.” Not long after his tweet, YouTube reversed its decision and told The Hollywood Reporter, “When it’s brought to our attention that a video or channel was age-gated incorrectly, we act quickly to fix it.”
For the past several weeks MacIntosh was in Illinois filming “American Fable,” an independent film set during the 1980s farm crisis. (He wrapped last week.)
“It’s about a little girl who finds someone held captive in the family silo. It’s very intense,” he said. “My character is her brother and he is a sadistic, militant kid, so the polar opposite of Connor. Connor’s a sweet kid, and this guy isn’t. He’s very smart, very intelligent. I researched Hannibal Lecter in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ — he’s a lot like him. He’s demented. He’s not the kind of kid you want to get stuck in a room with. It’s really fun to play someone like that.”
Has his mom watched any of those scenes and been, like, “All right, buddy boy, don’t plan on pulling any of that at home?” “Yeah, a couple times. She’ll look at me like, ‘Wow.’ But I want to play more villains.”
But if the acting thing doesn’t work out long-term, MacIntosh said he has always thought about studying to become a dentist. Wouldn’t it be weird if he had a patient who recognized him from his acting days, I asked?
“No, I think that would be fun. Really fun! It’s something to talk about, right? While their mouth is open and I’m sticking them with a needle …”