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Chase Stokes on the High Stakes Of Outer Banks Season 3

Warning: spoilers for Outer Banks seasons 1-3

Chase Stokes might have one of Hollywood’s best rags-to-riches stories in recent memory. Around this time four years ago, Stokes, a little-known actor whose credits included Stranger Things and Tell Me Your Secrets, turned down an audition for Outer Banks, a new Netflix drama about a group of treasure-seeking teens residing off the coast of North Carolina, because he believed it was a remake of The Goonies. But after hearing a couple of months later from the casting director Lisa Finncannon, who had cast him in a series called Daytime Divas, Stokes decided to read the Outer Banks pilot, which introduces the working-class Pogues and the upper-class Kooks, and immediately submitted himself for consideration.

A few days later, while having brunch with friends on Easter Sunday, Stokes received a call from his agent, telling him that he would have to take a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Charleston later that night and memorize over a dozen pages of dialogue on the plane. Expecting to stay a few nights, he only packed a few t-shirts and pairs of shorts and underwear. But upon arrival in South Carolina, he discovered he had overdrafted his bank account and couldn’t even afford an Uber to the production office. (He got there eventually after borrowing some money.) In fact, after landing the lead role, Stokes dove straight into production on the first season; he didn’t see the inside of his L.A. apartment for months and couldn’t really buy anything himself until he received his first paycheck.

That unlikely success story might be the best way to describe Stokes’ meteoric rise to fame, which has propelled him into the ranks of heartthrobs on soapy teen dramas. The executive producers of Outer Banks (OBX to fans), who spent months looking for an actor who could believably embody both the vulnerability and physicality of a young outdoorsman, quickly recognized Stokes’ potential as a leading man.

“We had a couple of chemistry reads with Maddie Cline [who plays Sarah Cameron], and as soon as Chase walked in, Cline turned bright red, so we cast him off that incredible chemistry that he had with her,” recalls Josh Pate, who co-created the show with his twin brother, Jonas, and Shannon Burke. “It’s become more of an ensemble [show], but especially early on, he was the lead dog, and he would help us [communicate] with all of the actors. After a season, we would talk to him, like, ‘Hey, we see this kind of stuff coming up. Try to work on this. Watch this movie. Study this guy.’ And he would come back and have done all that work.”

A self-proclaimed “hopeless romantic,” Stokes’ fascination with acting can be traced back to an unlikely source: Ghost, the 1990 film starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. “I remember watching that and being like, ‘Oh, I’m feeling things from this that I’ve never felt before,’” he tells W over Zoom. But it wasn’t until his high school years, when he took a class in TV production to raise his G.P.A. and developed a reputation for goofing around while reading the morning announcements, that he began considering working in front of the camera. It was around that time at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, Florida, that Stokes bonded with classmate Jeremy Pope—whom Stokes describes as “a beautiful soul” that he has always admired “for the way that he carries himself”—over a shared love for the arts.

That love for the craft has only grown in recent years, on OBX. For three seasons, Stokes has played John B. Routledge, the charismatic leader of the Pogues, who convinces his gaggle of friends to embark on an international treasure hunt in the hope of uncovering the truth about his father’s disappearance. After Big John (Charles Halford) was revealed to be alive at the end of the second season, the third installment bittersweetly reunites the father-son duo, with John B. realizing that Big John, who remains hellbent on finding the mythical city of gold known as El Dorado, still hesitates at the idea of choosing his only son over the treasure.

“I really wanted to portray this want for John B. to hold on to these memories of his dad being this superhero in his brain. [But] at so many points in his life, [Big John] chose his own selfish wants over being a father,” Stokes says of his character’s internal struggle this season. “As a child, you want to be loyal to your parents, so [John B] is trying to make up for lost time. But he’s also just trying to respect his father’s choices until there are reasons to not do that anymore.”

The 78-minute finale brings that conflict (among many others) to a head, wrapping up a three-season, 30-episode mystery. Titled “Secrets of the Gnomon,” the landmark episode finds John B., Sarah, and Big John trekking through the South American jungle, where they cobble together clues from an archeological site to find a dark cavern that contains gold.

Although parts of the finale were shot around Charleston, South Carolina, including the climactic rain sequence midway through the episode, the cave scenes were shot across multiple days in Barbados, where the claustrophobic feeling of shooting 12 hours a day underground lended itself to maintaining the tension between John B. and Sarah. It’s the most daunting sequence that Stokes says he has shot in three seasons (and that’s saying something).

