This Actor Is Challenging Style Expectations In Hollywood

Harvey Guillen established himself as a profoundly talented actor on the short-lived Huge — a television series about kids at a fat camp — but more people know him as Blobbin on The Thundermans or Benedict Pickwick on The Magicians. As an actor, he’s been able to maintain momentum with small roles in other shows as well. Certainly, he’s making it because he’s doing good work, but he’s also carving a fresh lane and refusing to be trapped by the presumptions people have about what a plus size actor can and can’t do.

Right now, Guillen is transitioning into the world of fashion design. Long held up by fashion bloggers and websites as an example of killer steez, the actor-designer is an example of looking good at any size. It’s natural that he would take his keen eye for clothing and his interest in expanding the options for larger men and combine them to make dope clothes.

Last week, Guillen took a break from filming in Vancouver and sat down with us to talk about the reality of being a plus size actor, what he’s doing to change the industry, his role in a recent Lady Gaga video, and his fashion collaboration with a Project Runway designer. To top it off, he dropped some wisdom that will benefit anyone who feels stuck in a restrictive role.

Do you feel like you’re given a specific range of roles based on your appearance? Are you being typecast?

Yeah. When I first started I felt that I was very much seen as one layer, which is the fat best friend kind of feel. After a while, it felt like there wasn’t anyone trying to push the envelope on showing plus-size guys as more than that. You can be the leading man, the heart-throb, the crush, or the villain. I noticed when I got into this business, you don’t want to get typecast and then go down that road and that’s where you stay. Looking at my resume and what I’ve done, just in the last couple years, shows range. I’m not a stereotypical plus size actor in Hollywood.

Just recently I did a Lady Gaga music video with Catherine Hardwicke as the director, who directed Twilight and Thirteen. And she gave me a call and she said, “I want you to do this music video.” And I was like, “Wow. I’ve never done a music video. So that’s another thing to check off my list.” And she said, “Yeah, it’s for Lady Gaga, and it’s really cool.” And I was like, “Ooh, well, what’s the topic?” And it’s like, “It’s about sexual assault on campuses. And I was like, “Wow. That’s really dark.” And I was like “But, you know what, it’s for a good cause. So, I’m playing the best friend. Is that what you want me to do?” She’s like, “No. I want you to be the attacker.” And I said, “What?” And she’s like “Yeah. Because nine out of ten women who were attacked, were attacked by someone they trusted and knew. And you have a face that automatically make people think you’re nice and sweet. But that’s exactly who could be an attacker.” And I was like that’s genius. In that moment I was like, “Yes I will play something that I’m not comfortable playing if it gets the message across.”

It was really hard to stay in my character because it’s difficult to play. But, I was proud of myself for doing it for a good cause and doing something that people don’t ask me to play.

Yeah, I can totally see that. And I guess that would be highly disturbing. Very upsetting, I’m sure.

But I like that I bring a different layer to the characters that I play, to prove to the world, kind of showing a little mini me who’s watching TV that he can grow up and be an actor and be plus size, and it’s okay. Because I remember being little and watching TV and there was no one that looked like me on television. And I just thought “Where are the kids who look like me?” But now times changed and so those kids are on TV themselves and telling the other kids that it’s okay. And I’m just excited for what the future has for the industry.

Okay, roles for you are expanding. If you got to design your ideal role right now, what would that look like?
I actually am writing something that’s really close to me, that I want to have made into a full-length feature. Where the characters that I’ve been perceived as, which are the approachable, comic relief, endearing, get a twist to it. Where you know, you have these expectations, and you drop your guard, and then, at the end, you find a surprising shock. And it’s like, “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming.” It just puts you, as the viewer, in a vulnerable place where you can’t judge a book by its cover. You know it goes where it’s light and it’s fun, but it also goes very dark and scary. So, something like that would be an ideal next step for me.

And being as the lead in the actual project, where I’m seen as the lead, as the heartthrob, as the comic relief, as, you know, the threat. All the elements being in that one character. So, you’d be seeing everything. And it would be so great to play that, because sometimes you have to pick and choose. Like, “Well in this one, you’re just the comic relief and the boy.” Or, “In this one, you’re just this and that. So, you can only take two of the ingredients of the recipe.” I want to be the whole pie.

So, you’re not just bringing as much as you can to the roles you’re being given, you’re creating roles for yourself.

