Entertainment

'Tiny Pretty Things’ Star Brennan Clost Is A Ballet Legend In The Making

The Juilliard-trained dancer talks portraying Shane, the twists and turns of season one, and the many rigors of ballet.

The following contains major spoilers for Tiny Pretty Things, streaming on Netflix now.

Tiny Pretty Things wastes no time in letting viewers know they’re in for an unhinged experience. In the opening scene of the frothy Netflix teen drama that follows ballet students at the cutthroat Archer School of Dance, a dancer pirouetting on the edge of a building is pushed off the roof by a mystery assailant. Naturally, the pivotal moment goes down while a full blown party rages mere feet away — it's the chaotic, teen melodrama logic we've come to know and love, and there's plenty in store across the show's premiere season.

With Tiny Pretty Things, Netflix is playing their hand at a Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars series, a psychosexual who-dunnit that finds its grace in some straight up mesmerizing ballet dancing. Much like Black Swan, there's a sadistic choreographer who wants his ballet adaptation of the story of London serial killer Jack the Ripper to be "a ballet of darkness and passion on the edge of desire" and equally masochistic and catty ballerinas who are willing to lay down their life to make a part. The show swiftly becomes a circus of deranged plot lines; alongside an attempted murder, slipping classmates roofies, and alley brawls, it’s revealed the school’s director is a Ghislaine Maxwell in her own right, trafficking out ballerinas as hostesses at an elite club patroned by high-rolling ballet donors. “When you have beautiful ballerinas and wealthy men, it happens," she explains with a laughable nonchalance.

Tiny Pretty Things obviously demands a major suspension of disbelief, but one character stands rooted in reality, and shines because of it: Shane. Played by Juilliard-trained dancer Brennan Clost, Shane is a scrappy, fierce dancer in his own right, even without the same pedigree of his peers. With grown out bleached locks and a heart of gold, Clost’s portrayal brings some much needed levity and humanity to the series; Shane’s jokes land with ease and while his classmates insult Inglewood export Neveah Stroyer as a “petite rat,” Shane develops a tight bond with the newcomer, and even accompanies her to visit her estranged mother in jail.

Speaking over the phone from his apartment in Toronto, Clost exudes the same sweetness he instilled in Shane. Clost had originally auditioned for the role of Oren Lennox, the low self-esteem dancer who not-so-quietly struggles with an eating disorder, but Shane’s story struck a chord with him. Clost saw himself in Shane’s torments from past bullying, and found a catharsis within the role. “Someone says the F slur and [Shane] punches them out in an alleyway,” says Clost. “I wish I had been more like that!”

How did the preparation and the training for this show compare to doing ballet, like a traditional ballet for the stage?

The timeline was much shorter, for example, than at Juilliard. We had a show in December called New Dances and a new choreographer would come in and choreograph a new work on each class. And they would start, I believe, early October and we wouldn't perform until mid December. It was a good two months process to choreograph this piece, rehearse it extensively, do stage rehearsals, tap rehearsals and then perform it. On Tiny Pretty Things, it was not that way. We had maybe three rehearsals max to learn the choreography and rehearse it. And the first block was different because we had two weeks of dance rehearsal leading up to our first day filming. For all of the big dance sequences in the first two episodes, we learned those over the span of maybe two weeks, but then some of it we didn't touch for a few weeks until it then filmed on camera.

It was on our own time that we marked through things and went over it. With the duet that Shane and Bette do in the second episode, when Bette locked June on the roof, that duet was the very first dance we filmed on the show and we had learned it mid July and that we didn't film it until the end of August. It had been a good month that we hadn't really touched the duet. And then our first time doing it onstage was when they rolled the cameras. We didn't have a chance to do a tap rehearsal to try it out on that different dance floor, to do it with the lighting, anything like that. It was really just “And action, go!”

That seems stressful!

The timeline is so much shorter with TV. And because of that, like I said, we were constantly filming some things in the morning, going to the other sound stage and rehearsing, learning choreography through the afternoon, going back through hair and makeup and being back on set from the other sound stage. If we weren't on set filming, we were rehearsing. And same thing on the weekends. We'd wrap out Friday nights, like 4:00 AM, sleep all day Saturday, maybe go out for dinner Saturday night. And then Sundays are usually all dance rehearsal days. And then start filming again on Monday, it was like such a marathon filming the show.

Your body went through the ringer.

Oh yeah. Luckily, I felt super fit all of the nudity we filmed. [Laughs] I felt really competent in my body because of how active we were all the time.

What drew you to Shane? What did you think of him as a character when you first read the script?

I initially got the audition to read for Oren. And so I did, I submitted for Oren, but I even remember from reading that initial breakdown just Shane's description really resonated with me in terms of my real life. It said that he was a hot headed scrapper, grew up in a small town, tormented for his love of dance and now has become his family's greatest hope. And for me, that felt really true. I grew up in a smaller, more closed-minded town and was bullied badly growing up for being a male dancer and then moved away to New York, to Juilliard, and really felt like that's where I started to find myself and flourish. And that is so integral to Shane's storylines. So much of that past anger and resentment comes to play in his current life. And you see that through his arc on the season.