“Thankfully, [the government] allowed us to use those locations, but people are not allowed to swim in those pools, and people aren’t even allowed to be walking in those areas. So, in a weird way, that was my saving grace,” says Stokes, who reveals he and Cline tried to do all of their own stunts on those days. “It’s like, ‘You’re doing something that no other humans are allowed to do, so take it as a cool memory.’ Would I do it again? Probably not. It’s like skydiving. You gotta say you did it once.”

In the end, John B. and Sarah are able to find the mythical place known as El Dorado and escape with both the gold and their own lives, but their fathers were not as lucky. Sarah’s villainous father, Ward (Charles Esten), in a rare act of selflessness, sacrifices himself to save her from a vengeful bodyguard; Big John, in a tragic but poetic ending, dies in his son’s arms on the boat ride back to the main village, surrounded by the rest of the Pogues.

And while audiences catch a glimpse of the Pogues thriving in an 18-month flash-forward, Stokes predicts that audiences will see a completely different version of John B. in the future. (OBX has already been renewed for a fourth season.) “It would be a more hesitant, more vulnerable, more calculated version of him, because not only did he lose his dad, but he also lost a piece of himself with [him],” he says.

“I still don’t think he’s fully let that [time when Sarah cheated on him] go, and I tried to make that a little bit obvious in those moments where he’s talking to her in the flash-forward,” Stokes reveals. “He’s really struggling with all of it, and he’s not really having the moments that he wanted, but he’s having those moments of clarity that he needed. Moving forward, I think John B. is really going to be relying on those around him.”

Since wrapping the third season of OBX last summer, Stokes, who turned 30 last September, has begun to age out of playing teenagers, but he is still keeping one foot firmly planted in the young-adult genre for the time being. In recent months, he has wrapped production on Uglies, a sci-fi film about body image and dysmorphia in a post-apocalyptic dystopian society; Marked Men, a YA romance film from The Notebook director Nick Cassavetes; and Valiant One, a military action thriller in which he stars opposite Lana Condor. All of those roles, he says, have stemmed from a desire to “work with great people” and develop his perceived range as an actor.

Having risen to fame in the early months of the pandemic, Stokes, like the rest of his OBX cast, had a difficult time understanding the success of the show based on metrics alone. But he distinctly remembers the first time he was recognized in public for his work on the show. Standing outside his L.A. apartment building, Stokes heard someone yell “John B!” out of a passing car. “I went into my messages, and it was Tara Reid who yelled at me, so my first time ever being spotted was by Tara Reid and her friend,” he recalls with a laugh.

Since then, however, the ascent hasn’t always been smooth sailing. For Stokes, learning to take the good with the bad on social media has also meant learning to set his own boundaries, because no one else will do it for him. For instance, he says he recently deactivated his account on Twitter—which he thinks can be “a super insanely toxic platform”—after expressing his frustration over his friend Jeremy Pope’s performance in The Inspection being overlooked during the current awards season. But instead, all his followers wanted to talk about was the new season of OBX, which he wasn’t allowed to discuss yet.

“It really hit a nerve for me, because I am a human being and I have other things going on in my life,” Stokes explains. “My life is not centered around Outer Banks. It’s a beautiful blessing, and it’s been like my firstborn child, but I have other interests. And I felt like at that point I was like, ‘If this platform is only gonna focus on that and that’s all that it is gonna be, then I just don’t need this in my life.’”

Stokes has reason to be cautious, with the amount of attention that has been focused on his personal life in recent years. In 2021, he says he had “a very public break-up” with Cline, which forced him to reconsider what he shares in the public eye. Last April, when Stokes posted a picture with his younger sister, she began receiving death threats, and people threatened to share his address online, forcing him to publish a strongly-worded statement on his Instagram story. And last month, he went public with his relationship with the country pop singer Kelsea Ballerini.

“Whenever you have moments like that, it’ll force you to re-evaluate a lot of things and look at success in this industry through a different lens. I’m definitely more reserved than I ever have been,” Stokes reflects. “In my life, I’m usually a pretty happy-go-lucky person, but it’s forced me to put a little bit of a bulletproof vest around my life, and my family is very protective of me and my time. We have to operate in a space that feels a little bit controlled and contrived, and in a way that has changed everyone’s life, so there’s a lot of guilt that also comes with it because of the amount of change that it’s affected for everybody.”

“I think it’s a true testament to [one’s] willpower to be able to take it on the chin sometimes and hear things about yourself, whether it’s through the media or through social media, that are just flat-out fucking not true and just try to roll with the punches,” he adds. “But at the end of the day, you take the work, you take the project and the people you work with, and you let that be the deciding factor versus all of that outside noise.”

Source: W Magazine

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