Pop-Culturalist Chats with Ian Harding
Ian Harding is a man of many talents. He’s an actor, author, and influencer, who’s using his platform to connect with fans, promote upcoming projects, and bring awareness to causes he’s passionate about. Best known for his role as Ezra Fitz on the cult classic, Pretty Little Liars, Ian has proven himself as one of Hollywood’s most versatile talents, effortlessly transitioning between television and film. He’s currently starring in the must-see indie film, People You May Know—available on VOD today. It’s a cautionary tale about being your authentic self in the digital era. Pop-Culturalist spoke with Ian about the role, how social media has changed the industry, and the lesson he hopes fans take away from watching the film.
P-C: Tell us about your character in People You May Know.
Ian: I play Phillip. He’s a character who’s lived in the city, decided it’s not the scene for him, and it’s not where he wants to be. He moves, buys a house, and doesn’t document his life on social media. He feels great about his decisions, but his wife, Franky, begins to have second thoughts. As a result, it calls into question who they are as people and what life they each want for themselves.
P-C: In recent years social media has been a huge focal point for television programs and films. What about this is different and unique?
Ian: I liked this project because I hadn’t seen an independent film about a grown man—a man of the millennial persuasion—who’s never been into social media, and, then, suddenly finds himself at the apex of what it can offer you. It’s about that pseudo-instant fame and the validation that comes with the number of likes you get; [it’s] how that can define why you live in a certain way and do certain things. I don’t want to give too much away, but he has a sort of reckoning of who he’s become. It’s an important conversation to have right now—especially when we have all these young kids on Facebook or Instagram that are put-off by the number of likes that they get or don’t get. It’s that weird sense of self that people can get from social media.
P-C: As an actor, how has social media changed the industry and impacted your career?
Ian: It’s another way of communicating, [and] one that everyone wants to be a part of, though I’m not the biggest fan of it. I don’t feel like it’s a form of self-expression; it’s a way of advertising and connecting with fans. I think once you start to put any self-worth into your Instagram page, or put artistry into it, then it can get a little bit dangerous.
P-C: Can you talk a little bit more about Phillip’s relationship with his wife and that progression through the course of this film?
Ian: In Phillip’s mind, he and his wife have checked off that wild, city-dwelling life. He sees all of the city in the same lens. To him, living in the city is a sign of irresponsibility—financially, emotionally, and socially—and he wants to feel like he’s giving back which he does by teaching. In his opinion, there’s a selfishness in the life that they had before, but for Franky living in the city and pursuing a career in acting made her feel like the whole world was at her fingertips.
P-C: The film teaches a lot of important lessons. Which one resonated the most with you, and what do you hope fans take away from seeing this film?
Ian: I hope the film is a reminder of people’s humanity. It’s interesting how we approached the topic of celebrities in the film. The main character photoshops a picture of himself with Usher Raymond, and it gets him tons of likes and praise. Some fun moments follow from that.
Recently, I was at an airport chatting with a woman, and she had no idea who I was or what I did for a living. But then, a young fan walked up to me and asked for a photo. Right after we took the photo the woman was interested in me—in a way that almost felt like trophy hunting. She wanted to take a photo to put on Facebook, and I think that’s a symptom of people losing sight of other people’s humanity. We forget that when we’re taking photos, whether that be of someone on the street or a celebrity, and then put it online, that’s another person.
P-C: At the end of the film, each character shares their #TruthfulTuesday. If we got to see Phillip’s, what would it have been?
Ian: That’s a great question. I feel like because they’re sharing it online Phillip’s would be, “What is #TruthfulTuesday and why can’t I tweet more than 140 characters?” However, in all honestly, he would probably recognize how heartbroken he is, but he [would also] realize that Franky is his friend, and she needs to pursue her dreams. It’s not a healthy relationship if you’re holding one person back.
P-C: In the film the main character has a social media blunder. What’s the biggest blunder you’ve made on one of your accounts?
Ian: I’ve had a couple. On more than one occasion I’ll Instagram something and realize there was an egregious typo in the caption. Last year, I wrote a book and while promoting it, I misspelled something—which always looks stupid, but especially [did] in that situation, [like,] “I’m a writer but I can’t spell!” I was also the guy—years ago—who jumped on social news bandwagons without knowing the ins and outs of the subject, and that was a big lesson for me. If you’re talking about a serious subject—and not just advertising your next project—you really need to know what you’re saying.
Check out the trailer for People You May Know below:
Pop-Culturalist Speed Round
P-C: Guilty pleasure TV show?
Ian: Guilty pleasure TV show? Not to sound like ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World’ from those Dos Equis commercials, but I don’t watch a lot of television. However, when I do, I get pretty obsessed with it. I’m not sure it’s a guilty pleasure, but I just discovered Dear White People, which is a movement that I really like. When I saw that it was a television show, I was like, “Oh, let me check this out,” and I absolutely loved it.
P-C: Guilty pleasure movie?
Ian: I just saw this on the plane recently. I thought Horrible Bosses 2 was hilarious. I know some people didn’t like it, but I thought it was absolute genius.
P-C: Favorite book?
Ian: The best fiction that I’ve read recently is a tie between Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and On Beauty by Zadie Smith. Those two are pretty fantastic. In terms of nonfiction, I’m currently reading Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson, and I love anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who wrote We Should All Be Feminists and Americanah.
P-C: Favorite play or musical?
Ian: I’ve always been a fan of Into the Woods. It’s been my favorite of mine since I was a child. I never saw Hamilton, and I regret it. I love the music from it.
P-C: A band or artist that fans would be surprised to learn is on your playlist?
Ian: That fans would be surprised by? Hmmm…I only recently discovered Chance the Rapper. I actually had a conversation with some of my friends, and I was like, “My God. Have you guys listened to Chance the Rapper?” and they’re like, “Yeah, like five years ago.” [laughs] I’m a big fan of his. Then, the other night, my Spotify was cycling through songs, and I discovered Demi Lovato’s recent album, and I was like, “Man, this girl can sing!”
Photo Credit: St. Martin’s Press