The most fascinating arc of Luca Guadagnino’s sprawling portrait of multigenerational angst “We Are Who We Are” belongs to breakout star Jordan Kristine Seamón. In her first screen role ever, the 17-year-old actress plays Caitlin, the American daughter of a military family living on a base in Italy circa 2016. She’s a commanding presence, tacitly taking in the world around her, but also blunt and armed with opinions. “News flash, I exist outside your head,” she tells her new best friend Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer), a bold declaration that sets the course for her coming of age as a Gen-Zer, who’s forced to grow up fast.
Seamón’s character is also wrestling with her gender identity, and that begins to manifest physically, as she shaves her entire head early in the season. Seamón really did that.
“That was the very first scene that we shot. Every time you see me with hair besides that scene, it’s a wig,” said Seamón in a recent Zoom interview. “It was the first day on set. They told me originally when I first auditioned […] your character needs to cut their hair. At that point I had had locks for almost 10 years and was ready to cut it. I’ve been terrified to do it but this time someone would be paying me to do it, so I said, absolutely, 100 percent.” (The costly wig, she said, was made of real human hair but, no, she didn’t get to keep it.)
As part of that audition process, Seamón, who now lives in Atlanta but grew up in Philadelphia performing in school plays and community theater, submitted a self tape at the behest of her mother. The monologue for the audition is one Caitlin performs in the emotional fifth episode from the 1974 David Mamet play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.”
The producers were immediately interested and began to shape the role around her. Originally, she said, Caitlin was meant to be an Asian-American character, but the producers altered the character to fit Seamón’s race. “I told them I was Black, all the way, no mixture at all,” she said. “I don’t know if they changed it because of me. I like to think that they did.”
The character is also actively being shaped in real time, as Caitlin’s gender expression starts to veer toward masculine as she retreats into an alter-ego she calls “Harper.” She starts drawing on facial hair, taping her chest, and wearing baggier clothes as she marches into coming to terms with possibly being trans. That fluid gender identity, she said, is not out of place among Seamón’s generation, and it was easy for the actress to turn to her peers to achieve an authentic point of view.
“I did mainly talk to friends. I did some online research about what it was like for a young person to question their gender identity, but I didn’t want to solely look online, and I didn’t want to have a specific textbook answer, so therefore I talked to […] real people to get their experiences,” she said, and asked questions like, “Who was accepting? Who wasn’t accepting? How did you come to terms with it yourself, and your family, and your friends?”
Also abetting in bringing emotional authenticity to the character was director Luca Guadagnino, who helmed all eight episodes of the series. The filmmaker, Seamón said, is like an uncle or a grandfather, and he does “a lot of staring, and he tells you later on he was studying [you], but it comes across as very scary.” Seamón didn’t know Guadagnino was attached to the project until she was called to do a chemistry read with her co-star, Jack Dylan Grazer.
“I was like ‘Oh let me look up who that is.’ Shouldn’t do that. I looked up Jack as well. Big mistake.”
Seamón said her new brush with exposure via the HBO series has been “really chaotic. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. It’s been a lot with interviews and general meetings, potential offers about working on new things, and new products, and new branding. It’s been all over the place. I now have had to become so much more organized, along with my mom, in just trying to keep it all together and keep myself from going insane.”
Though Seamón hasn’t settled on her next role just yet, she did say she’d love to revisit the “We Are Who We Are” characters for another season, ideally with a leap into the future to examine them in their 20s. She also said she’d love to do a comedy next. “It won’t always keep you in the happiest of moods,” she said of the drama.
“We Are Who We Are” premieres its Season 1 finale Monday, November 2 at 10 p.m. ET.