'Love, Simon' star, on being bullied, fan reactions, and one horrible audition.
Actor Joey Pollari. Photo by Luke Fontana.

Joey Pollari says he was almost certain he didn't get the part in blockbuster teen film "Love, Simon."

During the audition, he embarrassingly mispronounced a word, stumbled nervously through his lines, and came dressed looking the part of the role he was auditioning for: a Waffle House employee. He was the only actor auditioning who did so.

It appears the waiter look didn't end up hurting his chances too much, though. The 23-year-old from Minnesota landed the role of "Lyle" in "Love, Simon" — Greg Berlanti's groundbreaking film based on Becky Albertalli's 2015 bestselling novel, "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda."


Pollari as Lyle (the Waffle House worker) in "Love, Simon." GIF via "Love, Simon."

In the film, Lyle plays a potential love interest to Simon, and there's a real possibility he's also "Blue" — a pseudonym for the gay classmate Simon is corresponding with romantically online.

"Love, Simon" is Hollywood's first major studio-produced teen rom-com featuring a gay lead.

Its big budget and wide release meant most young LGBTQ people across the country could see "Simon" at their local theater. That's never been the case with an LGBTQ-themed movie for teens before.

While the film opened to modest box office results after its March 16 premiere, a top rating from Cinemascore, rave reviews, and successful word-of-mouth slowly turned "Love, Simon" into a success in more ways than one.

For Pollari — who came out as gay at age 18, and had experienced bullying because of his sexual orientation — the film's themes hit especially close to home.

Photo by Luke Fontana.

I sat down with Pollari to discuss the film's success, positive fan reactions, and the audition fail that totally wasn't.

On the moment it truly sunk in that "Simon" was a film like no other:

I probably learned it way too late. [laughs] I think it wasn’t until I saw the movie in a pre-screening that I thought, "Oh, this is weird, isn’t it? I’m watching a gay narrative on a major studio lot. 20th Century Fox made this. No one had to strong-arm them into getting it made, and it’s not fringe." That’s when it really hit me and dawned on me that a big step was being made.

On his personal similarities to — and differences with — Simon:  

Our stories are somewhat related, in that the environment was productive for coming out — and by that, I mean supportive. But Simon and I were pretty different, I would say. I was a pretty fabulous kid. [laughs] I don’t think many people were surprised [to learn I was gay]. So that experience was different. I got bullied here and there for people thinking that I was gay. I see myself in Simon, but I see myself in Ethan, too, [actor] Clark Moore’s character.

On "Love, Simon's" impressive word-of-mouth heating up the box office:

It’s really nice that people are responding to it and want to go see it again, and are telling someone else to go see it. It shows that the people really want this movie and they want their friends to see it.

If we’re looking at it in an industry sense and financial sense, it’s doing really well, and maybe will help support more [LGBTQ-themed] movies getting made.

Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images.

On fans reacting to the historic nature of the film:

A couple people have reached out — more than a couple — saying they either came out [as LGBTQ] because of the movie, or expressing their gratitude. You know, feeling appreciative they can see themselves in any way, shape, or form on the big screen.

Or, older people reaching out and saying, "I wish I had this movie when I was a teenager, but I’m happy to have it now." People have been really generous with it. I think that’s been the coolest part of the whole experience — how people have been responding to it.

On thinking he totally botched his audition for "Love, Simon":

I thought the whole thing was a stumble through. [laughs] I was the only one dressed in something that resembled a Waffle House uniform. I was like, "I’m so stupid, wearing this stupid uniform." It was a hat and collared shirt, tucked into pants. And I was there and thought, "You are such a nerd." [laughs] "Why are you here?"

I went to the audition thinking I was just going to be me during it. And then I was really being me when I pronounced "Hanukkah" wrong. I was nervous. It was a whole thing. I called my manager afterward and was like, "Well, that’s one for the books, onto the next!"

SPOILER QUESTION AND ANSWER BELOW.

On fans hoping Lyle was really Blue at the end of the film:

I did have some people who were rooting for Lyle to be up there on the Ferris wheel. Mostly my family, to be completely honest. [laughs]  

Check out Joey Pollari — in all of his Waffle House uniform glory — in a trailer for "Love, Simon," below:

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Courtesy of Verizon
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If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

Ready for the weekend? Of course, you are. Here's our weekly dose of good vibes to help you shed the stresses of the workweek and put yourself in a great frame of mind.

These 10 stories made us happy this week because they feature amazing creativity, generosity, and one super-cute fish.

1. Diver befriends a fish with the cutest smile

Hawaiian underwater photographer Yuki Nakano befriended a friendly porcupine fish and now they hang out regularly.

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