Actor Charley Koontz is feelin’ himself. And rightly so; since 2011 he’s starred in two hit TV shows, CSI Cyber and Community, and now he’s the US ambassador for the Be Real body positivity campaign. After several years in the public eye, Charley has prioritized developing his personal style. He sat down with us during a recent fitting at Indochino’s newest showroom in Los Angeles to talk fashion, shopping, body confidence, and acting- including his dream role.
Have you always been interested in style?
I’m just getting interested in style, actually. It’s been really hard to find good clothes. That’s always been really strange to me. After spending time going into stores and not finding things that fit, this anxiety built up about even going to the mall or stores like that. Tailoring has become my new best friend. I think finding good clothes that fit you well can make you feel good. I’m really just getting into style, and I’m having a good time with it.
So, being in the entertainment industry makes you think more about your style. Do you think you feel more pressure to be stylish?
I don’t think it’s pressure; I enjoy it! It makes me feel good. I think when you start to go out, and people come up to you in a grocery store or whatever, you start to realize you’re wearing gym shorts and a t-shirt, and you go “Hmm, I look, uh…” So it just sort of gives you pause. It’s not pressure, really, but you want your lifestyle to match the way you feel. And [you want] your style to match your feeling. I feel great, and I feel like I look great. Why shouldn’t I have the clothes that make me feel good?
What kind of style or look are you usually going for?
I wear a lot of dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up, sneakers, t-shirts, and things like that. But you know, that’s where tailoring works in a great way for me. Things just fit better and feel better. Jeans and a button down is pretty much what I go for. I have friends who wear suits every day; I kind of feel like I want to get into that!
It takes a lot for someone with a body that’s “outside of the mainstream” to be willing to get in front of the camera. How did you overcome any self-doubt that might have been an obstacle in an industry so focused on appearance?
I was blessed from birth with a crippling lack of self-doubt and self-awareness [laughs]. I didn’t think of it until people started bringing it up. The weird thing is that that [self-doubt due to body size] is the assumption. I grew up in San Francisco, and I had a childhood that was just surrounded by friends and support, so I didn’t really have a big bullying story until I put myself in the public sphere, and saw what the Internet had to say about me! You don’t really realize quite what you look like until the Internet weighs in.
It seems like no matter what you look like, there’s that backlash.
It doesn’t matter, and it’s not really about you. It’s not about who you are, or what you look like, or what you’re saying or what you’re doing; it’s more about the person posting that stuff than it is about anything else. It wasn’t a big thing to overcome, with acting. The way I’ve always looked at it is, there are certain parts for certain people. I’ve said before that like, The Rock and I are not going to go for the same part, so why dwell on it? There are parts for me, and there are parts that I think I can bring something to. There are a bunch of parts that other actors can’t play that only I can play. And it’s not totally weight-centric. It’s personality, style of acting, and character work – things like that. Those are all the things that make up an actor. The look is certainly part of it, and maybe a big part, but it’s only one part.
I’m curious where you like to shop for more casual looks. Does L.A. have a good selection of places you like to shop?
I do a lot of my shopping online now that I know my sizes and what I want.
A lot of our readers lament the fact that when you shop online, you can’t go try things on. Are you comfortable buying something without trying it on when you find something online that you know you’ve got to have?
I think it’s just a willingness to try things. Style is a process and [your] style is evolving the way you evolve. If you see something online, make sure there’s an option to return it if you’re not into it, and then go for it. You have to give it a try. I’ve really enjoyed shopping online with a company like Indochino because they handle all the sizing and tailoring, and then they’ll fix it for you if it’s not quite right.
I actually just read in Esquire that dudes only wear about 13% of their wardrobe. Do you find that’s true for you?
I think dudes hang on to clothes longer. But they size out of them, or they get ratty, or whatever, but that article of clothing might be their favorite piece. What I started to notice with myself was that I wouldn’t get rid of anything, and then I would pick my favorite things that I felt good in or that were just comforting. I’d wear about 10% of the things I actually owned. What I tried to do was just take 7 or 8 months to actively clean house when it came to my wardrobe. I bought 4 or 5 suits, and they are all suits I really like. I wanted to fill my closet with things I really liked, so I didn’t have to think about it that much. Everything I have in there, I know I’ll enjoy. Now, I can reach in and grab a blazer and put it over a white t-shirt and a pair of jeans and it looks great.
Do you have any favorite articles of clothing?
