The Fosters’ Hayden Byerly sits down with Foster Focus to talk about the hit show.
What a difference a year makes! When I spoke to Hayden Byerly, who plays Jude on “The Fosters” in the Fall of 2014, he was a squeaky voiced 14 year-old who had just taken the world by storm with his performance. A year later a confident young man with a voice so full of bass that it would make a pair of Beats headphones shake with reverb, would tell me he had also shot up a foot in height. It’s been quite a year for the young phenom as he has received both popular and critical acclaim for his growth as an actor.
When we speak, it’s a week or so before Christmas and big things are in the works for young Hayden. The home network of “The Fosters”, ABC Family, is changing its name to Free Form. His on screen love interest, Connor, is moving away. His character is finally a member of a full family. Jude makes a new friend. And in his real life, Hayden has started his own foster care related foundation. Height and voice aside, Hayden is dealing with a lot of changes.
I can tell from the enthusiasm in his voice that he’s excited and up to the task. Change isn’t something that’s unfamiliar to Hayden. He grew up in Colorado but that all changed when he won a national talent competition in 2010. What followed was a guest spot on the Disney Channel’s “Zeke and Luther”, some voice over work and a recurring role as Micah, a wheelchair bound boy with spinal bifida on the critically acclaimed NBC series “Parenthood”. The next change would be a big one for the LA transplant.
“The Fosters” arrived in 2013 amongst a flurry of hype. Both the mainstream and foster care communities waited with baited breath to see what a cable foster care show would look like. The first season didn’t disappoint. Hayden found himself in the enviable position of being a mystery to the audience for the bulk of the first episode, being referred to by name only until the end of the episode. Once the young ingénue hit the screen, there was no doubt Jude would be an impact player.
The character of Jude is a rich well of emotions and changes, a dream for any actor. Rather than playing it safe, the young actor hit the role head on, bringing Jude to life. The character called for scenes and situations that would test even the most tenured actor. Storylines included intense emotional struggles with bullying and coming to grips with sexuality during adolescence, as well as the numerous traumas and emotions that go with the foster care experience.
With poise and grace, Hayden showed off the skills of a fine actor and in the process became an advocate/posterchild for the causes of gay rights and anti-bullying. Kids across America donned blue nail polish like Jude did on the show, a move that brought the character both antagonists and the realization that he liked a boy in his new school. That type of responsibility could be too much for even a seasoned actor, once again, Hayden has been up to the task.
He credits his family and upbringing in Colorado for his level headed approach to the business of acting. Staying grounded is the key ingredient to a child or teen actor making it through the gauntlet of Hollywood with all its trappings. The closeness of the cast has also been a benefit. “There’s a real family dynamic on set, we’re all very close with one another.” That family feel allows Byerly to see things from many different perspectives.
On screen, the family is complete with the permanent addition of Callie and Jude to the Fosters dinner table. Callie’s protective instincts for Jude have captivated audiences since the very first episode. In times of crisis Jude often seeks out the wisdom of his older sister. His on screen Moms fill any void left by Callie.
The second half of the 3rd season, which airs on Free Form on Mondays at 9pm est., has Jude dealing with a new batch of situations.. “I’ve got no complaints,” says the young actor, “the writers keep bringing great storylines.” A boyfriend who is no longer in his school, a new intriguing friend and the aches and pains of adolescence are all on tap for Jude before reaching year 4 of the series. The other family members have their hands full too. Of all the storylines, besides his own, Hayden finds Marianna’s arc the most compelling. “I really love what they are doing with her character. They’re taking her in an interesting direction.”
Back here in reality, Hayden is taking his advocacy to the next level. He has started a foundation; Hayden’s Hope Totes provides duffle bags for foster youth coming into care in the Los Angeles area. “It’s degrading for a kid to have to leave all their possessions or throw everything they own into a garbage bag when they come into the system,” says Hayden, “It’s already traumatic enough without that memory.”.
Through a partnership with the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Hayden’s Hope Totes are available to any child entering the foster care system. “A little hope can go a long way in helping a child transition a bit easier in a very scary situation.” Hayden is a proud young man when talking about his foundation, “I’d like to think I’m helping. If I can do something to help a child in a tough situation, I’d like to do that.”
He has already heard of the impact of his work through the social workers and those who help the youth every day. “Everyone has been very supportive and positive about the work we are doing.”
Overall, Hayden Byerly is a great kid. Much like Jude, he’s the kind of kid you would want to have as a member of your family. He is kind, thoughtful, self-aware, empathetic to others and may be housing a bit of an old soul. There’s no telling exactly what the future holds for him, though if his short history is any indicator, you can expect to see a lot more of Hayden as he ascends the ranks of Hollywood. On the ascension, you can also expect to find the young man to help as many foster youth as he can along the way. Excited to see what the next year brings.
To learn more about Hayden’s Hope Totes visit: www.haydenshopetotes.org and be sure to tune in every Monday night at 9pm to Free Form to see The Fosters.