22 Mar 2023No Replies
Aaron Taylor-Johnson wears many hats. The 32-year-old is an actor (since he was six years old), a father and husband, an occasional model, and when we hop on a call to talk about his latest campaign for Calvin Klein, an IT guy, too.
There’s a good ten or so minutes where the connection between my end in New York and his end in London is off. His voice is crackly and distorted, and we try to power through before Taylor-Johnson devises a quick solution: He hops off the conference platform, reconnects via a phone call, and is back in the game. “Is this any better?” he asks. It’s a thousand times better.
I’ve caught Taylor-Johnson in a time that he describes as “busy.” The week before, he was in Australia, where he’s been since the beginning of the year, finishing up shoots on The Fall Guy. Now, he’s just touched down in London, where he’s doing additional shoots on Kraven the Hunter before heading out to Prague to shoot Nosferatu. Between all of this, he’s making his debut in a Calvin Klein campaign for the brand’s spring 2023 collection, sporting jaw-grazing hair, boxer briefs, a denim jacket (sans shirt), and snazzy jeans—all with the kind of energetic magnetism that translates seamlessly from the big screen.
“I felt absolutely honored and flattered to have been invited to be a part of Calvin Klein’s men’s underwear,” he says. “I felt incredibly safe in the hands of Mert [Alas] and Marcus [Piggott], who I think are equally iconic photographers.”
The campaign is definitively stripped-back: no frills, no props, no color, even. Alongside fellow Calvin Klein ambassadors Michael B. Jordan, FKA Twigs, Kendall Jenner, and JENNIE, Taylor-Johnson is expressive and acrobatic; on his knees in one shot, standing tall in the next, a statue caught in contrapposto.
“I was almost taking that vulnerability and putting it into confidence,” he says. “It was great fun. I think there’s a level of nerves and expectations when you’re going to be photographed in your underwear, but quite honestly, I’ve only ever worn Calvins, so I just felt honored and thrilled to be part of it.”
Calvin Klein, a brand iconic in its simplicity, its minimalism, its timeless style, is a natural fit for Taylor-Johnson. In the same way that—and bear with this metaphor—underwear are the foundation upon which an outfit is built, Taylor-Johnson’s adaptability, his readiness to step into any role and play any character, is the heart and soul of his career. He describes his own style as “classic”: a pair of jeans, a nice white tee, and boots. Something versatile. Something comfortable. Something that is reliably unchanging.
“I tend to enjoy fashion and dressing up more through characters, when I’m getting ready for a role or I’m in the process of doing something,” he says. “That’s always a part of how I build characters. I work on the psychology, but I also work on the layering and the skin that they wear on the outside as well.”
Taylor-Johnson has worn the skin of a few centuries’ worth of men; he’s been a young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy, sporting vintage ‘50s get-ups that he likes best of all his characters’ wardrobes. He’s been an ostracized Russian socialite in Anna Karenina. And most recently, in Bullet Train, he’s been a deadly assassin, equal parts brutally lethal and charmingly witty, with a mustache as killer as his profession.
Taylor-Johnson laughs when I bring up that ‘stache, sharing that it was a stroke of his own genius—and pandemic-induced experimentation. “It was that facial hair boredom,” he says. “I just got very creative with trying different characters and looks. For that character, I think I tried two or three different beards, and I wore them for a week each. I got a lot of feedback from my family—they all think I’m ludicrously nuts.”
The result, fortunately, looked less than ludicrous, and more like the facial hair of a classy, gentleman killer. It’s a hard look to pull off, but Taylor-Johnson, with his classical features, does it effortlessly and confidently. It seems that’s how he does most things, though.
“I definitely feel like I’m someone who can express myself better in movement than I can in words, which is why I feel more comfortable as a performer,” he says. Things like dance bring him confidence; he finds himself drawn to nature, tells me he finds inspiration from being immersed in it as much as possible, and has taken an interest in regenerative farming and rewilding.
“The lessons you get from just seeing nature just do its thing—it’s really just this sitting back and observing situation, watching and listening and learning and wanting to evolve and grow,” he says. At this point, more than any other, I find myself glad Taylor-Johnson was able to play IT guy and fix the audio at the beginning of our call—the profound passion wouldn’t have been so palpable in his voice otherwise.
“I’m excited by many things, by many people around me,” he says. “But when you’re starting to observe more is when you can really have a chance to…grow.”