In the span of approximately two years, Colton Haynes ditched his MTV and CW roots, came out, fired his management and took some time off. Now, he’s returning from his hiatus wearing nothing but a glittering thong. The rowdy new comedy “Rough Night,” about a Miami bachelorette weekend gone wrong, features Haynes as a stripper who plays a pivotal role in the movie’s third-act twist.
When I sat down with the 28-year-old actor, who found fame on the television series “Teen Wolf” and “Arrow,” he was candid about the highs and lows of publicly declaring his sexuality. Newly engaged and freed from the leash of career advisers who wanted to market him as straight, Haynes has processed the anxiety that accompanied his private life being laid bare. It’s as good an excuse as any to expose himself to the world, thong and all.
When offered a movie like “Rough Night,” is the fact that you’re wearing only a thong in most of your scenes part of the pitch?
I have no idea. I literally quit acting for over a year and then I re-signed with a new agency, and then they called me. They were like, “Hey, you just got offered this role.” I said, “I got offered … why? What? With Scarlett Johansson? What? Can you call them back and make sure they’re not looking for Jesse McCartney or someone else?” They weren’t, so I was excited.
Is Jesse McCartney really where your mind went as the alternate Colton Haynes?
I love Jesse McCartney, but I am always mistaken for him. I don’t know why. It’s just a funny thing — people will have conversations with me as if I’m Jesse McCartney. I’ve never met him; he seems like the coolest person ever, but I’m not him.
You took a year off after leaving “Arrow.”
Yeah, I took a year off after “Arrow” and dealt with some personal issues. Then, I came back with a really positive mindset and this came along.
Was that during the coming-out?
The coming-out thing was a year ago in May, so yeah, it was basically that whole process. When that happened, it was me figuring out, “OK, is this a good move?” I parted ways with my team, and it was a really tricky year for me. My anxiety was terrible, and eventually I was like, “I’m not going to literally waste the last 10 years of my life.” So I started back and it’s going well.
Did you anticipate a moment where you’d need to make a public declaration about your sexuality and then ride out the attention it would receive?
No, I never thought — I’ve been told by so many people that you cannot be out and have a career. Literally people would set me up with girls for press. The craziest thing was my career actually became the best it’s ever been once I actually was true to myself. That happened, and it was the most amazing experience. I was in Paris the day that the EW article dropped, and I cried for three days straight.
It was amazing. Good cry, yeah. I was happy at the outpouring. Marc Snetiker wrote the best article, and then eventually I did the Out cover, which also was a good article. Now I live a more free and open life. It’s nice ― people have now started giving me work because of it, and it’s been really awesome.
Every gay person seems to have an opinion about how every other gay person should behave, especially when it involves celebrities.
Did you get a sense of some people saying you’d done it the wrong way?
Oh, there was a very public thing, without naming names. I think people are not very well-informed, so if someone didn’t know that I literally did a three-page article coming out, then they could say some things. I think that whole situation was just not being informed. But the outpouring of people being like, “Oh, we knew the whole time,” that’s cool, but so did I. It’s this whole juxtaposition of “I also knew I was gay, as well.” I know you knew, and so did I, and I struggled with it for so long. Then, when it happened, I just started working nonstop on stuff I can’t talk about yet.
In what context were you set up with women?
I would be at a party. There was this whole story that ran with Lauren Conrad, who I love — she’s the best. Basically my old manager at the time was like, “Oh, take a picture with her.” He just basically ran this story trying to say that I was dating Lauren Conrad. It was there for about six months. I was like, “Oh, great, I have to do this.” That’s how it is in Hollywood. But not anymore. You have all these amazing showrunners who actually embrace people’s personal lives and embrace people’s truth. I think that’s really pivotal.
I’m surprised you were dealing with that even a few years ago. I figured we’d moved past that.
Yeah, I did that for seven or eight years. I was told by my first manager, like 10 years ago, “You will never work in this town if people know [you’re gay].”
I assume that’s what led to your management changes.
Oh God, yeah. That was like, “Bye! You gotta get out.” God. I wish I could say more.
[Laughs] Yeah. It was a compete team change.
