Brendan Scannell on Love, Lewks, and Playing a Sex Worker’s Bodyguard

"I feel like I’ve gone pretty much as far as I can!" says the "Bonding" star.

You can’t keep a good gay down. Cast as the genderqueer Heather Duke in Paramount Network’s dark, ill-timed Heathers reboot—which was canceled and shelved after the rash of school shootings in 2018—actor and comedian Brendan Scannell has reemerged. This month, he brings the cute and funny to Straight Up, filmmaker James Sweeney’s smart screwball rom-com about an obsessive-compulsive queer boy named Todd (Sweeney), who tries out a heterosexual relationship with a caustic, witty actress (Katie Findlay), much to the chagrin of his friends. Scannell plays Jerry, who had a brief fling with Todd and encounters him again in an insanely cringe-y scene involving Truth or Dare.

Scannell also proved a lucky charm for Rightor Doyle’s Netflix series Bonding, in which he stars as Pete, a shy queer comic reluctantly roped into a bodyguard gig for his dominatrix bestie, Tiff (Zoe Levin), which leads him to pursue his own career in BDSM sex work. The show, which just wrapped production on its second season, returns later this year, but in the meantime the Indiana-born, Los Angeles–based performer co-hosts The Cure, his recurring comedy show with Joel Kim Booster.

NewNowNext tracked down Scannell to chat about what we can expect when Bonding returns and that time he wore a bloody Carrie dress (no, they’re all gonna laugh at you).

How did Straight Up come your way?

James had seen a short I did that was on Vimeo a couple of years ago and asked me to have coffee. I watched his 2015 short Normal Doors, which Straight Up is based on, and he told me he wrote the feature and was trying to get funding for it. I was like, “Good luck with that! You’re trying to make a feature? Me too! Nothing ever gets made until you’re on set.” Lo and behold, two years later I got a text saying he was making it and asking if I was available.

Were you a fan of classic Hollywood screwball comedies before this?

Yeah. I love old romances like An American in Paris, where two people meet and it just makes sense why they fall in love. When Todd and Rory have their meet-cute in the library, you see immediately why they might work for each other, and buy into the idea of true love existing on first sight. That’s something I always gravitated towards.

Brendan Scannell
Michael Tran/Getty Images
Brendan Scannell.

Have you ever known a big ol’ gay like Todd who became disenchanted by dating or sex and tried to do the straight thing?

Except for the conversion therapy angle, I’m not familiar with anyone who did that, but I was curious as I read the script if it would somehow come across as antigay. You know how people can read the premise of something online and assume the character is experiencing self-loathing or difficulty with their sexuality and that it’s a statement of the artist’s own beliefs? But I saw the finished movie at Outfest, and it’s so charming and lovely and plays out its premise and figures out the thorny truths behind it.

So if Joel Kim Booster came back from Fire Island saying he’s straight, would you call for an intervention or contact the police?

I’d call my Silver Lake lesbian therapist and demand her help. She’s honestly the most masculine person in my life.

Would Mike Pence stan on this film?

I don’t think Mike Pence even knows what stanning is. I think Mike Pence stans his wife, and that’s about it.

You come from Mike Pence land—Indiana.

Yeah, I’ve known about Pence my whole dang life. He used to have a call-in radio show in Indiana. It was like Delilah for bigots.

Did you ever call in for fun?

No, I’m not a prankster. I’m not a good liar. That was never my bag.

Zoe Levin (left) and Scannell in Bonding.

Let’s talk about Bonding. Have you ever been asked to do an awkward favor that made you feel really uncomfortable the way Tiff makes Pete feel when he becomes her sex-work bodyguard?

Well, whenever anyone asks me to help them move, I’m no use. I’m not really good at spatial organization, and I don’t lift. I’ve had two hernias in my life, and I’m not trying to get a third. I’ve got the scars on my abdomen.

Although you’re gagged from sharing specifics, how is the new season different from the first?

The big difference is when we shot Season 1, it was independently produced by a French company and ended up being bought by Netflix. This time we had the full Netflix-backed process of shooting, so it’s a little larger in scale and ambition, which is really exciting. More craft service snacks!

Have you come across any really unusual kinks while researching the BDSM community?

I went to Folsom [Street Fair] last year in San Francisco and would highly recommend that to anyone seeking an in-person education. If anyone has curiosities, I would say get thee to SF.

Scannell and Theo Stockman in Bonding.

Bonding has you doing some pretty risqué stuff. What’s the one thing you wouldn’t do for a role?

I feel like I’ve gone pretty much as far as I can! It would depend on what happened to the character and who they were. I wouldn’t play a Trump supporter unless they faced the consequences that type of person should. Complex characters are interesting to me, but I’m not interested in playing a character who is humanizing somebody who supports a person taking away people’s human rights.

Speaking of taking things away, how did you feel about what went down with Heathers? It was a casualty of those mass shootings that the GOP won’t do shit about.

You know, it did really well in Europe. I’ve got a lot of fans in Croatia, and I love them dearly. You can see the entirety of it in most of Europe, Australia, and Turkey, so anyone in America who wants to watch it has to pirate it or go on a field trip. And I worked with James Scully, who also co-stars in Straight Up!

Do you have any big plans for The Cure this year, like a national tour or podcast series?

We’re always batting stuff around. Right now we’re at Los Globos in L.A. every month to six weeks, and we came to New York last year. Joel is a busy boy.

What’s it like hanging out together?

He gets recognized all the time. We went to Tokyo together, and he was literally recognized in the streets. He’s probably the most famous person I walk around with regularly, so I take a lot of photos [of him with strangers].

What’s the strangest gig you’ve been offered to date?

Last summer I hosted a screening of Carrie in Bryant Park, which was really fun. I had a designer friend make me a bloody soaked dress, and I wore it as I introduced the movie in front of 1,000 New Yorkers who had no idea who I am, and they were game. They liked it and appreciated the stunt.

That was an amazing look! When Bonding Season 2 premieres, would you like to start a red carpet lewks war with Billy Porter?

A lesson I learned as a young gay person was not to pick a fight you’re gonna lose. I think he would win. He’s on a winning streak that feels a bit like early Lady Gaga. The meat dress, showing up in an egg—it’s of that calibre for me.

What’s the best thing about being a redhead?

If there’s a party outside, you have a good excuse for why you can’t come. You have a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Straight Up is showing in select cinemas nationwide. Bonding Season 2 premieres later this year.

Lawrence is a New York-based travel and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Time Out New York and The New York Post.