January 2022

Screened | Christopher Lowell

Getting Into Character with Christopher Lowell

Photos David Higgs | Words Tamara Rappa

An Atlanta, Georgia native and proud New York transplant, actor Chris Lowell famously played the character we all loved to hate in Emerald Fennell's critically acclaimed Academy Award-nominated film, Promising Young Woman. This year, we fall in love with Lowell's Jesse, his starring character in Hulu's How I Met Your Father, opposite Hilary Duff. An aspiring musician who works as an Uber driver, Jesse couldn't be more lovable, and when we first meet him, he's experienced everyone's worst nightmare: being the subject of a viral video. Lowell's list of television credits is impressive, with series like GLOW, Enlisted, Private Practice, Veronica Mars, and upcoming Shonda Rhimes Netflix series Inventing Anna, to name a few. We talked to Chris about Jesse, the characters that make up his tight crew, being a New Yorker on screen and in real life, and why he won't acknowledge the series' to-be-determined big reveal. 

When we meet Jesse, he is the unfortunate subject of a video that's gone viral. How did you build that story out in your mind for him?
I just tried to think of expectations. Being humiliated is an awful feeling, but it's made all the worse if you go into the experience thinking it's going to be one of the great moments of your life, and it turns into one of the great failures. When we shot it, uncharacteristically for a sitcom, I wasn't trying to ham it up. I tried to be as honest as possible. I didn't want it to feel cartoonish. I really wanted you to feel bad for this guy. I wanted you to also feel bad for laughing.

What do you think Jesse appreciates about how he's come to meet this new group of friends, including Sophie, played by Hilary Duff?
He's probably grateful that it didn't come to fruition through an app. He seems sort of resistant to social media platforms, and so I'm sure there's something wonderful about the organic nature of how these people all meet. And now that I'm saying that, they did meet via Uber! I think my favorite thing about living in New York is how you meet people. It's one of the few places in this country where you find that you're constantly bumping into people; you're put in circumstances where you run into people you wouldn't normally run into. We get in our cars and we drive to a destination, and it's very difficult to have chance encounters on our way, between point A and point B. But in New York, you go walking around, you get on the subway, you pass a restaurant that looks nice, or a bar that's got great music playing. I love the way that the city fosters chance encounters. I am a psychotic fan of New York City. You just can't beat it. When I came to New York, by the time I moved here, I was praying that it would be the Xanadu I'd made up in my head. And it freaking was. But I'll tell you this, every time I walk onto any set, I'm constantly thinking how wonderful it would be to be in any apartment this size, in New York!

What do you think is the common thread between this group of very different people: Jesse, Sophie, Sid, Valentina, Charlie, and Ellen?
I think they're each entering a phase in their lives where they still don't have the answers, but are sort of expected to. A lot of the people around them seem to be figuring their lives out, and they haven't quite put all the pieces together. A big crisis in your thirties that a lot of these characters are experiencing---and certainly plenty of people I know and I, myself, experience frequently---is that the stakes feel a lot higher. You should have found your person by now. You should have figured out your career by now, you should have made it. And if you haven't, the walls start closing in a lot faster. So when you can find a group of like-minded individuals who are at their own stages of figuring out their lives, but are not putting that judgment on you, and encouraging you to figure it out---I think that's a really critical support network to have.

The How I Met Your Father friend group includes Jesse's sister, and we're starting to learn that they have a bit of a complicated back story. What was life like for them, growing up?
Oh man, in the fourth episode we really get to explore it, which was wonderful. You get the sense that when the folks, when their parents split, they split the kids as well. I don't think you could do a worse thing to siblings, especially at a young age, than separate them. I think because Ellen's the younger sibling, it's hard for her to understand that Jesse was also a kid when this happened, he wasn't another adult with the same amount of authority or influence. He wasn't calling the shots. I love that relationship. I love Tien Tran so much it's hard to put into words. She is so much fun to work with. I'm very, very grateful that she's my TV sister.

As the series kicks off, we see Jesse and Sophie develop chemistry, and a bond, and a to-be-determined either friendship or love relationship. What do you think Jesse appreciates and loves most about her?
I think Jesse can't help but admire Sophie's resilience, her inability to see the glass half empty, even when it's almost impossible not to. I think he's attracted to her optimism, to her gumption. Especially because he's still licking his wounds from an event in the past that he can't let go of. I think seeing her ability to forge ahead is deeply admirable. And then, Hilary Duff's got the prettiest eyes in the business. So, that makes it pretty easy.

The How I Met Your Father story is told in the year 2050, by an older, wiser Sophie who now has a son, and she's recalling her life in 2022 when she first meets Jesse. What is it about Jesse's lifestyle do you think resonates or will resonate with people of the same age group, living during these times?
My childhood memories don't include the internet or cell phones. And I loved that. I think, now...we have two identities. There's our analog-tactile-human-being-who-breathes-oxygen identity, and then there's our digital identity. And I think especially in the age of Covid, in the age of online dating, and online remote work---it's very hard to balance those two. I think it's something I certainly continue to struggle with, and I think Jesse does as well.

The series teases the idea of, who is Sophie's son's father? Are there plans to reveal that eventually? Has it been discussed?
I never even asked. Never even, because what are they going to tell me? Let's say they tell me the answer. I'm not going to be able to keep that secret. Are you crazy?! I've got the worst poker face in Hollywood. So I don't know who it is, and I don't want to know until I read it on the page. That's my approach.

STYLIST: Christian Stroble | GROOMER: Natalia Bruschi

"I can't stop playing Wordle."

"I'm reading Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen right now, which was a gift from Tien Tran, my television sister, and I'm really digging it." 

"I've been listening to All Things Must Pass, the LP, the vinyl by George Harrison. It's been extremely helpful in the last year." 

"I'm using my Hasselblad camera all the time, it's always on the table."

"I've been wearing Todd Snyder's blanket-lined pants for the last two weeks in this 17 degree New York winter. You have to have some good outerwear, especially for dining outside."

"The neon sign at Lupe's on Broome Street in New York is one of the great neon signs of the neighborhood. And my favorite dish is their Huevos Cubanos."