I love button-down shirts, and this whole small pattern trend. You know what I am really into right now? Pocket squares! I’ve become obsessed with them. It’s a small accessory, but it’s loud. I’m working with a lot of purples, blues, and greens. If you pick a blue suit, or a black suit, it’s great – you’ll have a nice clean white shirt, and a navy tie, and then there’s just a little POP of color, and it’s not too showy.
Are there any other accessories you love right now?
I like tie bars. I think especially because I am bigger dude, and it’s hard to find long ties, knowing that I can secure everything with a clean tie-bar [is important]. I ‘m also OBSESSED with collar stays! Anything that makes a look clean and put together is what I’m into now. The sloppy look isn’t great.
Tell me about the Be Real Campaign.
The Be Real Campaign is awesome; it’s a UK based organization with a focus on changing attitudes toward body image and body confidence. A huge number of adults don’t feel good about their bodies. The Be Real Campaign increases awareness of this issue, and encourages confidence and healthy living instead of focusing on your body shape and size. We’re all born with unique and different bodies, but ads, movies, and TV only show one type of person, with a very specific, often unattainable body type. It’s ok to see that body type out there, but it’s not okay to let that change the perception you have of yourself, or to let that affect your emotional state of mind when you’re living your day to day life. It’s a body confidence campaign that I think is awesome.
As you become confident in your style, do you feel better about yourself?
Absolutely. I feel incredibly handsome! I feel good. I feel on top of my world right now. It’s a common perception, and I don’t know where it comes from, that because you’re big, you don’t think you look good. That’s so weird to me! I don’t know when all that started. I think bigger people, men and women, don’t feel like they CAN look good, so they don’t actively participate in life in that way. It’s a weird cycle of assuming that because you’re big, you can’t look good, and because I’m big, I don’t look good and I won’t ever look good, so why get into it? It’s just passive. Get out there and be somebody! Motion creates emotion.
Let’s talk about your show! You have a new season coming up. You play that sort of computer nerd stereotype. How do you take that concept and make it your own?
My favorite part about the show is that it’s a whole team of computer experts. I’m not just the guy, I’m a guy that’s on a team and the rest of the team looks like Bow Wow, and James Van Der Beek, and Patricia Arquette, and Hayley Kiyoko. I just feel like I’m part of a great team.
In the first season, my character Krumitz and Bow Wow’s character Nelson had a contentious relationship. I had worked as a white hat hacker and he was black hat hacker. Most of the source of our contention is that we might be equally skilled. Each of us think that we’re better than the other one, but we’re probably about the same. That’s what I really love about it. There are plenty of procedurals where they have the computer guy, and the detectives and “I’m the sexy one” or “I’m the one that runs around” and “That’s the computer nerd.” One of the things that’s been really cool about Cyber; everybody has to be equally skilled. I got to shoot a guy last season, I punched a guy in the throat! I was running around, backin’ up The Beek, I got my gun out… it’s awesome!
What’s your dream role?
I would love to get the opportunity to play Jackie Gleason… someday! I’m not totally age appropriate for it at the moment. He was the ultimate sad clown kinda guy. He was aggressive but hilarious and emotional. A lot of people don’t know that he put out a bunch of jazz records. He’s a great piano player- but like a bar piano player! He’s an animal.
I read your Reddit AMA, where you talk about your time on Community. Your character on that show seems to have really struck a chord with people. Did that surprise you?
It’s always really surprising, but great. I went to this fancy Hollywood party a couple years ago, and was kinda hanging around, and there were a bunch of famous people there, and it was kinda like… hmm, this is weird. I felt like very, like, in the corner. Then, the next night, I went and saw Dan Harmon do Harmontown at Meltdown Comics, and I walked in and I was like their god! [laughs] These are my people! It’s always surprising.
When you’re just starting out, you have to take what you can get, in a lot of ways. So that was where I was then, and to be honest at the time I wasn’t thrilled to be playing a character called Fat Neil. But you have to do what you can. Then when I got there, the care for the character from the writers and from Dan was incredible. It just was handled so honestly and so real and so carefully, where I think most of the [D&D] episode is really how a lot of people feel and get treated.
We only shot for five days, which is crazy because I feel like I’ve been talking about it for five years now! The biggest mark I’ve made on anything so far is that episode. I mean, it was tough. It’s tough to hear those things people are saying in the scenes. But it was that Neil got to confront it in the end, but in a way that was like, “Why would you say that about anybody? What the hell?” And then his trajectory over the next four years – he got a little girlfriend and started working at the radio station- was really cool. So, I hope it’s not as surprising moving forward, you know?