Years and Years' Olly Alexander Is A Nineties Revivalist
Olly Alexander is an actor, a rock star, and a proud advocate. The 25 year-old Englishman has appeared in some of our favorite films, including Gaspar Noè’s Enter the Void, the Belle and Sebastian musical God Help The Girl, and The Riot Club. Despite his already impressive resume, Alexander is perhaps best known as the frontman of electronica trio Years and Years, whose first album, Communion, hit the UK charts at number one.
Alexander stands up for LGBT rights; his songs frequently cover the men who broke his heart, always using male pronouns rather than anything ambiguous. Two of Years and Years’ most successful singles, which have literally hundreds of millions of hits on YouTube, have explicitly gay themes, still a rarity in popular music. And two weeks ago, Alexander was named Out’s Breakout of the Year. Needless to say, he’s doing well.
Olly has now taken a stab at writing, contributing to the script of his latest film, Funny Bunny, in theaters now. The movie deals with an emotionally stunted romance, and it’s a profoundly strange, affecting work. It’s also not without a sense of humor: Alexander’s character is literally named Titty. We caught up with him to talk about the film, musical success, LGBT advocacy, and the legacy of Space Jam.
You’re in a new movie called Funny Bunny, and you play a character named Titty. Do you know how they came up with that name?
Well, I think [director] Alison Bagnal met somebody with that name, and they had a similar story to mine. I think it was a nickname, and Alison told him that she wanted to use that name for the character.
Do you have any nicknames for yourself, like around your band or anything?
Sadly I don’t. I’ll try to figure out something.
You gotta do at least one. Maybe “Boobs” or something. So in the film, you play a character who—I couldn’t tell if they had some kind of mental disability, or if it was just emotional trauma. What was it like playing that kind of character?
I actually really enjoyed playing the character. It felt really kind of liberating, and he still has a bit of a childlike sense of the world. Everything is new and kind of crazy, so it was fun to play this sort of guileless character.
The movie seemed like she had some kind of sexual trauma, and it seemed like she was exploring that through your character. It’s a very intense movie.
All of the characters are dealing with some kind of trauma or wound, but Ginger has the biggest hurdle to overcome. She’s very damaged, and it was definitely hard to find the right tone. At one point, we were rewriting the ending, because we didn’t want it to be too dark, but we still wanted an ending that would touch people. I think Joslyn, the actress, was brilliant.
The movie also seems to be about damaged people using the Internet as a space to find each other. Do you see the Internet as a useful tool, in terms of the movie and your fan base?
Well, it’s connected people, and the way that we socialize has totally changed. It has a lot of positives, but also it has the negatives too. There’s not really any substitute for physical, real life relationships. It’s like a period of adjustment: we’re all trying to figure out how to live our real lives, but there’s also this online world that can be kind of a problematic situation.
Did you find any connections to the storyline of dating online, especially since you and your boyfriend are on tour a lot and you have to use the Internet to interact?
[Laughs] That’s a funny comparison. But yeah, I think anyone who’s been in a long distance relationship has relied a lot on Skype or Facetime, and it’s definitely helped, but it doesn’t have too much of a parallel to the film.
There’s a lot of fur in the movie. I don’t think you and your boyfriend have a lot of fur in your relationship.
Congratulations on the Out 100. How does it feel to deal with that news?
Years and Years started like five years ago-even a bit longer-and it’s been a while since I’ve focused on acting, and it’s just amazing how far it’s gotten.
I went to your concert at Terminal 5, and it was interesting looking at the crowd. There were a lot of gay couples of all ages. It’s nice to see your music bring so many people together.
That’s so nice. That makes me feel good.
Do you think it’s because you’ve taken on a role of such a visual gay pop star?
I think I’ve definitely tried to have as loud a voice as possible on queer issues, and that’s just because I care about it. I’ve been really humbled by the response and the support I’ve had, from the people that listen to the music and come to the shows and talk to me. We don’t have enough queer artists, and it’s as important as the music is.
Do you have any other queer artists that you’re a fan of right now?
I really like Le1f. I’m in awe of him, really. I love his music, but I also think he has important stuff to say about intersectionality and homophobia and trans rights, and he’s just really great.
I saw your Halloween costume, the undead Spice Girls. How’d you come up with that?
I’m a Spice Girls fan, obviously, and our manager came up with the idea. Mikey was into it, and Dylan our drummer, but it took a bit of convincing for the whole band. But it felt great, it was really fun. We were doing it at Wembley, so we were trying to honor the memory of the Spice Girls.
You are a big fan of the nineties. On national coming out day you talked about Space Jam. Is there anything else from the nineties or early 2000s that you’re a really big fan of?
Are you kidding? How much time have you got? [Laughs] I actually got a funny comment on Instagram the other day, where someone said that they missed Olly’s old Instagram that was filled with selfies, and that now it’s just all about old shit. I was like, “oh no!” [Laughs] It’s really sad!
Is that how old we’ve gotten, that Space Jam is too old for people?
I’ve recently gotten back into watching shows like Two of a Kind, all these old Nickelodeon shows. That’s a whole cultural slice that young people just don’t know anymore!
What will you do for Halloween next year? Is there some sort of dream remake of a nineties film?
I really liked Heidi Klum as Jessica Rabbit. It’s kind of chilling, how great it was. And I love that movie, so maybe we could do a Roger Rabbit thing.
“Bring back Sabrina the Teenage Witch!”
Do you want to do more film roles, or are you really focused on your music right now?
I definitely don’t have any free time. I’m really focused on doing music. But I would love to do something again in a couple years. If there’s something really great, I would love to do it.
You came out with a tweet calling out Germaine Greer for her transphobia. I was thinking a lot about transphobia in the gay community. What would you say about being an ally for the trans community?
It’s so funny that you say that. I’ve been talking a lot with people recently about trans issues in the larger LGBT community, because it’s kind of exploded recently, and it feels very new. I feel like people are kind of stamping their feet a bit, like “we fought for these rights and they’re different from gender rights,” and I think it’s really backwards and unhelpful.
I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to support the wider community. I mean obviously there are differences, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t take an intersectional approach to LGBT issues. You can still fight for everyone’s rights without having to exclude people from the community. So I just think we’re all kind of fighting against the same attitudes, and we’re stronger together. I for one will always be an ally. I think we’re stronger together.
If you could date any famous dead person but it had to be an online relationship, who would you pick?
Probably River Phoenix.
Why River Phoenix?
I love him. We could talk about our feelings.
If you could lead a radical band of activists, like in the movie, what kind of cause would you pick?
Oh god, there’s so many. I guess this time around, I’m gonna fight for the environment.
I thought it was either gonna be that or a nineties resurgence, but the environment works.
[Laughs] Bring back Sabrina the Teenage Witch!