Colton Haynes calls me at 1:30 in the afternoon, and it sounds like he’s just woken up, which apparently he has. “I haven’t had any coffee,” he says, apologizing for the gravel in his voice. One can only imagine how Haynes, the breakout star of the CW’s Arrow and the new face of Diesel, spends a rare night off in Manhattan. I check his Instagram for clues and am surprised to find a time-stamped photo of his smiling face that he sent out to his 1.6 million followers late last night with the caption: “Best night ever at Marie’s Crisis NYC.”
To be clear: Marie’s Crisis is a subterranean piano bar in the West Village, a dive where you’re more likely to spot the 1987 cast of A Chorus Line enjoying a drunken sing-a-long than the 26-year-old actor with Hollywood’s most talked about chin. “I’ve never even heard of a place like that,” Haynes says of Marie’s Crisis. “A few of my friends were like, ‘Let’s go!’ I said, ‘Sweet.’”
Do you know any show tunes?
“I know all of them. But I let my friends take the wheel. I just kind of hung back and watched everyone else. They were having too much fun.”
When you think about it, it makes sense that Haynes would be up for anything. There’s nothing about this kid’s gosh-wow rise in Hollywood that seems planned out. He may play a superhero on TV, but his own origin story is just as compelling. Haynes was raised on a farm in Kansas. “I grew up in a town of 650 people,” he says. “There was a bar, a liquor store, a breakfast place. That was it. We didn’t have a gas station.” In eighth or ninth grade, Haynes got a job washing dishes at the town bar, where his mom waited tables.
The town was conservative, small, and perhaps small-minded. Haynes’s acting opportunities consisted of playing Snoopy in the school production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. His parents, both hippies, had long since split up. Desperate to stretch his legs, Haynes moved to Florida to live with his sister (who was in the military). “I wanted to see a different side of the world,” he explains. “I don’t know. I was a mature kid. We all kind of did our own thing.” A few months later, a friend snapped some shots of Haynes on the beach and sent them to modeling agencies in New York. A year later his chiseled jaw was splashed across shopping bags at Abercrombie Kids.
The transition was awkward to say the least. “The first time I went to the agency — it sounds ridiculous, but they said, ‘Go into the bathroom and work on your faces.’ I didn’t understand what that meant.” Haynes may have been green, but he wasn’t stupid. Noticing he wasn’t the tallest dude in the room, he went the full MacGyver. “I would wrap socks and underwear in duct tape and put it in the back of my boots before casting. Then I was six-foot-one. No one knew the difference.” He settled into one of those crappy model apartments with bunk beds in downtown Manhattan.
Like in Zoolander?
“Wasn’t Zoolander a little classier?” he says with a laugh. “They were driving around in Mercedes and having gasoline fights. We were starving and trying to find our way around the city.” He moved to L.A. after just seven months.
Haynes has what can only be described as beginner’s luck. His very first go-see had been for Abercrombie (nailed it); his first TV audition was for CSI: Miami (boom). He played a kid who’d tried to commit a double suicide with his girlfriend. “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” admits Haynes, who had never appeared onscreen before. He didn’t work for the next year save for an appearance on an episode of The Hills.
Fast forward to now. Haynes is everywhere. On billboards for Nicola Formichetti’s revamped Diesel (shot by Nick Knight). In Abercrombie’s “Making of a Star” campaign shot by Bruce Weber. In the upcoming disaster flick San Andreas opposite Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. And yet it’s important to remember: The thing that got everyone talking about him? The CW’s Arrow? Haynes isn’t the star. He’s the star’s sidekick, a petty thief named Roy Harper, who in the last year has acquired superhuman strength (don’t ask), a snug red leather costume, and a badass new nickname, Arsenal. When Arrow appeared to die in December’s midseason finale, more than one fan site gleefully wondered (hoped?) if the show would be renamed Arsenal. “I guess we’ll see when the title card hits in January…” Haynes teases.
How does Arsenal’s costume compare to clothes you wore in your modeling career? “I never wore a lot of clothes in my modeling career,” he says with a laugh. “It’s nice to actually wear clothes.”
It’s highly doubtful a network would relaunch a show midstream. But Haynes is smart to capitalize on the heat, using social media to build his brand — not by fronting but by being himself, which is an unabashed goofball. He’s one of those absurdly handsome actors who refers to himself as a “big nerd,” but he actually has the photos to back it up. When Jennifer Lawrence drew flak for wearing a puffy white Dior gown to the Golden Globes last year, Haynes didn’t miss a beat, wrapping himself in a comforter, snapping a selfie, and tweeting, “#GoldenGlobes were a blast.” For Halloween last year, he dressed as Princess Fiona from Shrek — with a giant prosthetic nose and a full face of green makeup.
“Shrek is one of the greatest movies,” he says with a laugh, adding, “I like to transform and do things that are fun. It was the coolest costume I’ve ever done. I just like not doing what people say I should do.”
After spending the holidays in New York, Haynes is due back in Vancouver to finish Season 3 of Arrow, where — he tells me — he leaves most of the stunts to the professionals. “When it comes to trying to jump out of windows and doing all the crazy stuff, I don’t want to be the person that steps in and tries to make everyone’s job more difficult. I just do the dialogue.” He thinks on this, then goes for the self-deprecating joke: “I’m my stunt double’s dialogue double.”