The first time Christopher Briney got an email offering him an audition for the role of Aaron Samuels in the Mean Girls reboot, he turned it down. You heard that right. How does one pass up on something so iconic?
“I can’t sing, but I especially can’t sing in that calibre,” he admits to GQ. The idea of joining the cast of a musical—a movie based on the stage adaptation of the hit 2004 film— was a tough sell, particularly since this one would feature an ensemble of fierce voices including Reneé Rapp’s savage Regina George, the meanest Plastic of them all. But a few months later, the offer came back around. This time, no singing would be required.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, of course’—I mean, it’s incredibly iconic,” Briney says. “And the rest is history.”
At 25, the native New Yorker is no stranger to playing high-schoolers caught up in love triangles. He did it for the first time in his breakthrough role, as the withdrawn, brooding Conrad Fisher in Prime's coming-of-age romance series The Summer I Turned Pretty. Now, as Aaron in Mean Girls, he’s slinging a backpack over one shoulder to revisit his youth yet again.
“A big part of my process is knowing where I was at that age,” Briney says. “How [a character’s] experience was different from mine, and how I can sort of close the gap between experiences and what those feelings were like for me at the time — my equivalent of those — and putting myself in their shoes.”
Here, the rising star dives into the pop-culture phenomenon that is Mean Girls, breaks down the love interests he’s played, tells us what it's like navigating fashion in Hollywood, and explains what, above all else, has his heart.
GQ: What was it like to be part of this reboot?
There are no words to get all of it. I was just so happy and honored to be there. Just look at the talent involved in this movie, from Tina [Fey], to the cast, the cameos, how iconic the world is. It’s so cool— especially as Aaron, because he gets to be a little pawn in the plot. He's an observer, he's malleable, he's pushed around a little bit.
Mean Girls is very much a musical, why do you think it wasn’t really marketed that way?
I truly don't know their marketing plan. My feeling is it's really easy to assume that this is either a direct remake of the 2004 movie or an adaptation of the musical, and from the onset, they wanted to let people know that this is something different that sort of exists in space. I don't know, but potentially, people might look at it as just a musical if they’d pushed that first.
How did you prepare to step into Aaron’s shoes?
I'd seen the original countless times. I don't know who hasn't at this point. But when I booked it, I decided that I didn't want to revisit it until after we shot it because I didn't want to try and [emulate it], it's such a trap to [do that]...because it's so good. The original is so good and those characters are so fleshed out that there's no point, and you're doing a disservice to the work if you just try and recreate what they did.
I was like, hopefully, I can find a way to do my own thing. So I didn't rewatch the original and then I tried to do my homework. I went to acting school and I have sort of a process that works for me, to a certain extent, and I was like, let me come in, trust my instincts and hope that everybody agrees with it and then take direction and be a good listener.
Aaron’s character is central to the plotline, but he’s not your typical chick-flick love interest. What were you envisioning as you played him?
That's sort of what I like about him. He sort of goes against the expectations of male love interests in romantic comedies. Looking at a lot of other movies, there's sort of a love triangle and one of the boys is really jock-y and good at sports, and one of them's really smart and sensitive. Aaron's just sort of a good kid. He's good at math, [but] he's not great. He's probably pretty good at soccer, but he's probably not great. My strongest initial instinct was, this kid is a good person, he's trying to do good and I was like, how can I try and show that?
Can you walk me through what it was like filming the intense Halloween party scene when Regina seduces Aaron to the song Someone Gets Hurt?
It was intense, for sure. There are a lot of cuts in that—the movie is so jump cutty—and there’s a lot of camera trickery. Like, where’s Regina? We had two almost-full-day rehearsals of blocking it and practicing with and without camera and then obviously shooting it. It took a long time because there are so many parts moving there. You have a fully choreographed sequence of dancers. The dancers had been working on that for months longer than I even knew I was part of the movie. They had to fit me in there. They came in with a really solid idea of what they wanted to do, but executing it always takes a while. It was fun. It's fun to see how they use cameras at a scene like that.
Between Aaron in Mean Girls and Conrad in The Summer I Turned Pretty, you’re really nailing that teenage heartthrob dreamboat role. Where do you pull from to land that essence of teenagerdom and teenage angst for your characters?
Some of it's always just in the writing which helps and you're trying to service the writing in this story. Like Conrad, for example, that's sort of who he is within the story. He has to be sort of darker. As most teenagers do, there's some darkness in there. It's hard to be a teenager, man. And people cope in different ways. Those two characters cope in different ways, if you were to ask me. But I'm still playing them both so there's some inherent qualities I guess that I have that maybe bleed into the characters. It's hard to be young. It's an angsty period in one's life.
Have you started filming the third season of The Summer I Turned Pretty?
We were supposed to film this season last year but the strike happened and we're looking forward to going back, but there’s still a big hurdle. I haven't read any scripts. We'll see where it goes. I'm excited to complete this story. I remember when I booked it, the first thing I did was read the books, and I was like, I really hope we get to finish the story, because I would be upset if these characters didn't get to sort of live out the full arc of their story on the screen. I’m grateful. I'm excited to get back to it. There's a long way to go.
A little bit, haha. I try my best to stay off social media so I guess I didn't really understand the scope of the audio. It’s really a cool thing to have people taking something and running with it. I've done it my whole life with things that I loved. So to be a little part of that meme, if you will, it's cool.
I saw that you were at Milan Fashion Week…
I feel similarly about film festivals, there's some energy about a city when something that spans a week is going on. There's just energy and people are sort of buzzing. There's art in the air, if I'm being pretentious about it, haha.
How has your fashion evolved now that you’re navigating Hollywood?
There's two different sides to it. There's the side of premieres and events and the credit there goes to my stylist, Daniela [Romero]. She's lovely and she has better taste than I do. In my personal style, there's some pieces I have that I think are really cool, but I think I try to dress things down a lot because I'm such an introvert. I appreciate when people come up to me and say they've watched the show or the movie, but I try and avoid that as much as I can. I just try to blend in a little bit.
Hard to do when you’re living in New York, though.
It's great if you’re walking around most places, but then if you're in Soho, you're kind of screwed.
Dalíland with Sir Ben Kingsley, The Summer I Turned Pretty, and now Mean Girls. How are you feeling about all of this?
I've just been really lucky the past few years. There's so much of it that has not hit me. In my mind, I'm really trying to grind and work as an actor because that's a hard thing to do and I've been really lucky in work so far. I've been able to be a part of these three really cool things that each have their own identity, and I care about them all in different ways, which is exciting. I feel like I've been able to do three different things and I hope that can continue. I try not to take anything for granted, but I'm a lucky kid.
Can you give us a glimpse into any upcoming projects or what you're hoping to work on in the future?
There's nothing to spill the beans on. The show soon, and that'll occupy a chunk of my year. There's a lot that I want to do. I would love to do another indie movie. I'd love to direct some things, write some things — even if they never see the light of day. I did a ton of it [in college] and I've used being semi-busy the past few years as an excuse to procrastinate continuing that, but that's where my heart is.
I feel lucky to sort of have some experience on different ends of that spectrum, doing small intimate things in college and then Mean Girls is pretty big. I want to write and direct things with my friends. Hopefully we can make something that’s cool enough to get some credibility. I want to find a way to be able to do this, whether people know it or not, but if I can support myself doing this in one way or another, and I can do it with my friends, I'm happy.
Originally Appeared on GQ