“American Crime” Star Joey Pollari On Playing A Closeted Teen: “There Is A Part Of Him That Wants Love”

Pollari plays Eric, one of the teens accused of raping a high-school basketball player.

Last week, ABC’s American Crime kicked off its second season with the harrowing tale of Taylor Blaine (Connor Jessup), a high school basketball player who claims he was raped by his teammates.

Connor Jessup in 'American Crime'
ABC

In last night’s episode, we learned that one of the possible attackers is secretly gay.

Joey Pollari, who plays the closeted teen, Eric, tells NNN that his characters has “two personas” he’s desperately trying to juggle.

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“He’s got his persona on the team,” Pollari explained us at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour. “As you see in that locker room scene [in the first episode], he’s passing around pictures of girls and he’s searching for masculinity that is just so difficult for him to obtain.”

Then there’s the other side of Eric: This week, we see him rendezvous with a slightly older man, who he ends up making out with in a car. But Eric bristles when the guy wants to go further—showing the character’s vulnerability and lack of experience.

Joey Pollari
ABC

“He has done it before but, for him, he is looking for a connection,” Pollari, 21, tells us. “There is a part of Eric that wants love. In a strange way, it’s his effort at [finding] masculinity and love.

Pollari says his character keeps going back to secret hookups, “and it becomes a question of, ’What kind of M.O. is this?'”

On the show, Taylor believes he was drugged and sexually assaulted during a high-school party, but he doesn’t remember all the details. Last night, we saw a rare event on network television: A male character going through a rape examination.

Jessup, 21, tells NNN that producers tried to make the scene as realistic as possible.

“Even though you don’t really see her on screen, [the show] hired a real trauma nurse so they basically told her ‘just give him the interview.’ It’s maybe a couple of minutes in the show but she interviewed me for 10-15 minutes.”

American Crime cast at TCA
NBC

“The way these examinations are structured, it starts out off innocently—with basic questions like ‘Where were you? What’s your name? Date of birth?’” he explains. “Then it gets more intrusive—out of necessity, but still. ‘Where did it happen? Do you feel any pain in these areas?’”

Jessup says that on the day of shooting, “I felt completely overwhelmed.”

At the TCA event, American Crime creator John Ridley revealed that the storyline with Eric wasn’t originally going to be as big a part of the season.

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“Initially we believed it was well-represented, but it was a bit of a side story,” he says. “As we developed the story this year, we didn’t want it to be a side story.”

Ridley, who attended Indiana University and whose parents are Indiana natives, also revealed why Season 2 is set in the Hoosier State.

“I love the Midwest. I’m from the Midwest, but personally where Indiana stands on some issues is not where I stand,” he explained “I think it’s very important sometimes to set these stories against a rougher canvas, if you will. It felt appropriate in all regards.”

American Crime  airs Wednesdays at 10pm on ABC.