North Carolina

Young NC actor breaks through the witchy world of ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’

The critically acclaimed Netflix series “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is a delightful cauldron of goofy horror and dark humor, with its teenage witches and secret covens and things that go bump in the night.

But the show also has a subtle way with allegory. It’s ultimately a story of trials and transitions, of young people finding themselves.

That’s especially true for Lachlan Watson, one the series’ several young breakout stars since the first season debuted Oct. 26.

Born and raised in Raleigh, Lachlan plays Susie Putnam, a rough-and-tumble farm kid and Sabrina’s loyal BFF. The character of Susie is queer, a teenager whose gender identification falls into that vast gray area between society’s traditional axis points. Susie is still figuring things out, and she’s fine with that.

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Lachlan Watson plays Susie Putnam in the Netflix series, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” Susie Putnam is Sabrina’s loyal friend and identifies as queer. Netflix

For Lachlan, a busy performer in Raleigh’s vibrant theater scene, it’s an ideal role. Lachlan, who turned 17 this year, identifies as non-binary or genderqueer.

These are emerging designations for those who don’t identify with the gender binary of male-female. The terminology can get complicated, and pronouns are tricky. But the upshot is Lachlan is one of the few non-binary actors to break through into mainstream Hollywood, a distinction Lachlan embraces as fans embrace the TV character.

It could be a lot to handle when you’re just 17. But to hear Lachlan tell it, it’s a pretty good time, too.

“Oh, it’s incredible,” Lachlan said in a recent phone interview. “It’s so much fun.”

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Lachlan Watson, left, and Jaz Sinclair in the new Netflix series “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” Diyah Pera Netflix

A supernatural hit

The supernatural “Sabrina,” starring Kiernan Shipka of “Mad Men,” is based on the Archie comic book series of the same name and is a much darker interpretation than the ‘90s TV series “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” starring Melissa Joan Hart.

While Netflix doesn’t release ratings information, this version of “Sabrina” has been a hit. “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, A Midwinter’s Tale,” a special Christmas episode, will be released on Netflix Friday, Dec. 14, and the streaming service recently announced that Season 2 will be released April 5.

The show has quite a following, and so does Lachlan with fans loving the Susie Putnam character. Click around online for a few minutes to get a sense of the wave that’s building.

Lachlan is now filming the second season in Vancouver, staying with their mom, Kelly Watson, in an apartment provided by the production. Like many non-binary people, Lachlan prefers the gender-neutral “they” or “them” pronouns.

Having just finished high school via a home school program, Lachlan is now free to handle the show’s chaotic production schedule. No day is the same, Lachlan said.

“Yesterday we got called at 6 a.m., and today we’re getting called at 6 p.m.,” Lachlan said. “So your sleep schedule gets sacrificed. Transport drives us back and forth to set every day, which is great for those 3 a.m. wrap times.”

Since taking on the role of Susie, Lachlan has started to get their first taste of the teen idol thing, with legions of young fans — queer and otherwise — flocking to the young actor, online and off.

“He has definitely become more well known,” said Kelly Watson, who uses the male pronoun to refer to Lachlan. (That was most helpful with Lachlan’s childhood intentions to transition from female to male, Kelly said, and now she’s just used to it.)

“His Instagram absolutely blew up once the first half of the show was dropped on Netflix,” Kelly Watson said.

Kelly Watson said she worries sometimes that her teen will lose any traditional sense of privacy.

“It’s still so weird to go out to eat or be traveling and have folks ask for a selfie with him,” she said. “But for the most part, the fans have been amazingly supportive. It’s really sweet to watch them interact and see the joy the fans get when Lachlan goes in for the hug.”

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Aliana Ramos and Lachlan Watson star in the Raleigh Little Theatre production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” Before Lachlan starred in Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” Lachlan worked extensively in Triangle theater and had traveled for small parts in TV shows like “Nashville” and “Drop Dead Diva.” Carrie Santiago

Triangle theater scene

Before “Sabrina,” Lachlan worked extensively in Triangle theater and had traveled for small parts in TV shows like “Nashville” and “Drop Dead Diva.”

Lachlan won the role in “Sabrina” after producers issued a nationwide casting call in 2016. The show was looking for queer actors of any kind, since the development of the Susie character was still in flux. Lachlan submitted a taped audition.

“The very next day, the creative director emailed back and asked if I could Skype that afternoon,” Lachlan said. “Then the next day I was flying out to Vancouver.”

Lachlan and Kelly Watson credit the Raleigh theater community with preparing the young performer to navigate the challenges of show business. The Watson family has worked with just about every theater in the Raleigh area, often in backstage volunteer positions.

Patrick Torres, artistic director of Raleigh Little Theatre, directed Lachlan in a production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in 2015. Looking back, Torres said he had a sense that Lachlan was destined for great things.

“When Lachlan auditioned for that show, I immediately knew, this person is going to join the cast,” Torres said. “All the intelligence and insight, that was all there in the audition. It’s one of the only times in my life that I’ve cast an actor without calling them back.”

For Lachlan, the local theater community provided both a valuable education and a kind of second home.

“Growing up in the Raleigh theater scene was a big factor in developing the ability, which I have now, to be freely me,” Lachlan said. “Because in theater, you just are who you are and everyone loves you for it.”

Kelly Watson agrees.

“Working with all the amazing actors and directors, costume and set designers in Raleigh, that made all the difference,” she said.

Lachlan is proud to talk up the hometown scene to “Sabrina” cast and crew.

“When I tell people out here that I’m from North Carolina, they’re shocked, and they ask how on earth I got into acting,” Lachlan said. “When I tell them how big and beautiful our theater scene is, they’re very surprised.”

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Seth Blum and Lachlan Watson in Bare Theatre’s production of “Richard III” at Raleigh’s Sonorous Road Theatre. G. Todd Buker

Freedom to tell stories

Now that Lachlan is moving into the world of television and feature films, the stakes are higher.

Lachlan welcomes the opportunity to become a role model, even an inspiration, for queer kids around the world.

“I’m very hopeful and proud to be maybe shaping the minds of the next generation a little bit,” Lachlan said. “Even it’s just bringing the littlest bit more understanding.”

Lachlan said “Sabrina” has an intrinsic genre advantage when it comes to dealing with the complicated issues of teenage life, including gender identification. As a fantasy show, “Sabrina” exists in the world of speculative fiction, which specializes in flights of imagination and “what if?” conjecture.

“It’s interesting thinking about it in the world of fantasy.” Lachlan said. “If you’re building a fantasy world that exists outside of the rules of our real world, why would you write it to conform to the rules and binaries that we have today? Why still limit yourself?

“You have the freedom to tell stories that you can’t otherwise tell in our reality and our society.”

Glenn McDonald is a Chapel Hill-based freelance writer.

Details

Season 1 of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is now available on Netflix, along with the just-released holiday special “A Midwinter’s Tale.” Season 2 of the series is scheduled to debut April 5.

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