Actress Brigette Lundy-Paine is in the zone. We’re now well into her photo shoot, and watching her is an education. The music moves from Bowie to Missy to Elvis as she rocks one outfit after the other, full-look Vuitton followed by L’Agence. She’s posing against a golden-glitter wall, puffing her chest, chin up, lips worked into a snarl, her performance shifting with the use of costume and stage, all rounded out by the choices of music. All the research I have done on the actor is nothing compared to seeing her in action. It suddenly makes sense to me, how this young talent is able to juggle her many varied creative pursuits, from music and performance art to acting for both the big and small screen. This multifaceted, uninhibited take on creative expression is perhaps best described by Lundy-Paine’s concept of “Waifiness,” outlined in full in a manifesto for her forthcoming online art/fashion zine, Waif (just another one of her projects): “When that noise is so white you can’t even hear it. Messy hair is waif, but so are bangs. . . Waif is when you play the piano & you don’t know how to play the piano. . . Talent shows are Waif.” It’s off but coherent, poetic and compelling.
Lundy-Paine was born in Portland, Oregon and brought up in Alameda, a small beach town in Northern California. Acting is in her blood, it seems—both of her parents are theater actors. Lundy-Paine jokes that she was “forced into the family business.” During her time in the world of theater, she met her childhood friends Misha Brooks, Zach Donovan, and Mina Walker. After Brooks joined Lundy-Paine at NYU, they formed an experimental art band called Subtle Pride. A quick Google yields charming videos that fuse theatrics, a cappella, improv, and DIY costuming. They’re full of heart and art-school earnestness, reworking pop song structures with a tinge of freak folk.
The band started out as a response to being called out on a bluff, Lundy-Paine explains. “I met Misha when we did a Czechoslovakian opera together in Berkeley. He was eight and I was ten, so we’ve been friends for a really long time. When he started at NYU, the four of us started hanging out a lot. One night Mina and I joked that we were releasing an album later in the year called Backpack on a Track, because of some photos we had taken with backpacks on a train track. Somebody called us on our bluff, and they said, ‘Well, sing us one of your singles.’ We looked at each other and we made something up on the spot, and we were so impressed! Later that week, Zach and Misha came over and we decided to kind of try it.”
While at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, she honed her skills in the theatrical craft while pursuing a degree in acting. With the foundation set, her career began to bloom. A broad range of roles started coming her way—from the daughter of unconventional parents seeking stability in The Glass Castle, to an attendant at a dangerous, run-down amusement park in the physical comedy Action Point. Now, Subtle Pride and other projects have been placed on hold as Lundy-Paine breaks into the mainstream with Netflix’s Atypical, her most high-profile role to date.
The show has not only become a cult favorite, it has made Lundy-Paine an idol of sorts. On the show, Lundy-Paine plays Casey, the lovingly protective younger sibling of Sam (Keir Gilchrist), a young man on the autism spectrum searching for love. Her performance has garnered positive reactions from critics and fans alike, and she’s rightfully proud of the work she’s doing. “People love Casey because she’s so strong, funny, and honest—she’s just a good person, I think. She’s pure because she’s had to grow up protecting someone else. I hear a lot of feedback from people who have siblings with autism, people who have family members that they have taken care of their whole life, and from people who have someone in their life they feel they are standing up for, and they really relate to Casey.” This feedback clearly means a lot to Lundy-Paine, who is proud to be giving voice to a character that resonates with people who have been underrepresented in television. “I hear from a lot of queer youth who have always felt very different. I feel like I have been lucky to do such socially conscious work, and being on a set like that is unlike anything else because you feel like you’re a part of the bigger picture and part of the cause. Netflix offers such a wide reach, and it’s so special to tell a story like this that reaches so many people.”
Atypical also features Jennifer Jason Leigh portraying Lundy-Paine’s mother, Elsa, a woman coming to terms with her identity as a mother and wife. It is easy to see Lundy-Paine following a similar career trajectory to the chameleon-like Leigh. She is quick to exclaim,“Honestly, Jennifer Jason Leigh, I adore her. When I started the first season I was like, ‘Fuck! I haven’t seen any of Jennifer’s movies!’ So I went home and watched a 30-minute interview with her and then I tried to watch scenes from a movie. Now I’ve seen, like, everything she’s done. I watched Fast Times At Ridgemont High the other day, which is fantastic. She’s amazing in it, and in Annihilation she’s incredible. I love working with her because she’s so fucking funny.”
Looking ahead, I ask Lundy-Paine about her ideal role. Turns out she may not have to wait very long. “I actually have an audition later today, for this awesome, sarcastic, chain-smoking woman. She’s bitter because she’s never really found love, she smokes a lot of cigarettes, but at the end of the day she’s got a great sense of humor and she doesn’t really give a fuck. That’s a character that I know I’ll have to play,” she exclaims. Until she gets that role, the outlook on her budding career seems filled with various opportunities for her to continue in her streak of strong, idiosyncratic performances. She’s got plenty to look forward to already. “I’m doing some cool independent films I’m really excited about. I’ve done a lot of small parts on really big sets and that’s just such a funny dynamic. I’m excited to be on a small set for a while.”
Written by BJ Panda Bear
Photographed by Ian Morrison
Video by Hailey Ruffner
Styled by Monty Jackson at Starworks Group
Hair by Rena Calhoun at Starworks Group
Makeup by Gina Nicole
Music by Tickle Torture