Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
(Series premiered on November 10 with new episodes dropping every Tuesday.)
The Performer: Nick Robinson
The Series: A Teacher
When it comes to how you could end up in a secret romance with your 12th grade English teacher, I submit a few quick foretelling moments from episode one of A Teacher:
Like when soccer-playing senior Eric Walker (Nick Robinson) first meets new-to-school teacher Claire Wilson (Kata Mara) in class, and she reads the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas – which plays beautifully to his ears. Or later that day, when his friend Logan sees teacher Claire for the first time and tells Eric: “She is too hot to be a teacher.”
Then, of course, there’s the fluke meeting at a café later where Eric and friends approach a seemingly bored Claire at the counter. After the two friends leave, and some idle chitchat, Claire agrees to tutor Eric for his upcoming SATs at his request. At this point, there’s more than a strong sense that these two will be bumping up more than Eric’s math/English scores.
All of this would be fine of course – if it didn’t then lead to a sexually charged love affair that puts their illicit tryst at the center of what’s sure to be a swift kick in the ass by society. Not to mention Eric’s mother and Claire’s husband, who she’s been lying to from the beginning.
For all its impropriety, nothing is completely black and white in A Teacher except for the fact that this type of affair is technically statutory rape and against all ethics and morals of teaching (and wedding vows for that matter). But A Teacher studiously tackles a gray area, where complexities and consequences muddle what seems to be a happy couple. Especially for Eric, who tells himself he’s “the muthaf*ckin man” in several post-coital chats he has with himself.
Having said that, Eric’s maturity far exceeds your average high-school kid due to having a single mom and two younger brothers he’s in part responsible for. This is where Robinson’s acting abilities impress to no end – as he straddles the fine line between responsible human and lovestruck teenager. He plays it right, balancing certain pride in his conquest with a believable blindness to what’s right and wrong, given what he’s fallen prey to. A notion that gets even blurrier when the teenager gets taken away by his 30-year-old teacher for his 18th birthday.
It all feels spot on… a testament to A Teacher series creator Hannah Fidell, who based the series off her 2013 film of the same name. (Incidentally also available for viewing on Hulu.)
For all the inappropriate things that go down in A Teacher, it’s not hard to keep watching as it spirals further into cringe, reminding us that predatory behavior isn’t always cut and dry to the victim. Meaning: Eric may feel like “the man,” but his inner child may suffer for a long, long time. Thanks to Robinson’s adept acting, we get to experience – and feel – his messy plight.
Depending on your viewing tastes, you’ve either seen Robinson grow up over the years – or you’re first being introduced. If it’s the former, then you’re well aware A Teacher is far from the first time the actor has played a high-school student. In fact, one of his finest roles to date was as the title star in Greg Berlanti’s coming-of-age dramedy, Love, Simon (2018). In it, Robinson played a closeted gay teenager forced to come to grips with his sexuality ahead of schedule.
Born in Seattle, Washington, the 25-year-old Robinson was accepted to NYU back in 2013 but deferred his first year because he was starring on the ABC Family sitcom Melissa & Joey at the time (2010-2015). During that run, Robinson would land his first film role in The Kings of Summer (2013), nominated for the Grand Jury prize at Sundance that year, about a group of friends who build a house in the woods one summer. Not long after, his career would enter a new era when he landed a lead role on the run from prehistoric beasts in Jurassic World (2015).
That’s when Robinson really never stopped working. The last few years have seen the promising young actor do a slew of action-packed film projects including The 5th Wave (2016), Everything, Everything (2017) and Strange But True (2019) before appearing in the war-themed horror film, Shadow in the Cloud, released this past October co-starring Chloe Grace Moretz.
A Teacher marks a return to series TV/streaming for the former 2018 Teen Choice winner for Breakout Star, and in a role that won’t likely be forgotten because of its risqué themes, falling somewhere between after-school special and shock-u-drama, depending on how you see it.
As for what’s next, Robinson is currently shooting the new 10-episode Netflix dramedy, Maid in Canada, where he plays the father of a three-year-old daughter in a story about a single mom struggling to make ends meet. It seems he’s finally graduated from high school once and for all.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.