As much as Mrs. Fletcher is the story of Eve Fletcher, a middle aged divorcée coming to terms with her sexuality and rediscovering herself, it is also the story of her son, who leaves her with an empty nest to come of age on his own.

On Mrs. Fletcher, reality hits the title character’s son, Brendan, like a brick in the face. At home, he’s a popular jock, tricking a less popular classmate into dropping his iPhone into a cup of beer at a post-graduation day party, treating girls like objects. But after he leaves his mother’s nest for his freshman year of college, he starts to grapple with the fact that you can’t just act like a total dick and expect your peers to still respect you.

It’s 2019, and his liberal arts school classmates are less than thrilled with his badgering of the term “neuro-atypical” at a support group for students who have family members with autism or his eye rolls during a freshman year sexual harassment assembly. Even his roommate, Zach, played by the late Cameron Boyce, appears to overcorrect for Brendan’s flippant dismissal of his mother’s anguished attempts at giving her son affection, thanking Eve for sprucing up their room for them, and telling Brendan that a figurine he props up on the desk in their shared room is actually kind of racist and he should probably get rid of it. The privilege he wields by nature of being a straight, white bro from an American middle class background isn’t going to cut it anymore.

People hate this guy, not just in the universe of the show, but in real life. A cursory Twitter search for “Mrs. Fletcher son” reveals some commentary from viewers of Tom Perotta’s HBO series, and the results are brutal, with fans of Mrs. Fletcher calling Brendan as a “tool,” comparing him to Nate from Euphoria, fantasizing about punching him in the face, and begging to kill him off the show entirely. Everyone is waiting, patiently, for Brendan to get his just desserts.

So, we talked to Jackson White, the actor who plays Brendan, about toxic masculinity, what motivates his character to behave so badly, and what he thinks about those Jacob Elordi comparisons.

You come from a family of performers—Katey Sagal is your mom and your dad is a musician—but how’d you find your way into an acting career?

Music has always been first, and my family all plays music. That’s how I grew up, singing and playing instruments. Acting came in high school when I did RENT when I was 14.

Who’d you play?

I was playing Roger—14, playing a heroin addict. I think they even had to draw a beard on me, it was very funny. But I loved the ritual of it all and I didn’t stop after that, I kept going.

So now, almost a decade later, you’re on Mrs. Fletcher. How’d that happen?

When you’re starting off as an actor and an HBO thing comes in, you’re going to say yes no matter what. I went in pretty normal with the audition process. I got to meet [pilot director] Nicole Holofcener, and I was really nervous in the room with her. She asked, ‘Where are you from?’ and I said, ‘Cedars Sinai.’ She said, ‘No, not the hospital, stupid.’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, right I’m from L.A. I’m from the Valley, I was born there.’ It went well. It’s funny to tell that story because it was very traditional, but it was my first time doing something of that caliber so it was really exciting. The book is rad, it’s really good. I’d never read anything like it, or seen that kind of contrasts between protagonists.

Have you met guys like Brendan Fletcher?

I had some friends growing up, some unexamined friends of mine that I used to hang out with, who sort of talked like Brendan a little bit. Brendan doesn’t have much to say, but a lot of it is on his face. I think he’s based on the dudes I grew up with, or a few of them at least. I’m trying to think if I had any other inspirations for the character, but that was mainly it. Just my idiot friends. [Laughs.]

Was there any bit of you in Brendan, or are the two of you completely separate?

I’m pretty removed from that guy. The stuff that I found my way in with, the stuff I could relate to, was just a lot of the ritual that I went about when I was getting ready for the character, so a lot of the workout stuff or the eating, the physicality. Most of the repressed attitude, the unaware vibe, that’s something that I sort of designed for him. Not that I don’t get kind of spacey sometimes, but that’s definitely something I want to dissociate from is that kind of behavior. That’s definitely not me. I found my way in through humor and jokes. Brendan makes me laugh. He kind of cracks me up. I know the content isn’t always humorous, but his vibe, the way he carries himself, makes me laugh. I kind of acted in a way that would make me laugh, does that make sense? [Laughs.] I just wanted to look back and be like, ‘Oh this guy is so stupid, I love it.’

Let me get right to the question that is on every viewer’s mind when watching this show: Why is Brendan such a dick?