And I really pulled from my real life experiences with that, playing that character. The difference is that Shane stands up for himself, and it's quite quick to violence and is a fighter. I really just sunk into myself and took it and didn't do anything about it. And I wish I had, I wish I stood up myself. It was quite cathartic to play Shane and that someone says the F slur and he punches them out in an alleyway. I wish I had been more like that! I also just love what a great friend Shane is all the way through the season. And I try to live my life that way as well. I think I'm a great friend to the people I love and care about. And I always try to lead with my heart. I think Shane does that as well.

TINY PRETTY THINGS (L-R) KYLIE JEFFERSON as NEVEAH STROYER and BRENNAN CLOST as SHANE MCRAE in episode 1 of TINY PRETTY THINGS.SOPHIE GIRAUD/NETFLIX © 2020

I agree. Shane felt the most real to me. He wasn’t an archetypal cutthroat teenage drama character. He brings a lot of levity to the show, as well as growth through more serious scenes like when he fights Matteo in the alleyway, or when he’s confronting Dev. How did you approach filming these heavier, more critical scenes?

I'm not as confident as Shane is but I feel like I've developed so much confidence through playing him. And so I really had to put myself on a shelf so that I could do justice to this character and to do what the scene demanded of him. And I think in those heavier scenes, I really tried to ground it in film love. Like there is always something that Shane is fighting for. And in that scene with Dev, he's fighting for Dev to love him. And what is it? What can I do to be right for you? What is it that will make you love me? You know? And that is such a thing that I have felt. I feel that with people, even with asking, what is it? What can I do for the casting director to like me? To pick me. And there's frustration and anger in that place of love that’s like, I want them to love me.

Even when he’s standing up to Matteo in the alleyway. He was doing it to stand up for Nabil and to stand up for his friends and for his help to have all of their backs, but it is such a hero moment for Shane. He's not the one that gets called the F word. It's Nabil. And he changed him for the rescue. Even though he’s had angry moments, I did try to find the place of love like, What am I fighting for? You have the why in that.

And same with Ramon, I remember having this thought in the final episode, when I punched him, I was onstage dancing that male ensemble and they wanted it angry, or the director wanted to see more anger in my face, because often when you're dancing, you're making it look easy and varying your internal emotions to perform the piece correctly. And in that moment I was fighting for all the young male dancers who have felt like they've been told that they're dancing like a sissy or they're not dancing manly enough. And that, ah, it's getting emotional now, but just that heartbreak for those young people and for myself when I was that age, that's so not fair. And that's where the anger came from in those scenes or that scene for a moment in particular.

Tiny Pretty Things is balls to the walls, unhinged plot lines, each one crazier than the last. What was your favorite one from the season?

Ooh, I think June's storyline, and in particular, getting locked on the roof. So much unfolded from that one action in June's arc. And I think my favorite scene is the scene of June and Matteo in the common room when he says like, she's like, "Who are you?" And Danny is so funny in that scene. He's like, "Ah, I'm Bette's boyfriend. Who would have thought that latching the door shut on the roof would unfold into a relationship!” And June realizes that the entire time she pinned it on Neveah for locking her on the roof, but actually it was Bette all along. It’s one of my favorites in the whole season.

Bette is such a bitch. It was also really sad because I think earlier that day, June is helping Bette hold an accurate pose while she’s wearing her boot. As the viewer you’re like, “Girl, not this…”

Everything in June’s story unfolds from losing that part, right? She loses a part, then she tries to emancipate from her mom. She gets cut off financially. She has to get a job at Michi Beach, which then unfolds so much more. It's so well written.

The Michi beach stuff was also really crazy. I can’t believe they threw in a ballerina trafficking plotline.

I know, and from reading that and being “What!” And how Monique is tied into it just like wild. And then even Dev comes in and Dev's tied into it. It's just so layered mid season, there are so many new reveals.

Another thing that really struck me while watching is how the rigor and intensity ballet demands. The injuries are beyond. Neveah literally super glues her toenail back together. How are these fictionalized injuries compared to what really goes down in the ballet world?

It’s true. I remember dancing in modern class at Juilliard and your toes underneath are splitting all the time because you're dancing barefoot. It's just ripping. People would just periodically be running out of class. We had a foot station in the hallway with alcohol, where you’d sterilize your foot and then Polysporin, and then you would tape it up. We just call them toe splits and once you tape them up, you run back in and keep dancing. Your feet are burning because you just put alcohol and Polysporin in this toe split and you tape it up and you go back in, and you keep dancing on it.

I’m weak. What other horrors have you witnessed?

