Tommy Dorfman | 13 Going on 30 Reasons Why Tommy is Our New Role Model
Tommy Dorfman is five minutes early and greets everyone in the room with a hug. Despite being caught up in a whirlwind of a recent move to the West Coast, an upcoming Jenji Kohan project, and the press tour for the second season of 13 Reason’s Why, the 26-year-old actor is on time and sincerely kind. His focus is unbeatable. His groomer fussed around him while we held our conversation, but Dorfman’s direct gaze and precise responses made me almost forget she was there.
Dorfman is not one for foot-in-mouth syndrome. He composes his thoughts carefully, taking unapologetic beats of silence to consider each question. He speaks the way you wish you had written the essay-portion of the S.A.T. Dorfman is best known for his portrayal of know-it-all high schooler, Ryan Shaver on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, now in its second season. The first season became a phenomenon for its realistic portrait of the turbulent social climate of a high school in the wake of a student's suicide. The plot centers around a box of cassette tapes that Hannah left for her peers, and the story is told through entangled narratives that arise from their content. When I ask him what he can relate to most about his character Dorfman takes several moments to consider. Ryan is very intelligent, not unlike Dorfman himself, I point out as a prompt. His natural modesty makes him shrink a bit from the compliment.
“I don’t think that I’m not intelligent, I just look at life and work and everything as learning experiences and opportunities to learn. I don’t have the confidence that Ryan has in his intelligence. He is aware to a fault of his intelligence and the way he uses it tends to alienate him. I think you’ll see in Season 2 that he’s coming to terms with his behavior. Over the last few years, particularly with Hannah, it alienated him and didn’t provide opportunities for him to have a lot of friends or meaningful relationships. In Season 2 he’s seeking that out.”
When I asked Dorfman what details would need to be added to make his somewhat short Wikipedia page more comprehensive, he made sure to say that it would need to include that he successfully graduated college, an anomaly among his fellow actors. In fact, his advice to young actors is to “Take classes. I think education in other fields benefits you as an actor. For me taking other courses and even struggling through math and science in school helped me become the artist I am today. It feeds my work a lot and gives me skills when it comes to researching characters and writing that perhaps I didn’t have.”
The issue of inclusion is especially important to him, considering the barriers he has faced in his own experiences as part of the LGBTQ community. “I’ve found that right now I am not allotted the same opportunities as other people for roles that I’m qualified for, sometimes overqualified for. Some people in power aren’t super creative, I guess. They struggle to separate my personal queerness from my work. I think that’s often why you see straight people playing all the gay roles in films because there is not a lot of trust that queer people are financeable.”
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Dorfman hopes that his career will have some effect on changing that narrative. He expresses, “Should you fall somewhere underneath the LGBTQ umbrella or the non-binary world in which I exist, I would hope that some of the work I do makes it easier for you to come in to this industry without as much prejudice and judgment.”
I asked Dorfman if he always wanted to be an actor. He considers, “I don’t know if actor was the word I had. I think I really just wanted to be some kind of performer and storyteller. I was really a kid who lived in magical worlds. I spent a lot of my childhood, and still today, in Fantasyland, and I check out of reality a lot and daydream.” He didn't let the truth get in the way of a good story. “I was a liar when I was little," Dorfman confesses. "I would always tell stories to my parents’ friends and my cousins and over-dramatize everything. To me, that’s a form of performance.”
This penchant for fantasy has stayed with Dorfman to this day, and even amidst the uncertainty that comes with pursuing a career as an actor, he's ever hopeful. “I believe in a certain level of magic; I believe that I’m taken care of in one way or another.” Dorfman lowers his voice, leans in, and let’s his words carry out wistfully. “As an artist you’re surfing, and sometimes you catch a wave, and it’s a really good wave, like a show that goes on for two years like 13 Reasons Why, and you take that wave as far as you can take it. Then you’re at the shore and you have to go back in to the water and you don’t know if you’re going to get another wave, but you have to trust that you will at some point.”
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Written by Kathleen Juarez
Photographed by Keith Oshiro
Styled by Chris Horan
Groomed by Emily Dawn using Oribe Hair Care and CHANEL Palette Essentielle
Flaunt film by Logan Rice