(This article is dedicated to my wonderful friends Taffa and Devin, without whom this article would not be possible.)
When I mention Nick Robinson to people, their reaction is almost always “Oh, the Love, Simon guy.” This is true, but as someone who’s watched almost his entire filmography but Love, Simon (2016) it feels limited to define his career by a singular albeit ground-breaking movie. Throughout his career, Robinson has shown his ability to play YA post-apocalyptic heroes, quirky rom-com protagonists, and representations of various aspects of social commentary.
Nick Robinson’s acting career began at a young age when he got involved in community theatre productions in his hometown, eventually being scouted during one of the performances. He went on to star in the sitcom Melissa and Joey (2010-2015) and Disney’s Frenemies (2012). His career didn’t continue down the Disney path, although he was in several teen romances and dramas, particularly film adaptations of YA books and also Jurassic World (2015).
Admittedly, a lot of the movies he’s in aren’t necessarily good, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good. He stands out in otherwise lackluster (and straight-up bad) movies as a genuinely talented actor. In the Fifth Wave (2015) his status as the love interest gets sidelined when Cassie (Chloe-Grace Moretz) falls for Evan (Alex Roe). As Robinson’s character, Ben Parish, a former high school football star turned member of the youth-led resistance, becomes increasingly important to the subplot of the film, he shows he’s just as capable of being a funny and sympathetic YA, post-apocalyptic protagonist.
In Everything, Everything (2017) a movie out of the popular “sickfic” genre, Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) comes to find the strength in herself and in the love that she and Olly (Robinson) have for each other as she discovers the truth about her rare illness which keeps her indoors at all times. Robinson and Stenberg have great chemistry throughout the movie, making a movie out of the popular YA “sickfic” genre with an otherwise convoluted plot, a cute and enjoyable watch.
Krystal (2017) the brainchild of William H. Macy starring himself, Felicity Huffman, Grant Gustin, Rosario Dawson, Kathy Bates and Jacob Latimore is honestly incomprehensible, with almost every Letterboxd reviewer admitting they only watched the movie for either Grant Gustin or Nick Robinson. When I first watched the movie with my friends Taffa and Devin, we initially watched for Grant Gustin before they pulled me down the Nick Robinson rabbithole a la his performance as the film’s protagonist, Taylor Ogburn, an 18-year-old art gallery employee with a heart condition that gets particularly exasperated when he sees an attractive woman, which is where Rosario Dawson as the title character Krystal, fits into the story. Taylor Ogburn becomes infatuated with Krystal and obsessed with winning over her affections in a series of odd stunts offset by his bizarre family life and the increasing health issues of his boss, mentor and the only responsible adult in the movie, Vera (Kathy Bates). Robinson’s Southern accent is awkward, as are most of the Southern accents in the film, but he plays the lovesick Taylor with earnestness that makes the irrational and awkward teen endearing.
His next notable role was as Jan Erlone, in 2019’s modern adaptation of Native Son, originally a novel published in 1940 by Richard Wright. Covering issues such as racism in relation to class struggles, it’s not difficult to see how, despite sacrificing some aspects of the original novel, Native Son makes an effective modern adaptation. Native Son follows Bigger “Big” Thomas (Ashton Sanders), a punk rock loving black man in Chicago who begins work as a driver for a wealthy white man and his family. His employer’s daughter Mary (Margaret Qualley) and her fiancé Jan are both what one would consider “slacktivists.” Mary is seemingly only invested in social issues to piss off her parents, while Jan’s well-meaning speeches and ramblings about capitalism and injustice come off as shallow and awkward. Still, later in the movie after Big frames Jan for a crime, Jan, believing Big to be innocent as well, wants to help him and offers to hire a lawyer for him. Robinson’s performance as the cringe-inducing, desperate to be woke upper class “activist” is great, especially when Jan and Mary repeatedly ask Big to bring them to parties, restaurants and other hang out spots where Big, his girlfriend Bessie (KiKi Layne) and their friends go to be part of some unnamed yet fascinating experience to them. Native Son is a truly enjoyable movie with impressive, heart-wrenching performances by Ashton Sanders and KiKi Layne in the third act.
Robinson’s most recent and arguably most controversial project is A Teacher (2020), a Hulu and FX miniseries where he stars opposite Kate Mara as Eric Walker, a high school student who is groomed and sexually abused by his teacher. Robinson has stated in interviews about the show that he had decided that he was done playing high school roles until he read the script for A Teacher, and decided it would be his final high school role. Robinson brings the viewer through Eric’s trauma, from his being groomed and manipulated by his teacher Claire Wilson (Mara) to his unhealthy coping mechanisms through his first semester of college as he deals with the psychological aftermath of the abuse on his own. A Teacher is an uncomfortable watch obviously due to the subject matter, but it sheds light on the issue of male victims of sexual assault, whose experiences and trauma often become the butt of internet jokes and vitrolic comments beneath articles such as “If I were him, I wouldn’t be complaining.” Both Robinson and Mara bring powerful performances to A Teacher, and the weekly airing of each episode gives the viewer time to reflect on them and potentially reach out for help, as the show displays a website with resources for survivors of sexual assault at the end of each episode.
Robinson has several upcoming projects, such as Weetzie Bat with Anya-Taylor Joy, Shadow in the Cloud which sees him reuniting with Fifth Wave co-star Chloe-Grace Moretz, and Maid with frequent collaborator Margaret Qualley, with whom he starred in Native Son and Strange but True (2019). He’s a relatively accessible actor, keeping a lowkey personal life but regularly posting Instagram stories for fans. In interviews and press tours, he seems most comfortable when doing them with co-stars he likes such as Amandla Stenberg or Fifth Wave co-star Maika Monroe or when he’s able to discuss hobbies and interests outside of acting as well. As Robinson’s career continues, it will be interesting to see what further genres and roles he will break into, as he doesn’t seem to have any intention of being typecast or choosing roles in one particular genre.