Theoden Janes

Nash Grier conquered social media. But can he win over Hollywood?

Social media star and independent-film actor Nash Grier is originally from Mooresville.
Social media star and independent-film actor Nash Grier is originally from Mooresville.

It seems like just yesterday Nash Grier was stuffing pillows down his pants and strapping on a football helmet to film himself diving down the stairs of his dad’s Charlotte-area home.

Actually, though, it’s been more than three years since Grier, then a sophomore at Davidson Day, achieved ginormous celebrity. He did it on Vine – a social-media platform most people over the age of 24 had never even heard of at the time – by making inane but often creative videos that lasted about as long as it takes to tie one’s shoe.

Today, Vine is just about defunct. But Grier, 18, has gone beyond it in more ways than one.

“What I want to do is tell stories,” Grier said this week, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “I want to bring stories to life. I started doing that naturally, without even knowing it, as a kid – on a phone, on a desktop computer ... I started to tell stories, to record stories, and eventually fell in love with the whole language of telling stories.”

He remains a social-media titan, with 9.7 million followers on Instagram, 5.75 million on Twitter and 3.6 million on Facebook, in an age when upstarts think cracking 10,000 makes them special. He still makes inane videos for his YouTube channel, but they’re longer now, more sophisticated and, in some cases, a significant source of income. (He recently shot and starred in elaborate low-budget ads for Neutrogena, online now, and Tommy Hilfiger, coming soon.)

And this week, he’ll make his biggest departure to date from those goofy stair-diving days, when he appears in a violent, erotic, streaming-video-app series created by “American Psycho” author Bret Easton Ellis.

“The Deleted” – about a group of increasingly paranoid twentysomethings who have escaped from a cult – premieres Sunday on the teen-centric app, called Fullscreen. Subscribers ($5.99 a month) will be able to watch a new, roughly 15-minute episode nightly through Dec. 11.

The series may be the first time fans see him with nude co-stars, but it’s certainly not the first time they’ve watched him experiment with a new way to reach an audience on the Internet.

Wait, who is Nash Grier, exactly?

Nash Grier first downloaded Vine as a high schooler, in the spring of 2013. He began harnessing the power of these looping, six-second videos after a friend showed him a goofy one. Inspired, he made his own silly Vines of ... whatever. Kittens. His then-4-year-old half-sister, Skylynn. Stair-diving.

(In one notable instance, he crossed a clear line, yelling a gay slur in a Vine that eventually created a public backlash and resulted in him apologizing.)

But that summer, a Vine user with about 300,000 followers promoted a video Nash had made, asking Skylynn what was wrong with America. In a thick Southern twang, she answered: “They. Need. Jesus.”

Nash gave an “Amen!” About three weeks later, he had 200,000 followers of his own.

By that October, he had 1.4 million.

Pretty soon, the train was headed west: In summer of 2014, at age 16, he convinced his parents to move him from Mooresville to Hollywood after Fullscreen signed him to a feature-film project called “The Outfield,” a dramedy about three high school baseball players.

And though the movie didn’t exactly turn out to be “Tootsie,” his social-media stock kept rising. In March 2015, Time magazine pegged him at No. 4 on its list of the most influential people on the Internet – two places behind Taylor Swift and one ahead of President Barack Obama.

Grier, incidentally, comes from a family of headline-makers.

The second of three sons of divorced parents Chad Grier and Elizabeth Floyd, Nash – like his brothers – found his way to fame while attending Davidson Day School, where Chad is head football coach.

Will Grier, 21, is a transfer student at West Virginia University who had starred at quarterback for Florida in 2015 before testing positive for a banned supplement. He has said it was a misunderstanding of the guidelines and not an attempt to cheat the system. He was suspended by the NCAA and left Florida in the wake of the scandal; West Virginia plans to start him in 2017.

Hayes Grier, 16, became famous via Vine, in part on the coattails of Nash. His big break came in 2015, when ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” invited him to compete as a celebrity on the strength of his social-media fame. He has since starred in a Hulu teen thriller series called “Freakish” and a reality series for Verizon’s Go90 app called “Top Grier,” set on his family’s farm in Mooresville. Will and Nash both make cameos in the latter.

Meanwhile, Nash Grier says he’s become obsessed with the art of filmmaking and the craft of acting. Though “The Outfield,” “The Deleted” and another web serial he stars in called “High School Cupid, a Cupid Inc. Story” (for AwesomenessTV) are niche offerings with limited reach and appeal, he is dreaming big.

“I’ve spent hours and hours (teaching myself) the language of cinematography and film, and my favorite directors and writers, and the best ways to communicate with a lens, and what works best. ... If you think about it, even what we’re doing right now is a story – this interview ... I have so many stories from myself, and from what I’ve seen, from talking to people, that I really want to bring to life.”

He elaborated on this sentiment for another six minutes. Which is to say Nash Grier is quite comfortable talking. He tends to ramble, and often seems on the cusp of being profound without quite getting there.

But his passion is obvious, and his influences are unexpected. He gushes about films many 18-year-olds probably have never seen: “Tootsie,” “My Own Private Idaho,” “Bowfinger.” His favorite actors aren’t Kevin Hart and Zac Efron, but Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Edward Norton.

“You really don’t understand,” says Grier, who turns 19 on Dec. 28. “I spend so much time, like, in a cave almost, just studying (film) – whether it’s Francis Ford Coppola, watching all three ‘Godfathers’ back to back to back. Or, I don’t know, Paul Thomas Anderson. That kind of stuff just gets me going now.”

A brave (and young) new world

Of course, “The Deleted” isn’t going to generate any awards buzz for Nash Grier, either, and likely won’t get him a meeting with Steven Spielberg.

But the Spielbergs of the entertainment industry are, perhaps, becoming less relevant every year, while the Griers of the world are becoming more so. Fame and success are measured differently now than even a few years ago.

Consider the People’s Choice Awards. They may not matter to you, but more than 125 million votes were cast this fall for the 2017 installment, in categories including Favorite Social Media Celebrity, Favorite YouTube Star and Favorite Social Media Star.

In the latter category, Grier is facing off against Baby Ariel, Cameron Dallas, Jacob Sartorius and Liza Koshy. Haven’t heard of any of them? Well, your kids or your grandkids or your neighbor’s kids have.

For his part, Grier seems to understand this. He has a remarkable perspective on and respect for the entertainment industry, something that, by his own admission, he lacked when he left North Carolina.

“Movies with color have only been out for so long,” he muses. “Movies with sound have only been out for so long. And this is all changing, like with IMAX. In music, they’re working on a new WAV format. MP3 is the latest right now, but it’ll be something new in a few years. Everything is constantly changing. Virtual reality is something I’m experimenting with. It’s insane – 360-degree cameras, all sorts of new drones – it’s going above and beyond, taking cinematography to a completely new level.

“Thirty years ago, or even 10 years ago, it took so much money to make one music video. Now people can make music videos every day, with nothing but their iPhones. It’s absolutely insane how booming and amazing an opportunity it is to step up and create and be a part of a revolution. That’s the real reason I’m out here. That’s what excites me the most.”

Grier has been chattering away for several minutes now, but finally pauses for a moment to organize his thoughts. When he starts back up, they don’t sound like the typical thoughts of a teen who might go stair-diving for laughs.

“My mindset is definitely away from the money at this point,” he says, “just ’cause I’ve learned that that cannot be one of the first things I think of when it comes to a project.

“It’s like, you come into something that you don’t really know, and you’re disrespecting it ... then you realize what it is, and how beautiful it is. And you fall in love with it and don’t want to take advantage of it.”

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes

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