Absolutely. For a long time, you wait and wait for Hollywood to tell you what you’re good at and what you’re good for. And I’m so lucky that I’m surrounded with friends who are self-made. I, myself, am self-made. And it just boosts your energy and your drive to have friends who are YouTubers, who started making videos on their own and became successes and now have their own shows on television. And that’s inspiring because you surround yourself with people who are go-getters and who don’t wait for someone to tell them, “you’re not good enough,” or “we’ll call you.”

Alright, you call me when you want, but while you’re gonna wait to call me, I’m gonna create content. And still have my platform to have fun and create characters or writing or photography or fashion. Like, I’m still gonna do all those things as opposed to waiting around. ‘Cause if you, as an actor, wait around til someone tells you you’re good enough, you might be waiting for a long time. And unfortunately, your time might pass because you know, you’re not creating content, you’re not being seen, you’re not getting to practice your craft every day.

I’d like you to know, that in my heart you are in fact, dancing in flash mobs every day. And I won’t let go of that. I’m going to continue to believe that. So, you end up on a lot of best dressed lists. Do you think of yourself as stylish?

You know what’s funny? When I first started doing carpet events — and this must of been like seven or eight years ago —I would just put outfits together. It was hard to put outfits together as a plus size guy because there’s no like, one, two, stop. You know? There was DXL or Big and Tall. But those stores catered to big and tall and not short and stout. When you go to those stores and you see a shirt you like, the sleeves are way too long ’cause your arms aren’t like a basketball player. And you have to alter the clothes. So, the clothes are already expensive and you have to go get them altered. You’re spending an amount you could easily spend on a one of a kind couture piece that a fashion designer could probably make for that amount. Because by the time you were done with everything, you put a lot of money into that one long sleeved shirt, and you still have to add a tie to and slacks or something too. So, after a while, I was like “I’m not doing that.” I’m just gonna find pieces throughout my everyday life and collect them.

If I was to go to a thrift store or something and I found a vintage jacket, I’m like, “Oh my god, this jacket’s so cool.” And I was like, “Oh my god, the price is right.” I buy it right there and then. Not because I was looking for an outfit for an event but just because I knew that piece was a gem, and I found it. Before I knew it, my closet started piling up with pieces that I had collected. And when an event would come out, I would just put the pieces together.

And I’d piece it together and I’d go on the carpet and they’d be like, “Who are you wearing?” And I’d be like, “I have a variety of things that I’m wearing.” And people would be like, “Who’s your stylist?” And I’m like, “Stylist?” I was like, “No one. No one styles me.” So people for the longest time, thought I had a stylist because they’d be like, “Your outfits are always on fleek when you’re on a carpet.” And I was like, “Wow really? Okay cool.” I wanted to expose myself as a carpet walking actor. I don’t want to walk in with like a potato sack and be like, “Hey guys.” I’m gonna put some effort in it.

That was the wake up call for me. I was like, “Wow, people think I have a stylist.” And I was like, “I’m saving money ’cause I don’t have a stylist.” But, then the pressure came on. People were like, “What are you gonna wear next?” And it’s like, “I’m just gonna keep wearing me. I’m gonna do what I want.” And then you know, slowly designers started reaching out and saying like, “Oh, I’d love to dress you.” And you know, you walk down the carpet with this confident energy.

Confidence is what sells, I think, the product. I always feel confident in what I’m wearing. And whether it’s a red carpet event or it’s just me in shorts and a tee shirt, you know it’s the same thing. And, I get laughs because my friends are like, that’s funny you’ll walk the carpet in a whole thing, but then hanging out with them on the weekend, I’ll show up and I look like I just woke up. And they’re like, “Wow, you really didn’t try today.” And I was like “No, I’m wearing what I feel like wearing today.” It’s not like I’m gonna wear a carpet event outfit every day. And it shouldn’t matter. I should be able to walk the carpet with those shorts and tee shirt if I want. You know?

Yeah. Well it’s hard because when you’re overweight, trends or clothes that would look one way on a skinny person don’t read the same way on you.

Absolutely. I feel the same way. Whenever I see things online, they’re like “big and tall.” You can’t go off those pictures because what looks good on that person, on that model — I’m not the same height, the same width, you know? I just need to be in person with that item to try it on. And sometimes the outfits that look weird on a rack, look amazing on you. You never know.

