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Brigette Lundy-Paine Atypical Carrera #DriveYourStory
Photography Molly Matalon

Meet the 23-year-old breakout star from Netflix’s Atypical

Brigette Lundy-Paine is balancing acting, art pop performances, and helping to run a fashion magazine

Brigette Lundy-Paine has a few atypical obsessions. In her downtime, the 23-year-old actor partakes in subversive art pop performances, helps run a fashion magazine “for weirdos”, and then jots down her escapades in a stack of diaries hidden under her bed. At one point, her teen dream was to become a scientist. “I always imagined myself sitting on a ship,” she says. “Diving in, catching a fish, putting the fish under the microscope, looking at it, categorising it, catching an alien, and saving the world.”

The “Brigette Over Trouble Water” headlines write themselves, right? But instead, Lundy-Paine studied acting at NYU and is now one of the most exciting young stars in Hollywood. You probably know her from Netflix’s Atypical. The comedy-drama series, which launched last year, depicts an autistic 18-year-old, Sam (Keir Gilchrist), and his supportive family. There’s Jennifer Jason-Leigh as a controlling mother, Michael Rapaport as a not-so-controlling father, and Lundy-Paine as Casey, a protective younger sister. “God, you suck!” Casey yells at Sam outside a classroom, before adding, “Find me if you don’t find anyone to eat with, OK?”

Lundy-Paine is also, if we’re being honest, the best part about Atypical. You could cut her scenes from season one into a 90-minute movie that, like Lady Bird, portrays a relatable, sharp-witted teen who dishes out one-liners, dates a hunky rebel (he’s a tuba thief), and stresses about which school she’ll attend. “I’m waiting for my spinoff,” the actor deadpans. “It’s called Typical.”

The show, which returns for season two in September, evidently filled a void in the cultural landscape. “I get a lot of messages from people who have siblings that have autism, and people who feel that they haven’t seen their voice represented in this way before,” Lundy-Paine says. “And I get a lot of feedback from young queer people and young people who don’t feel quite like they fit in. They see Casey as the underdog. Everyone connects to that feeling of being different.”

“I realised, at a young age, there’s something special about breaking expectations.” – Brigette Lundy-Paine

It’s fitting, then, that Lundy-Paine is part of Carrera’s #DriveYourStory series, a celebration of creatives who live by their own rules. Her love affair with acting began as a five-year-old during a kindergarten production of Rumpelstiltskin. She was, of course, the title character. “I was a shy kid. I didn’t know how to talk to people my own age. But when I was playing Rumpelstiltskin, I felt so much freedom. That amplified throughout my whole life. Every time I play a character, I feel so free.”

What obstacles has she faced chasing these unorthodox roles? “What I find so special about acting – especially being female in this world, and growing up with such intense standards of how you should be – is that you can break those rigid models. I love playing an old witch or a young boy. When I was younger, I would always volunteer to play the male lead. I realised, at a young age, there’s something special about breaking expectations.” She laughs. “I don’t care about making a fool of myself. It’s fun!”

As an adult, though, Lundy-Paine hasn’t been able to carve out a niche in old witches and young boys. Not yet, anyway. On the movie side, her credits include Downsizing, The Glass Castle and Action Point. She’s yelled French at Christoph Waltz, broken bad news to Brie Larson, and embarked on Jackass-style stunts with Johnny Knoxville. It means, when I mention a collaborator – be it Matt Damon or John Malkovich – she has an amusing anecdote.

I ask if Joaquin Phoenix, her co-star in Irrational Man, remains in character when the cameras aren’t rolling. “Oh my God,” she chuckles, naming the method actor as one of her heroes. “It was me, Emma Stone and Parker Posey. Joaquin sat down at lunch with us. He sat there for two seconds. He looked around, grunted, picked up his food and left.”

So where’s her grown-up Rumpelstiltskin role? It isn’t that simple, she explains. “The fun thing is, it’s exciting to play a young teenage girl or the female ingénue. In every woman, there’s an old witch and an innocent bird. Whoever it is you’re playing, you can find those moments of freedom and strangeness, and bring them to the person to make them all the more complex.”

Outside of acting, Lundy-Paine is preparing a summer release of Waif, a fashion magazine which she describes as a mix of Vogue and The New Yorker. Its manifesto claims: “Waif is when you play the piano & you don’t know how to play the piano.” Speaking of which, her band, Subtle Pride, is gearing up for a live comeback. The four-piece, an amalgam of Talking Heads and an SNL skit, define themselves as an “improvisational voice band”. They’re confusing and infectious.

“I’d love to take some time and go back to school,” she adds. “I’d love to study psychology or something about the human brain. The life of an actor means you think about people so much. It’d be interesting to expand that knowledge from the scientific side.”

But above all, Lundy-Paine is following her personal passions, and she’s doing it her way, too. “As a young woman in this business,” she says, “I have a vision of what I want to be doing, and how I want to be seen. It took me some time to convince the people around me that there was a different way of doing things. At the end of the day, you have to follow your dream. And especially for young women: stand your ground, and use your voice. People will listen.”

In five years’ time, she hopes to be producing more work and elevating the voices of other artists. “Being on a Netflix show is such a wonderful exposure,” the actor explains, “and exposure leads to power in this business. I’m really excited to use that power to tell stories, because that’s why I got into this. I feel so excited about the future.”

Work on the first season of Atypical, it turns out, started on the day Donald Trump was elected. “I’m lucky to be in this business,” Lundy-Paine says, “but it feels like we’re part of the resistance. I always see working as an artist as like being part of Dumbledore’s army and Trump is Voldemort.” She laughs. “We know that all we have to do is get into a room together and keep practising our skills, and keep working towards a practical way to defeat him.

“Sure, if that means telling these stories, then we’re lucky to be a part of that. We’re not the only ones who want to fight, but we have the power in that our voices are heard and amplified. So we can. And how exciting is that!”

Find out more about Carrera’s #DriveYourStory campaign here.