Michael J. Willett is a teen heartthrob in the making,and the breakout star of MTV’s hit series Faking It. Willett first grabbed attention as Lionel in United States of Tara, then again in the Mean Girls-esque comedy G.B.F. (which stands for “gay best friend”) as closeted homo turned prom king Tanner Daniels. But his new role as Faking It’s not-so-token gay Shane Harvey has everyone talking.
G.B.F. has been slowly building momentum since the indie comedy hit theaters last year. Singer Jojo plays Soledad, a girl who wants to start a gay-straight alliance at all costs, Natasha Lyonne of Orange Is the New Black shines as a teacher and GSA leader, Sasha Pieterse of Pretty Little Liars plays a reigning high school queen, and fellow out gay actor Paul Iacono (previously from MTV's The Hard Times of RJ Berger) graces the screen as a flamboyant gay boy who just can’t even.
“[G.B.F.] is like an underground cult thing that will continue to grow and become more popular,” says Willett.
There are similarities between Faking It and G.B.F.: They’re both set in high school and have a queer storyline. But Willett’s characters from each movie are complete opposites.
“What G.B.F. and Faking It have in common is similar tones and a modern vocabulary,” Willett says. “I’m bringing some of the fun I didn’t get to have in G.B.F. in Faking It.”
And he’s also bringing the fan base, which fits, since Faking It seems to be an unofficial continuation of G.B.F.
Things didn’t start off great for Faking It. Before the show even aired, it was criticized for having a premise based on two girls, Amy and Karma, “faking” being lesbians. Critics called the idea insensitive to the often harsh realities of coming out as a teenager, even today. The show took on queerness in a subversive manner, flipping the script at a time LGBT advocates call for better LGBT representation in media. Indeed, the show does something unexpected in a time where LGBT rights are in the forefront of every news cycle: It makes it no big deal.
Similar to MTV counterpart Teen Wolf, Faking It is set in a sort of utopia where queer sexuality isn’t something to keep in the closet. But the show takes it one step further than its wolf pack counterpart by making queerness something that makes you popular in high school, a reality that is not the case for many LGBT youth outside MTV.
When asked if he thinks Faking It is doing LGBT people justice, Willett says, “I do because it’s giving us something to live up to,” adding, “It’s set in the future, where hopefully we will be. It is satirizing everyone — I don’t think anyone is off limits.”
On Faking It, the hot, popular guy is a sculptor, Karma’s parents have an organic juice truck and use the term “womyn,” and the remaining high school students are usually involved in some sort of social justice protest. It’s not the high school many of us went to, though many of us probably wish we had.
Willett’s Shane is either keeping the peace or causing trouble in the most dramatic of fashions, acting as a gay Oprah of sorts for Amy, who questions her sexuality. Willett says his high school persona was much closer to G.B.F.’s Tanner, or “much more of a wallflower,” but, he says with a laugh, he’s probably closer to Shane these days.
“My character on G.B.F. was more of an introvert, soft spoken — I guess some would say a geek,” Willett says. “Shane on Faking It is much more outgoing. He likes being in the limelight. He likes being front and center.”
Faking It has made queer sexuality a nonissue in a high school setting, leaving room for conversations on gender in season two. While the current bisexual love triangle between Karma, Amy, and Liam is set to continue, the show will reportedly have an intersex storyline this season as well as trans actress Laverne Cox guest starring. Refreshingly, the show treats sexuality the way Willett says he has always viewed his own gayness.
“I didn’t really ever want to make it a thing,” he says. “I never saw it being something that separated me from anyone else. If anything, I found that it has given me an advantage in the industry.”
Perhaps the advantage Willett is talking about is the very real power of the teenage fangirls. This set not only wants to be his BFF, but some of them care less about Willett’s sexuality and more about planning their fictional wedding. From his recent tweets, it looks like Willett will be getting “shirtless scenes” — something fans of all types can appreciate.
Aside from showing more skin, Willett says Shane fans have plenty to look forward to in season 2 of Faking It.
“Shane has wandering eyes, and I definitely think you’ll see more love and romance,” he says. “Things get more complicated. We really start digging into what makes everyone tick.”
The second season of Faking It premieres tonight on MTV.