And I’ve said that before. ‘Cause I go shopping with some friends who are not plus size. Like some girlfriends of mine, who are petite and small and they’re like, “Oh, I would never wear that.” And I was like, “Why not?” “I just don’t think it would look good on my body type.” And my rule is, you never know until you put it on. You’d be surprised. I’m like, “That would probably look really cool on you,” and they’re like “No, I don’t think so, and it’s that color, that color doesn’t go with me.” And I was like, “Why?” “I just feel like it won’t.” I was like, “Huh, well you’ll never know til you try it on.” They try it on, and I guarantee you, nine out of ten times, the things that I had handpicked for them, they’re like “I love this. I would have never thought about wearing this color. I never would have thought about wearing this cut. I would have never thought …”

I think we have this fear, that we put on ourselves. It might look good. We go for safety. We go for “I know what looks good on me,” you know? “These tops whatever and a pencil skirt always looks good. Or, these slacks and this dress shirt always looks good, so I will stick to what looks good.” Why not try something different? The worst case scenario, it didn’t look good on you. Oh big whoop. You go and try it again. You know what I mean?

Oh totally.

Yeah. But it is hard because being plus size, the cut’s not always the same. I have, in fact, right now I’m looking in my closet as I’m like talking to you, and looking for pieces that I have that are all different ranges from what you think the size should be. in one brand, a XXL is like too tight, and in another brand, a XXL is too big. You know? It’s different every time. You literally have to try everything on and then just … I collect them. I just collect my pieces. I try them on. If I like them, I save them. And that’s what I have in my closet.

Do you have any brands or designers or style go-tos? It sounds like you’re pretty eclectic but, do you pretty dependably go back to the same people?

Yeah. I became friends with Ashton Michael. And, Ashton Michael has dressed Beyonce for the Superbowl and you name it, like Nicki Minaj, everyone. I like his aesthetic. I like his cut. And I have some pieces of his that are custom made; they’re just tailored to me. Then, it feels so good when something’s just made for your body type, and it caresses your body and it shows off your best assets. I like the way he thinks, and he’s become a close friend.

But, I recently also started working with Rik Villa from Project Runway, and I like his aesthetic as well. He’s from the same world and I like to see where they’re not afraid of pattern and not afraid of different colors. Being a bigger guy, you’re told to stay away from color a lot because it makes you look bigger or patterns. You can wear colors. You can wear patterns. It’s just the way you put it together. It’s the way you see yourself and your kind of pizazz. So yeah, there’s designers that I’m obsessed with at the moment.

With Rick, have you guys only done the bomber jacket collaboration so far or are you working on other things?

Yeah. We started off with the bomber. He designed it, and then, I modeled it, and that was kind of the launch idea. And then we’re working on pieces that we’re designing together going forth. So, it was kind of like the announcement of the collaboration. And it’s gonna be a seasonless kind of collection where the pieces will come out you know, every couple months or whatnot. And they’re just fun pieces that we collaborated together and thought that this looked cool. Because we’re both from LA. We don’t really have seasons here but we kinda want to have the feel of the seasons without having to dress for the season, if that makes sense. So, it’s gonna be like a seasonless collection. Where it’s to be used all year round.

If you’re gonna talk to people who feel a little bit pigeon-holed by life and by fashion, what kind of advice would you give to them?

I would say, if you felt like you’re doing the same thing over and over and you’re kinda stuck in the corner, try something different. Again, try something new. Try a new look. I always try to recreate myself, in a way, when it comes to fashion. Where, one day going very preppy and posh, and the next day it’s very you know, greaser and laid back. And I like that.

So as an actor, different styles that you can play with every day, drive your personality for the day, you know? One day, you’re feeling really bad ass and you put on a leather jacket and some jeans and you’re like hey, like it’s 1956 Grease. And here you’re feeling that vibe, and that’s my vibe today. And then the next day, you’re feeling a bomber jacket and a flannel shirt underneath and some jeans, and then, it’s 1995 TLC throwback. You know? You kind of have the outfit drive how you feel. And when I’m just like a character and I’m on set and I’m wearing the costume, it drives you as the character. And just real life, whatever you wear does the same for that day. Every day can be like, a fun … like a little adventure when it comes to fashion.

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