Right. That’s a good question. Why is he such a dick? Brendan is someone who didn’t get the information session that he should’ve gotten. He didn’t get the father figure telling him how to do things correctly, he didn’t have the difficult route, per se, in his social life. It turned him into this hardened, wiry muscled buffoon. He’s very unexamined. He’s gotten away with so much and no one has really called him on it. It’s a pretty relevant story because that’s happened with men, with young boys, for so long, where there’s not a lot standing in their way. Nobody tells them no, and you grow up kind of thinking you can do whatever you want.

What motivates Brendan’s behavior to treat women so badly?

He didn’t hear ‘No’ a lot. And ‘No’ is like the most important word that we have in our climate right now. Consent and conversation, and asking people how they feel about things—Brendan didn’t have any of that. The other factor is maybe that he’s angry. He’s really resentful, angry, and sad. Brendan, to me, from the very start I never saw him as the villain of the story, I saw him as this really sad dude. He’s really lonely.

Do you feel bad for Brendan? Should the audience feel bad for him?

I think it’s important for me to feel bad for him. I think it’s up for interpretation for everyone. To get into his head, I think it was important for me to self-loathe a little bit, for him. That’s a lot of what’s going on on his face, a lot of what’s going on in his head. You see it later in the season, but he’s kind of like, ‘What’s happening? Why am I being so exiled? Why am I so dismissed?’ Because he doesn’t understand. He’s not aware.

Have you read the tweets and other reactions to Brendan’s behavior online?

The tweets? No! What are they saying?

A lot of them say your character should die, or just that they can’t stand him.

If they hate the character, all I can say is, that’s probably good. That’s what you’re supposed to feel. And keep watching to see what happens, because it’s juicy. It’s good television. And it’s acting.

A lot of the comments online also say you look like Nate from Euphoria. Have you ever met Jacob Elordi?

Yeah, that’s been said. I met him at a party a couple years ago. He was very nice to me, a very nice dude. It’s so funny, I think he was looking for an acting class or something in L.A. and he was like, I gotta get working and get out there, and I think I recommended him a class, and six months later he got like 10 million followers and was like the face of Netflix. He’s a nice dude! I see the similarities between the characters. Brendan is like Nate Jacobs without all of the twinkly lights and the molly and all that.

What do you think Brendan deserves?

He deserves to be sat down and taught and talked to. I think he deserves some reprimanding. He deserves what’s coming. It’s pretty perfect, but at the same time, I think he still deserves to be taught and shown. I don’t think it’s too late. For a lot of people that have gotten themselves in his situation—I’m trying to tiptoe carefully because I don’t want to reveal any plot points—they have to be taught by consequence, which I think is fine too. I think that’s appropriate. But I also think there’s a lot to be done before these things happen, and before these young, entitled men get carried away. There’s a lot of conversations to be had beforehand, in the college system but even earlier, in high school, middle school, and at home with your parents. We can teach kids, and boys specifically, how to calm down and how to treat people the correct way.

There are some scenes in which the viewer is asked to feel sympathetic for Brendan, especially as he tries to connect with his absentee father, or understand why his younger brother who has autism needs a lot of attention.

At a certain point, there’s a part of Brendan that’s a kid too. He’s angry. His dad told him he’s good. He exists in the first wave of family, and then Jonathan is the second wave of family. Brendan is left hanging a little bit, and as much as we have our feelings towards Brendan, I think in the “Parents Weekend” episode it’s important to remember what his dad is like, what his male role model is like. At the end of the episode, I think that’s the kid in him. That’s the little kid saying, ‘Why is this other son getting all the attention?’ I thought it was very human, but I understand why he might rub people the wrong way. I think Brendan is definitely creating a rift.

Without spoiling for those who have not seen the rest of the episodes, do you think Brendan is capable of any kind of growth or change?

Yeah, he is. It’s tricky because he has to go through these growing pains, and he has to learn by being in these compromised situations. He has to learn by consequence. That’s a fair lesson, and he’ll learn. I think that there’s of course room for him to learn, we just have to hope he doesn’t screw up too bad. I’m talking about him, but I’m talking about any unexamined young person who abuses power or disregards sex. I think anyone in that situation, all you can really hope for is that they learn their lesson without messing anything up too bad. If there’s not room, what are we doing? Everyone has to learn these lessons, especially now. That’s part of the story that Tom Perotta is telling, like, there’s no room for this anymore, there’s no time for this, and nobody’s going to put up with it. It has to change.

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