Bella Thorne and Kian Lawley on Pooping Snapchats and the Intersection of YouTube and Acting
By John Boone
"Whether it's singing, modeling, acting, you name it, they always label you as the YouTuber, the social media kid, the social media star. It's something that I've heard -- a lot -- but I kind of just put it to the side."
Kian Lawley fiddles with his sneaker as he discusses the stigma against digital stars who cross over into more conventional entertainment spaces. The 21-year-old, known in YouTube circles as superkian13, has been creating online content since 2010, but this week saw the release of his second feature film, Shovel Buddies.
"If I want to act, I'm gonna act. And if I consider myself an actor, that's all that matters to me," he says. "I get referred to as the social media kid on set, but I don't let it bother me." He pauses and then adds: "I try not to."
We're meeting at the Big Frame offices, a management talent company that provides services for both "digital and traditional creators." Kian is wearing an oversized Pittsburgh Penguins jersey -- he's not a hockey fan, he just likes the colors -- and torn-up jeans, with an Aztec-print bandana tying back his wavy brown hair.
"Acting was for sure my main goal in life. That was my ambition. That was my, like, passion from a young age," he explains to ET. "I grew up watching Jim Carrey and I was like, 'I want to be like him. I want to do what exactly what he does.' YouTube was just a platform, kind of like a trampoline to, like, bounce into it at a faster rate. You know what I mean?"
Kian's first movie role was in the horror flick, The Chosen, which premiered at VidCon last year. Shovel Buddies, about four teens who set out to fulfill the final wish of their recently deceased best friend, is a turn towards dramedy, in which he stars opposite Bella Thorne and Alex Neustaedter.
Bella calls from the Warner Bros. lot, where she's en route to a table read for her upcoming Freeform series, Famous in Love. I ask her opinion on using YouTube as a platform to break into acting.
"I think that it's worked for quite a few YouTubers. So, yeah. It works!" she replies. She lets out a contemplative -- and audible -- "hmm" and explains, "I just think everybody gets their start differently. It really depends on what you can do and what level of outreach you have. Some people just start differently than others. "
Even for a table read, Bella is done up in full millennial glam: a chicly ripped Karl Lagerfeld tee with her leather jacket strung over her shoulders, maroon miniskirt, snakeskin booties. Her red tresses are tucked under a pink smiley face beanie. Our interview may be by phone, but I know her outfit of the day because, as with most things Bella does, it's made its way to social media. (Though when she Instagrams about the table read shortly after our call, she opts for a glamour shot of her on a faux red carpet in a snug green gown.)
The 19-year-old has been acting since she was six, turning bit parts on various TV series into a steady gig on the Disney Channel, and now, her most adult role yet. But she is becoming equally known for what she posts on social media: Twitter revelations about her sexuality, Instagram thirst traps from the gym, that one time she Snapchatted her colonoscopy.
"I'm like an open book. Maybe a little too open, people say--" Bella giggles. "All the time. But that's what I think that my fans enjoy about me the most, is they feel like they really know me. And they do! They really f**kin' know me!"
Bella and Kian starring in Shovel Buddies together is, as the latter calls it, a "perfect example" of the intersection between digital and traditional entertainment: "There's YouTube actors and there's traditional actors and they're merging together to create something that people can either watch online or in a theater, if this one went to a theater." (Shovel Buddies is available on iTunes now.)
But as each crosses into the medium that made the other famous, how will it affect where they're going? For Bella, she hesitantly acknowledges that, as an actress, she has to be conscious of what she's willing to share on social media, but just as quickly turns our talk to pooping Snapchats.
"I guess I haven't learned the line of 'too far' yet, because I always do pooping Snaps," she says offhandedly. "People always get after me about my pooping Snaps. You know what I tell them?" She leans into the phone with a hoarse whisper. "I don't give a f**k!"
If anything, Bella seemingly wants to increase the social media footprint of her life. She tells me that she's "teaching and learning and pushing and pulling" her boyfriend, Teen Wolf star Tyler Posey, to increase his presence online. The next day she posts an Instagram of herself in a bikini straddling Posey and captions it, "#mancrusheveryday." She follows that up with a Snapchat of the two in bed, where she tells him he's "straight-up fire signs."
Meanwhile, Kian is still active on the KianAndJc YouTube channel he shares with Jc Caylen. Now that he's earned some validation acting, he says he is attempting to make their videos more "professional," though quickly disclaimers, "They're not really at all." (Their latest is titled, "Truth or Drink." In it, they quiz one another and if either won't tell the truth, he has to take a shot.)
"I'm known as a person who, like, steps out of the comfort zone," he explains. "Who kind of breaks the rules and crosses the line in the sense of making YouTube videos. I don't really follow the rules of like -- not traditional, but how everyone does YouTube. And it's kind of made me more cautious and conscious of what I put into my videos. Like, I'm looking out for stuff that could hurt me in the future or could possibly be bad for my-- You know..." He tosses his hands in the air as he tries to think of another way to phrase it, but ultimately fails. "My brand. Or my career. I'm just kind of aware of how I make my videos now. I act like a kid and I feel like I need to grow up a little bit. A little bit. Not too much."
As I leave Big Frame, I spot Kian standing on a table to better take an artsy iPhone photo out the window. I wait for it to pop up on one of his social media platforms, but instead he tweets: "shovel buddies is now on itunes !! let me know what u think !! super proud of this film :)"