To know Nate Griffin on MTV’s Sweet/Vicious is to hate him. Jock, rich kid, frat boy, rapist. He’s the epitome of white privilege: big man on campus, entitled athlete, charmer, predator.
To know his portrayer, Dylan McTee, is to love him. Actor, dreamer, artist, nerd.
Speaking with him I was taken aback by how wildly different he seemed from the character he played. (In truth, I double checked who I had on the phone.) Certainly, I didn’t expect him to be the smug, violent antagonist he played on the show—I do know the difference between reality and pretend—but surely he had some of the same brooding, arrogant, dark, secretive attributes.
Dark and secretive maybe.
Meryl Streep quoting Carrie Fisher at the Golden Globes really resonated with Dylan:
Take your broken heart, make it into art.
Hearing this I couldn’t help wonder what had fractured this twenty-four year old’s heart, especially because he offers an effortless laugh, breezy sense of humor, engaging energy and generosity of spirit.
Basically, everything letter jacket wearing Nathan Griffin is not. So who is Dylan McTee?
Well, he just graduated from theater school last year alongside classmate and now (what are the odds?) co-star Taylor Dearden (Ophelia Mayer). Having achieved his dream he relishes every experience and looks forward with eager expectation to the next, but he’s grateful he’s got his friend for the “gnarly” (80’s vernacular for something tough and awesome) experience of starring in their first TV show. The two have really leaned on one another, and he not only boasts about how spectacular she is on the show (I concur) but also how incredibly supportive she is.
Without question, there is a part of Dylan that courts the dark side. He lives for dark drama and dark comedy. Yet stepping into Nate Griffin’s shoes wasn’t easy. To don the skin of a character Dylan must fall in love with the man he portrays— a near impossibility with Jule’s rapist—and find the similarities between himself and the person on the page. In episode 3, “Sucker,” Dylan finally saw an unexpected vulnerability under the shiny chrome hood that hid structural damage: Nate had an incredible desire to be the good guy. Ironic, to be sure. Still, Dylan had to ask, “Do I know the extent of what I’ve done and what am I going to do about it?”
Despite tapping into that human element as the show’s villain, Dylan struggled while filming and learned a lot about himself, humanity and rape culture in the process. As we near the end of season 1, he likens the upcoming confrontation with Nate to being similar to a cornered animal with a primal need to survive. “It’s amazing how some people can genuinely trick themselves into believing anything. That was my greatest interest with Nate. This animalistic nature, this sort of deep, dark switch inside of us that, when turned on, makes other people into objects.”
In the pivotal and staggering “Fearless,” (my fave episode to date) Jules finally confronts Nate, a scene that brought Dylan to tears with nearly each take. “That moment is sort of the show’s importance all wrapped up into one speech: dealing with grief, clawing at anything into the world to make the pain go away, learning to live with it all. It brought this show to a whole other level.”
In truth, the show is already at another level. Sweet/Vicious is brave, groundbreaking, provocative, sharp, timely, unflinching and funny. Each week I am in awe at how they manage to juggle such an intimate and devastating topic as campus rape with humor, girl power bravado, wish fulfillment and real life sensibility. In short, it’s a revelation and one that’s desperately needed and much appreciated.
Dylan knows his first foray into television is something unusual. He’s both honored and pleased to be working on a female fronted show, knowing how atypical it is to have that many women behind the scenes and in front of the camera, some things he likens to a “new movement that’s happening around the world.”
Those presiding women pressed the cast to do research in an effort to be responsible and respectful to the show’s subject matter, some of which included watching The Hunting Ground and reading Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. Knowing 1 in 5 women (and 1 in 16 men) are raped on college campuses surprised and terrified Dylan. He now understands that survivors feel robbed of something they can never get back. One day when he has kids, he plans to educate them about rape culture and how to combat it. He’s proud the show is fighting back in its own right and inspiring conversation.
Still, ask him what he wants viewers to take away from the show and it’s not to become a ninja vigilante or call yourself woke to the often taboo topic, but instead to realize you can’t take on the world by yourself. People need people. No matter the obstacle, the right person can see you through, just as Ophelia is doing for Jules. It’s their friendship that most resonates with Dylan’s heart.
Outside of Sweet/Vicious Dylan has filmed his first feature film. Midnighter’s is a Hitchcockian “What would you do?” thriller about Rhode Island newlyweds dealing with a sudden tragedy.
But he’s most proud of The Here and Now, a 4-part series of vignettes about college students. The project was filmed guerilla-style: camera, sound, improvisation. He again gobbles cookies from the dark side as Landon, a young writer plagued by the death of his alcoholic father. His performance vacillates between likable neurotic and self-flagellating asshole. Landon is awash in grief he can’t fully understand and Dylan plays him raw, exposed and vulnerable.
To know Dylan McTee is to know the meaning of Taijitu. Watch him perform the dark, twisted, gritty pieces he loves for the Yin, then listen to him expound on his obsession with Legend of Korra for the Yang. “If I was a water bender I would die a happy man.” Opposing, but complementary. Duality. Balance. Just call him Dylan McTao, I mean McTee, a force of energy you’re sure to see more of.
The two-part season finale airs tonight at 10/9 C on MTV or catch all full episodes online.