One of the most intriguing storylines on ABC Family’s The Fosters has been the friendship (and possible budding romance) between Jude and his best friend Connor (Gavin Macintosh). For 14-year-old actor Hayden Byerly, who plays the young Jude, it’s been a gratifying experience seeing viewers – young and old alike – engaging in their story.
“It’s incredible to see all the people who are very supportive of my character and the people who really relate to him,” Byerly tells ETonline. “[Jude] goes through so much – it’s always nice to hear I’m doing a good job.”
The producers felt a responsibility to discuss Jude’s arc with Byerly ahead of time and to work in any significant character developments into the show as the actor matured.
“They were always very open about me telling them how I felt. They always wanted to make sure that I was ready and prepared and that I was comfortable to be able to portray whatever role, and they always made sure that if the script said Jude was straight or gay I was always comfortable with that and I was always ready,” he says.
Though The Fosters hasn’t put a definitive label on Jude’s sexual orientation, that time is coming. Like life, Byerly says, it’s the journey to that moment that’s most important.
“As of right now it is defined, so the writers and the producers and myself all know the path that he is going down, what he is, what he likes and who he likes. We are all pushing toward that path,” Byerly explains, though the show won’t dictate one way or another just yet. “Over time, everyone will start to figure that out and see that too.”
As the season continues, things between Jude and Connor are progressing. In a recent episode, Jude and Connor – while on a group date at the movies – secretly locked their pinkies together, as if to signal a big step forward romantically. Tonight’s episode, which ETonline has the exclusive first look, serves as a major test. “It’s a very big one. It’s going to be one of the most favorited [sic] ones of them all,” Byerly teases.
The pair’s activities in the tent on the school camping trip has been the source of underlying tension all season long and the truth finally comes to light. “The tent was something where we tried to throw the fans in one direction,” Byerly says with a chuckle, “and none of them accepted it, that Jude was lying, so it is openly addressed as to what went on in the tent.”
If anything, Jude and Connor’s bond – which grew and evolved since season one – proves it is possible to depict young men on TV engaging in deep, life-long friendships.
“It shows that they stick together no matter what. That’s my favorite part about them,” Byerly says. “Connor always has Jude’s back and Jude always has Connor’s back. They both know that and I think that’s something that’s very important.”
Byerly – who himself is straight – admits it’s sometimes “difficult” to play a character who is exploring his identity and sexuality, mainly due to the responsibility he feels in getting Jude’s story right. “Knowing that what I do makes a difference and really speaks to people, is something that’s in the back of your mind.”
As for what fans can expect for “Jonnor” moving forward? The fan-favorite pair may be taking two steps back as the season comes to a close.
“A tragedy with the group of kids [on the group date] – the girls Taylor and Daria, Connor and Jude – happens,” Byerly warns. “It’s something that will shock many.”
The Fosters airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.