It might've been one of my own. I was 14 and I was rehearsing for a huge competition in Germany. And our studio owner kept us at the studio super late the night before the flight. I had to just keep doing these back handsprings again and again and again. We had to repeat that one section, which had so many back handsprings. And then we ran the dance from beginning to end. And in that run-through I did a back handspring and my body was just so tired.

I tore all the muscles of my right wrist to the point where I, by the time I left the studio and went to the dressing room, I had to call my dad on my cell phone to come in and help me get my jacket and my boots on because my wrist was purple. And you could see how swollen the muscles had become. You could see jagged muscle, you could see it through the skin. It was disgusting. And I had to go on a plane to Germany the next day and compete for a full week, doing that dance with the back handsprings. And my teacher wouldn't let me tape my wrist because it looked bad with the costume. I had a brace on my wrist rehearsing. And then I would go on stage and take the brace off and do it.

COURTESY OF NETFLIX/NETFLIX © 2020TINY PRETTY THINGS (L-R) KYLIE JEFFERSON as NEVEAH STROYER and BRENNAN CLOST as SHANE MCRAE in episode 5 of TINY PRETTY THINGS.

Oh my god. Watching ballet dancers really makes you realize that the average person is using maybe 5% of their body. The discipline is such a departure from how most people live their lives.

And let me tell you, it's always a shock to your body when you go sometime without dancing and then you start out ballet classes again. Oh my God. You feel like your legs are going to drop off, just the turnout muscle that you're using in your butt. I'm shaking, walking because my butt was just so tight and sore and in pain from just turning out your legs all the time. It's such a different set of goals than you use day-to-day. We're going to be in for a shock coming out of this quarantine, if we, fingers crossed, get renewed. Getting back into that rigor...my body is going to be in shock.

I believe that completely. I'll do maybe an hour of barre, like literally bastardized ballet, and I feel like my legs could fall off. Tell me what do you do to decompress? How do you balance this art form that requires such intense discipline with life? Are ballerinas in on some big secret?

You know, I think that's the secret, is that there isn't. I didn't decompress. You just live it all the time. It's very all consuming. Even through high school and high school, I didn't go to a ballet studio. I was at a competitive dance studio, it was a very different world, but I had no social life. I was waking up at 6:00 AM, doing homework for an hour, going to school. On my lunch break and doing homework, so that as soon as I finished school at 3:30, I would get in the car and my parents would drive me an hour to my dance studio. And I'd be dancing from 4:30 until 11:00 PM non-stop all night and then come home and I do homework for two hours and I'd go to bed to wake up again at 6:00 AM and do it all again. And on weekends, I was at the dance studio dancing from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM, again, all day Saturday and Sunday to come home and study and do homework Saturday night, Sunday night.

And that really was my life through high school. That was it. I think the first high school party I went to was my prom after party at the end of grade 12. It was really all consuming. And now I am realizing how, I mean, it just happened to me at the end of my four years at Juilliard, I was so burnt out. I was so oversaturated in dance that I quit dancing for a year and a half. I had to stop because I was just too oversaturated and I needed balance. And now that's something that I've really found is trying to pick up a hobby because for me growing up, dance was my escape. It was my hobby, but then now it's become my career and my job. And I mean, through the pandemic, I decided to take lessons and learn how to ride a horse. That was my new hobby that I'd pick up. I'd be at my apartment, working on whatever was working on a dance or acting related, and then I'd get to drive out and go and ride a horse.

And that's been really therapeutic for me. But for Juilliard I had no hobby, I had no hobby at all. We were dancing. We had academic classes starting at 9:00 AM every day. We were dancing from 10:30 until 4:00, and then we'd have three hours of mandatory rehearsal until 7:00. And then if you were in a student workshop piece where your classmates would choreograph, you'd be in the dance studio rehearsing until maybe 9:00 or 10:00 PM. And then I would go to the gym and I do the elliptical] for an hour and then go to bed. Not saying that that was healthy. I was very unhealthy and a bad habit in a bad time mentally for me, but that's what I did at Juilliard. I had no way to decompress. That's really something that I'm trying to figure out now.

Speaking of decompressing, I did see that you have an Instagram account for your cats. You're a big cat guy. Was getting a pet helpful?

Getting my cat Pippa while I was at Juilliard was a big way for me to try and balance out real life and to make my apartment feel more like a home and to make myself spend more time at my apartment and not go to the gym after a whole day of dance. I had to get home for my cat. That was a real conscious choice I made at the time. And now I've recently adopted a new cat and his name's Lancelot and my two cats finally get along so well. I worked really hard through the pandemic to socialize them. And they're a huge light in my life. I just love animals so much.

Because of them, I have to make a better schedule. To have something depending on you helped. Because you can go, leave a few hours, you can miss meals, you can sleep past your alarm, whatever, but if your cat is on your face meowing for breakfast, you have to get up in the morning. It is such such a conscious choice for my mental health as well to have these animals because they really, I don't know, validate you in needing or having something depend on you and something that you can love and my little life companion.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.