Having seemingly conquered Hollywood, the 27-year-old actor-dancer-singer Keiynan Lonsdale admits that the City of Angels didn't make much sense to him when he first landed here in 2014. "I actually found it underwhelming at first, I couldn't quite grab onto the energy of it because I had these preconceived ideas in my head, when you're growing up you're picturing LA and you're being shown it," he says. "It wasn't until I spent more time here that began to understand the rhythm, and I made more friends and that's when I really enjoyed the pace. I usually wake up early in the morning and I set myself a schedule. I like to meditate, do a workout, and I might practice a little ukulele. I'm not really any good, but it makes me feel good, to practice that, it starts the day well."
As a young actor emerging in Australia, Lonsdale's biggest credit was the hit ABC young adult series Dance Academy. Moving to Hollywood he caught the eye of producer Greg Berlanti who cast him first in the Warner Bros comic book series The Flash as the eponymous hero's younger sibling, Kid Flash, and later in his critically acclaimed 2018 romantic teen comedy-drama Love, Simon.
In 2017, after revealing he was attracted to people regardless of gender – Lonsdale prefers not to label his sexuality – the butterfly properly emerged from the chrysalis. Earlier this year, there was a spectacular appearance at New York's Met Gala in a breathtaking Manish Arora gown composed of a neon yellow bodysuit and 1500 handmade, embroidered butterflies. And then there was a confident strut down the runway for Louis Vuitton at Paris Fashion Week. "I try to take risks and I suppose push myself in directions that I would've, in the past, never have even imagined going in, due to fear, or just restricted creativity based on the ideas of what is normal," Lonsdale says. "So I think fashion, hair and make-up, it all comes together to really build out these characters."
Of the Manish Arora gown, Lonsdale says he was drawn to it because he felt it defied definition. "There were maybe some people that were uncomfortable, others that were excited, it just brought out so many different things," he says. "Because I had committed to that dress, I don't know, I felt like a whole different person, I wasn't Keiynan anymore. I think that's what fashion can do, it can turn you into someone else, something else, and it can also just bring out different parts of you." In contrast, taking to the runway during Paris Fashion Week seems, in his words, to have been a far more mechanical experience.
"I was just hyper focused on not tripping over," he says, laughing. "I'm not a runway model. I was just honoured to be part of it. You're not looking around, you're not really able to take in the surroundings, other than what's directly ahead of you."
When I was a kid I didn't want anyone to look at me.
Lonsdale says he has two physical wardrobes. The smaller of the two contains just black and white clothes, while the larger has "a ton of costumes in every kind of colour and option imaginable."
"I got a little overwhelmed because it's not necessarily, what kind of shirt, what kind of pants ... it's [more] am I wearing a dress today? Who am I today? I had to section it off, so that it made a little more sense for me."
The actor-dancer has always played with music, notably Higher in 2015, Good Life in 2017 and Kiss The Boy and Preach in 2018. This year he starred in a music video for Camila Cabello and released another single, Rainbow Dragon. He says 2020 will be "all about the music ... I want to just find incredible focus and bring things in line, personally and professionally, and really build something special. I just want it to be about the music."
But, like much of his art, his musical style takes some time to pin down. He was once quoted in an interview saying that labels are not helpful in life, and while the music industry likes to use them, Lonsdale isn't so certain of their value or meaning.
"I struggle to [identify my style]," he says. "I often say it falls under the umbrella of pop but to be honest, when I or anyone listens to the album, there really isn't a way to define it. I like to say it's like listening to a rainbow."
The Sydney-born actor-dancer is not afraid of fame, having spent four years moving around the zeitgeist of comic book popular culture with Kid Flash's trademark super speed, though he admits he can be uneasy with it. "I haven't quite figured [fame] out," he says. "When I was a kid I didn't want anyone to look at me, in general. I struggled with social interaction and I hated any attention unless I was dancing on stage. Then I wanted everyone to watch me. I've sort of reverted back to the same way," he adds. "Unless I'm performing, I don't really want to be known."
Navigating those boundaries on social media, where his 834,000 followers demand their pound of flesh, can be tricky. "It's kind of a daily thing, and it changes," he says. "Last year and the year before I was much more free with what I was sharing. There's so much noise out in the world, it's filled up with so much stuff. So that probably keeps me posting less at the moment."
To his mentor, producer Greg Berlanti, he acknowledges he owes a great deal. "I'm grateful that he was able to see something in me, and to trust that I could be someone that could help tell stories," Lonsdale says. "He attaches himself to projects he really cares about and that are close to his heart. To recognise that and to have faith that I can help carry it it's just very cool."
And for himself, the little boy who disliked social interactions, there is an unexpected peace of mind. When he looks into the mirror, with his chiselled face, blended from his Nigerian father and his Irish/Danish mother, what looks back at him changes every day, he says. "It depends how I feel about myself," Lonsdale says. "There are times when, honestly, I can't really look in the mirror, and then there's times when I just see Keiynan. It's nothing super divine, it's like you can just sort of check in with yourself. You're like, OK, where are we at today? What are we doing? How are we feeling? It's just Keiynan."