Taking on the tv adapted-role of a teen heartthrob from a best-seller YA book series can feel like pretty big shoes to fill. It’s something newcomer Christopher Briney did in Prime Video’s The Summer I Turned Pretty as protagonist Belly Conklin’s moody, longtime crush/ dear family friend Conrad Fisher. Nevertheless, it was probably a whole lot less pressure than his first role post-graduation from Pace University: a feature starring Ben Kingsley.
In Dalíland, Briney takes audiences into the world of Salvador Dalí through his role as James, a young gallery assistant tasked with helping the legendary artist prepare for a big show in New York in 1973. Ahead of the film’s premiere at Toronto Film Festival, Briney opened up to LA Confidential about lucking out with the role, learning about Dalí and The Summer I Turned Pretty season 2.
How did you get signed on to Dalíland and what intrigued you about the script?
I got very lucky is the moral of the story. It was my first job out of school. I graduated in May of 2020 and I'd been auditioning for almost a year at that point. I had a few things that looked good and none of them panned out. And the thing about Dalíland is it’s been in the works for years and years. It was almost made like seven years ago. But their lead actor dropped out.
And then director Mary Harron then decided to go through the graduating schools showcases from that year alphabetically, and she got all the way down to P and saw my showcase and reached out to my reps to schedule an audition tape and then from there, the rest of history.
Your character, James, is a gallery assistant. What else can you tell us about him?
He's a kid from a small town with big aspirations. I think his curiosity is maybe the most leading feature and the most important quality he has. He is just interested in the world, the world of art. And that's what excites me about him. He’s just a small fish in a big pond, and he realizes that more and more as the story goes on. At the time, and I still am, I really felt that exact same thing with the situation I was thrown into. So I feel lucky to be able to have explored what I was going through in real life and then also in the movie.
He's just curious and passionate and ready to learn. I hope that reads in the movie because if he can help you be interested in the world, then I think I've done my job.
How familiar were you with Salvador Dalí before the movie?
I knew who Dalí was, like I feel like his melting clocks are in textbooks that you grew up with in school. But I really wasn't that familiar. I didn't know that he was such a Warhol-esque icon. I didn't realize he had this posse of people that followed him. I didn't know he was throwing lavish parties. I also didn't know how long his career spanned because he was working from the ‘20s up until the late ‘70s. He just explored so many different styles and yes, he's a pioneer of surrealism, which is probably his most talked about endeavors…To learn about him was really beautiful and to learn things from people on set. I feel like everybody had different details.
James is the character that brings you into Dalí’s world and you experience it through his eyes, which I think is really fun because it just gives you a filter to watch the extravagance that is Dalí’s world and the insecurity and surrealist nature of his life. I think it’s played better through someone who is not that grand as a person.
What was it like to lead alongside Ben Kinglsey?
It was pretty surreal. I feel lucky because the character lends itself towards my experiences. I felt like I was just using my own experiences in my work. But besides being mind-numbingly cool, I feel like I just learned so much. The first day I walked on the set— I had never walked onto a set before. I didn't know what I was doing in the first scene. I'm standing next to Sir Ben and I’m just shaking. Looking back, I just have these beautiful images in my mind of faces and moments and things people said. It was terrifying, but he was really warm to me and I have nothing but kind things to say about him and I think he’s beautiful in the film.
Earlier you said if you leave audiences more interested in the world, you've done your job. What else do you hope audiences get from watching this movie?
I think there's a lot to learn about Dalí’s world. I don't think many people really know what is going on in Dalí’s later years. I think it's a really interesting portrait of someone trying to hang on to their youth with their entire life, and I hope people can just learn something and be interested and be excited about art and film because I think the movie itself is interesting and new and exciting.
To look back to earlier this summer, you starred in The Summer I Turned Pretty. I can imagine Conrad and James were pretty different roles. Do you enjoy being able to jump between such different projects?
I think as an actor, the dream is always to work from pole to pole and just do as many different things… I want to do things that are different and exciting in their own way. And I think these characters are. I think as much as there are parts of me in both of these characters, I don't think they’d have much to talk about. I think that they're similar in that I can relate to them both, and I suppose I’ve played them both. But to be able to do different things is really exciting to go from one to the other, and not just the characters, but the mediums of streaming television and an independent film. They’re just very different work environments.
How far along are you in filming for season 2?
Right now, we're about two episodes deep and working on more.
I definitely can't spoil anything, but I will say that there are some moments in the book that I really love that have made it into this season. I'm thrilled for them to play out and for people to see.
I feel like Belly would appreciate that you're having a summer full of big moments between the premiere of the show and now Dalíland. How has it felt to reach these milestones?
I don't know how much of it has hit me yet if I'm being completely honest. I'm overcome with so many things, and I'm excited because I don't have any clue what TIFF is going to be like and I have no clue what the reception to the movie is going to be. I guess I'm just hopeful about it all. I'm just really excited and hopeful and grateful and overwhelmed by it. In a good way. It's exciting and thrilling, but I'm certainly scared.
I'm grateful to be working and grateful to be able to leave work to go to TIFF and then come back and work some more. I love this movie a lot and it means a lot to me for so many different reasons, and I really hope that people can share that with me.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Photos by Rekha Garton; Marcel Zyskind