Film & TV

Get Ready to See a Lot More of Rudy Pankow

The Alaska native plays the troublemaker in Netflix’s sun-soaked hit show Outer Banks. Here, he talks fame during quarantine and how taking a gap year before culinary school completely changed his life.
Reading time 9 minutes
Photography by Kelly Balch

Unless you’re quarantined near a beach, we’re betting this summer isn’t panning out quite as you expected. Luckily, there’s Outer Banks, the YA drama which has sat on Netflix’s Top 10 since its release, and has plenty of sun-soaked adventure to live vicariously through. 

OBX is escapism at its finest, providing a much-needed thrill when most of us are confined indoors. The show centers around a group of teens from North Carolina—a.k.a. the Pogues—who spend their summer searching for treasure, drinking on boats, and dodging law enforcement, all while trying to have a good time. 

Of course, every teen drama needs a troublemaker, and Outer Banks has JJ—brilliantly played by 21-year-old Rudy Pankow—whose impulsive nature is often the catalyst that forces the Pogues into dangerous situations. While the show definitely has plenty of heart-racing thrills, some of its best moments come in the form of watching the cast’s natural chemistry as they hang out and joke around. “There were some goofy times on set,” Pankow says to us over the phone.

The actor’s Instagram reveals as much. Since the show’s release, Pankow has been posting videos of him and his cast mates goofing around during filming, from footage of he and co-star-slash-roommate Chase Stokes jamming to Green Day in their apartment, to makeshift Star Wars audition tapes and blooper reels.

We caught up with the Pankow on Outer Banks’s success, getting into JJ’s head, and who he wants to play next. Spoiler Alert: For those who have yet to watch Outer Banks Season 1 and plan to, please note there are spoilers ahead!

How do you feel about Outer Banks coming out during a time like this?

I think it’s an opportune time for the show to come out…I would say it gives a little bit of escapism and hope. Maybe even a new perspective of how to spend time these days. 

The show doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on being on your phone or indoors or—I don’t wanna say it but I kind of do at the same time—love interests. There is a love interest in the show and there is a lot of drama with that, but I like the more adventurous side of it and I think a lot of people will want to live something like that. It’s a little breath of fresh air.


Since it’s come out, Outer Banks has consistently been on Netflix’s Top 10, and everyone is talking about it. Can you describe what the show’s success has felt like to you?

I’m in my own bubble, with all this commotion going on outside of my bubble, and I’m like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to experience this when I’m outside of my bubble,’ you know? It’s like you hear a lot of things but you don’t really see it. You don’t see all the commotion that has been buzzing around. 


Do you feel nervous at all?

Oh yes, but luckily masks are a thing, and I think everyone should be wearing masks for the next three months, so it should kind of ease me into this new world. If somebody recognizes me they know their stuff, they know exactly what I look like, goodness gracious!


How did you get into acting?

I was fairly late to the game. I think I grew up with that gene of entertainment and wanting to entertain my entire life, and I think a lot of people feel that, but to take action on it is a whole different story. I didn’t really think acting was what I was going to do until my senior year of high school, and I thought, ‘Maybe I should give this a shot.’ I was actually going to go to college, I had everything set up, I had my dorm and a scholarship and all that and I was about to go to a culinary school. I was like, ‘Why are you doing this? Are you going to be happy?’ 

I knew the answer to that question, and then I had the opportunity around the same time to come down [to LA] and go to an improv class as well as a scene study class, and I immediately fell in love with it, and that was that. I was like, “Mom, dad, gap year. Wink wink, gap year.’ 

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What drew you to Outer Banks and to JJ in particular?

There was a lot about Outer Banks that made it such a breath of fresh air. It’s one of those shows where you can go stereotypical young teen drama with it, but then also you can pull back on trying to play into the drama…it’s so fun to try and resist it going that way.

JJ’s just a riot. It’s so fun to be this person you can really relax in, and that’s the key to JJ, you really need to relax into his world of, ‘Hey man, things are gonna be how they’re gonna be.’ 


JJ has one of the more tragic arcs on the show, namely his relationship with his abusive father. What did you do to get into his headspace and immerse yourself in his world?

There’s a whole process to finding what makes JJ tick, what he finds funny, what he finds painful. Most of the time he’s wearing a mask to hide the pain that he obviously is experiencing in the show. 

When you are playing a character like JJ, you feel a certain responsibility to portray that character as organic and real because of the people in the world that are actually going through this. When I had to do some really heavy emotional scenes, I would first off do a little check and be grateful. Be very grateful and thankful for the life that I’ve lived because it’s time to say goodbye to that when those emotional scenes have to happen. 

JJ always tries to find the bright side, but he’s kind of a pessimist at the same time…he just doesn’t want to live the life that he’s living because he knows there’s better out there. JJ has taught me that things can always be worse, man. They can always be worse, and it’s our job to look for something better.


What was it like working with everyone in the cast? You all seem to get along really well.

[Casting] did an amazing job at finding these really talented up-and-coming actors that are also really good people. The minute I met JD (Jonathan Daviss) at the first chemistry read I was like, ‘Can we please be friends?’ It’s kind of a weird time at the first chemistry read because you’re not 100 percent sure if you’re going to be booked for the role, so you’re kind of bummed out that there’s a possibility that this person won’t be your friend. Me and JD had the feeling of, ‘I sure hope we’re gonna do this together because I’m loving you already, man!’ 

Then when I was flown out to Charleston, I met Chase [Stokes], and him and I decided to live together throughout shooting because we knew that we had a lot on our shoulders. We were calming each other down through it all, but also keeping each other in check.

All that played into us becoming so close and trusting each other. Then, when we could relax it was so much easier to have fun with each other because we had that trust.

Where would you like to see JJ’s story go in season 2?

I would love to see JJ really struggle to find who he is as a person when John B’s gone. I don’t know how long we’re going to believe that John B’s dead, but John B really was some sort of an anchor for JJ. He doesn’t really rely on a lot people, but John B was definitely his closest friend. When you lose your closest friend like that, trying to regain some stability in your life is really hard and I want to see JJ go through that. 


Is there a certain type of role, or maybe a person from history, that you’d really like to take on?

Maybe [Jon] Bon Jovi…it would be amazing if I could play some sort of classic rock star.


What are you most looking forward to post-quarantine?

I’m most looking forward to getting to shake somebody’s hand finally! When you’re going through this process and meeting everybody online it’s not as awkward, but then once in a blue moon if you actually have the chance to meet someone in person these days, being able to shake their hand and going, “Hi, I’m Rudy Pankow.” I actually really miss that.

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