Actor Daniel Diemer was expecting to have a career associated with sports, be it coaching or playing. For the multi-sport athlete from Brentwood Bay, anything in the field of athletics would have been considered a win.
During his time at Pacific Christian Secondary School, the six-foot, five-inch Diemer spent three hours of each day conditioning and several more playing. But fate intervened in the form of several sports-related injuries, which cut short his hopes of pursuing tennis, soccer and volleyball much beyond high school. He eventually settled on another line of work, which has put the 23-year-old on the radar of many with a starring role in the new Netflix film The Half of It, which premièred today amid rave reviews and the top award from the Tribeca Film Festival.
After high school, Diemer signed up for pre-med classes at Camosun College, with the long-term plan of entering the medical field at some point. But when the injuries hit: “I didn’t know what to do,” Diemer said.
On the advice of a friend, he made his on-screen debut in a 2014 music video for the Calgary pop band Sidney York, which seriously piqued his interest. He eventually cancelled plans to enter the nursing program at Camosun and enrolled in the Victoria Academy for Dramatic Arts, from which he graduated in 2016 with a diploma in film and TV acting.
Diemer, who is now based in Los Angeles, clearly had a hidden talent, and has proven during a five-year span to be a capable contributor in a variety of projects. “It both feels like it just happened yesterday and also has been an eternity at the same time,” he said.
“The first few years, I was clueless about everything. I didn’t book [a role] for two years when I started auditioning. But ever since Sacred Lies hit, everything has gone really quickly. Overall, five years is insane to be in the position I’m in. I’m lucky and very, very grateful.”
His recurring role in Sacred Lies, a 2019 web series on Facebook that was shot in Vancouver, led to a role in Amazon Prime’s hit Second World War drama The Man in the High Castle. That exposure produced another big break for Diemer — The Half of It role — that will serve as a high-profile introduction to both audiences and casting agents in the industry.
“Everybody is just discovering me now,” he said. “They have no idea who I am, so it has given me a lot of leeway to brand myself as somebody who is doing a bunch of different projects.”
The film, which stars Diemer as a jock who enlists a straight-A student to help him win the love of his dream girl, has already earned a heaping of critical kudos to go along with its Tribeca Film Festival win for Best Narrative Feature. Rolling Stone called Diemer “a shambling charmer” in its review of the film by writer-director Alice Wu, while The Washington Post praised his performance as a high school football player as “delectably funny.” Diemer loved that he could put his sporting background to good use in the film, but quickly discovered he was somewhat unprepared for the physical and mental toll of the role.
“One of my favourite parts in the film was running down the field with a football in my hand. But I had maneuvered from long- distance running into weight training [in recent years], so when I got the call, I had to hit the treadmill, trying to get up to a mile per day. We did eight full days of running over the course of the movie, which was exhausting.”
The Half of It, which offers a same-sex twist on the Cyrano de Bergerac story, has won over critics with its laid-back charm. Diemer and his co-stars, Leah Lewis and Alexxis Lemire, don’t play the love triangle for cheap laughs; that was important in setting the tone for the film, Diemer said.
“I am glad to be part of a movie that was very positive in tone. It’s a light watch, but it’s a breath of fresh air, full of love and humour. A great movie to be coming out right now.”
As for what comes next, Diemer is unsure, citing the temporary halt in film and TV production due to COVID-19. When he does return to work, it will be with a renewed focus and desire to improve himself on and off screen, he said.
“What I’ve been discovering about acting is that so much of it is about growing as a human being and learning about yourself. There was a part of me that was a big nerd in school, but I was also the kid on the sports field who was trying to make it professionally. I had a lot of different things going on. As I’ve grown older, it’s about embracing the parts of myself that I judged when I was in high school. Playing the clarinet? That’s not cool, even though I was a massive fan of music. I’ve been trying to mature and grow up and embrace parts of myself so I can play a variety of characters.”