So you’re just hanging out, and then you’re called upon for this “Rough Night” role with Kate McKinnon and these other funny women, where you’ll appear in only a thong.
Literally naked and I had no time to prepare. It was really fun when we were doing the movie. Especially Scarlett, she couldn’t stop laughing during the scene where my suit gets ripped off. In only one take she didn’t laugh. I wouldn’t say I’m a nudist, but I don’t care about that kind of stuff. It was super easy. I didn’t really have time to work out, but I don’t really care about that stuff. It was fun, but the thong was really uncomfortable.
Did your comfort level come from your experience modeling?
Yeah, I wanted to act because I did theater as a kid, but when I started modeling, it just got me so comfortable in front of the camera. I’m a nervous type of person all the time, but when you’re growing up in New York starting being a model, you really have no inhibitions. It was really easy and fun. It was funny because it wasn’t like I was playing some sexy guy — I was this really scared, quirky, weird, funny guy. And they kept giving me more. It was supposed to just be one scene and they kept giving me more.
After leaving “Arrow,” were you worried about being branded a CW star?
Yeah, you do come across that. I wasn’t worried because I don’t put too much thought into it, but at the time, when I started “Teen Wolf,” I was 21 years old. When I left “Arrow,” I was still 26 or something. I just wanted to take some time off to try to figure out if I can do anything beyond that. Not that it was bad — it was so fun, all those experiences. But I just mentally broke. My brain broke.
Because the production schedule was grueling?
Realistically, it was my personal life. My anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t even go to work. It really was so debilitating that I would faint at work. I would literally not be able to speak because I was so nervous. I had to get ahold of that before I could come back and do stuff. They were all so, so amazing and saw me crumbling. I was able to get out that. But with things like that, people are branded as CW or MTV stars, but it’s a really great platform. It’s a good start. A lot of people that have started doing that have gone on to do a lot of things. I definitely came out on the other side, but I don’t think I was worried.
What did you do to get a handle on that anxiety?
I have no idea. I don’t think I still am ahold of it. I was joking with my friend and publicist, Chase, yesterday. We were just getting on a plane and I saw a photographer outside the airport. Luckily, he didn’t know who I was and didn’t take a picture of me, but I literally panic sometimes. It’s that thing of your privacy being taken away. People think you are your character. And I’m so down and cool and chill with people, but when there’s a lot of my privacy being taken away, it makes me feel in a box.
Do you feel similarly when you sense someone with an iPhone snapping a photo in your periphery?
I can always sense it, yeah. I don’t care at all. I’m the first person to say “fuck” and grab their phone and say, “Let’s do a Snapchat.” I don’t care about that — it’s certain situations. I had a bad break-in at my house, and also with photographers and people knowing where you are, it’s tricky. Like, how the fuck did you know I was here?
You’re at a comfortable level of fame for managing that. Are you prepared for what might happen as your profile continues to grow?
It’s funny because I was having the same conversation with someone last week. They were like, “You’re here, but what’s going to happen if you’re there?” I’ll be fine. I’ll think about that if that happens. If I’m lucky enough to do that and have that steady work and that kind of recognition, that would be great. Then, I’ll cross that path and get a bunch of Xanax.
You auditioned for “Twilight.” Given the level of intense fame those stars encountered, and how much they’ve had to distance themselves from the images that movie gave them, are you glad you didn’t get the role?
Oh my God. I talk about this all the time. I actually came across that script — I still have it; it’s in mint condition. I love Taylor Lautner — he’s the sweetest guy in the world, and he came out of it incredibly. He’s such a good guy, but I don’t know if, at that young age, I would have been able to do that. But if you watch Kristen Stewart’s interviews, she’s like, “We were the best family, it was amazing.” That young, I don’t know if I could have done it.
And even though she, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner made off OK, you know the frenzy of that fame will always haunt them, to a degree.
Oh yeah, I mean, that was an explosion. It was crazy. That would have been crazy. And then me coming out after “Twilight”? That would have been too much.
Your coming-out experience would have been so much more magnified than it already was.
“You’re not our Edward!”
Oh, I didn’t even think about it from that perspective. That’s a whole other rabbit hole.
“We’re Team Jacob.” That would have been hilarious.
“Rough Night” opens June 16. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.