Tyler Young
Tyler Young as Philip Shea in "Eyewitness." (Christos Kalohoridis/USA Network)

Tyler Young: ‘Eyewitness’ and the future of Philkas

Philkas survived, but will the oft shipped gay teens of USA Network’s Eyewitness remain a couple forever as the popular social media hashtag suggests? I asked star Tyler Young and got an interesting answer.

“Eyewitness,” adapted by Adi Hasak from a popular Norwegian series, wrapped up its tense first season mystery Sunday. The season explored the repercussions of a murder investigation in a small town near New York City and how it ultimately outed the relationship between gay teens Philip (Young) and Lukas (James Paxton) who witnessed the killings.

Julianne Nicholson, Gil Bellows, Warren Christie, Tattiawna Jones and Matt Murray also starred in the series, which will have a different story if it is picked up for a second season.

The first season dove deep into the struggles of young LGBTQ people as they deal with who they are and whether they should come out. The Philkas storyline not only was a social media hit, but helped young and gay audience members dealing with similar problems in their lives, according to messages fans sent to the actors.

“I’m proud of that,” Young said. “I’ll be the guy from ‘Eyewitness’ forever. I will always put that out there right away.”

I interviewed former Chicago resident Young and Paxton, actor Bill Paxton’s son, before the season began for a story in Out magazine. Young and I reconnected last week for a story in the Chicago Sun-Times

In the previously unpublished excerpts from both those interviews below, Young discusses his favorite scenes in the series (not including anything from the finale, which he had not seen as of last week), his encounter with a bear when filming in Ontario and whether he thinks Philkas will indeed last forever.

Tyler Young
Philip Shea (Tyler Young, right) visits Lukas Waldenbeck (James Paxton) in “Eyewitness.” (Christos Kalohoridis/USA Network)


Do you feel the show and the story, the Philkas story particularly have helped or will help people?

Oh, it’s definitely, definitely helped people. I’ve gotten so many messages … saying things like, “Your characters helped me come out to my family and it’s been hard but I watch your show every week and it’s really made a big difference” or, “I watch the show with my dad and it’s helped him understand why I am the way I am.”

… I can’t read all the messages that I’m getting because there are just so many. I try to see as many as I can … It’s given people just a place to sort of write their feelings. If it helps you to write a message to me on Facebook or Twitter or on Instagram or whatever and sort of get your feelings out and talk about how our characters helped, I think that’s really positive and to me that shows that our characters and our storyline have moved many people.


Did you end up having a favorite scene or episode or moment from the show?

Yes, I did and it finally aired last week. … I think the favorite Philkas scene was in Episode 9 in the maternity ward, sort of the two scenes that happen in there. The one where Philip was tough on Lukas for the first time and he said, “You’re the only one who has a problem with this, Lukas,” or “No one else has a problem with you. It’s just you.”

I love that moment because it was the first time that Philip was sort of like, “You have to snap out of this and you have to really take a step back and look at who’s your worst enemy in this situation. I liked everything about that scene; the stakes were so high. The way that they shot it was almost this uncomfortable angle. … I think James delivered just an excellent performance, particularly in that scene. I was very moved by his performance.

Then the scene following when Philip is staring at Lukas as he’s sleeping. When Lukas wakes up they have this little moment where Philip’s like, “You were snoring.” Lukas says, “I don’t snore.” “Oh yeah, you were,” Philip says. 

They talk about their dreams and Lukas dreamt about dirt bikes. Philip talks about how he dreams about the same thing and Lukas is like, “Oh, you dream about dirt bikes, too?” Philip says, “No, I dream about riding off with you.”

When I first read it I was like, “How are we going to do this? It seems so cheesy.” But I really put myself in that place of after all the characters went through, they finally were having, in the midst of this insanity, this beautiful moment where we talk about our feelings and our emotions and the whole world sort of slows down.


Will Philip and Lukas ride off into the sunset?

That was something that Adi Hasak, the show runner, asked me when I first met with him. I’m not sure. What I’ll say is we are two 17-year-old boys who are in extreme puppy love and we’ve been bonded by this intense experience. While they are together now, I think Philip and Lukas are on very different life paths.

I think the concept of riding off in the sunset implies that everything is going to be perfect for the future and everything is resolved. I think at the present moment those two boys would like to believe that they now have the possibility to ride off into the sunset and there’s hope for a better future, but I don’t know if I would go as far as to say they’re together forever.

They are just 17 after all. Things will change. I think that it’s been such a beautiful experience for the two of them and they’ve learned so much about each other and they’re going to have that forever. They’re going to have that love that they felt for each other in them forever—whether or not they’re together forever.


What do you have to say to fans or anyone else out there who have had the experiences or who experienced Philip’s kinds of troubles?

What I know about those experiences I only really know through playing a character like Philip and through research and talking to people. I would just say come from a place of honesty as much as possible and find a support system, even if you can’t get it from your immediate family. Find someone at school or a friend or one of your friends’ parents and let them know what’s going on in your life. Don’t be afraid, don’t be embarrassed to talk about it and to let an adult know, an adult that you trust, know or someone at your school, a counselor or a teacher that you feel close with.

The more you hide the less likely things are to work out in your favor. I think that the It Gets Better Foundation says this perfectly—it does get better. Just continue on a good path and you attach yourself to positive role models. It will most certainly get better and the future can be brighter than an episode of “Eyewitness.” 

You might have to turn up the brightness yourself a little bit. It takes effort to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It takes a certain kind of positive perspective to have which can be difficult, I think, when you’re dealing with so much. … Find anything positive, even the smallest little moments of positivity. Latch onto those and believe in those and let those really sink in.

Tyler Young
Tyler Young as Philip Shea in “Eyewitness.” (Christos Kalohoridis/USA Network)

Tyler Young from our pre-season interview

What attracted you to “Eyewitness” and to playing Philip?

When I got the script for this show, I read the whole thing right away. It just read so naturally to me and wasn’t overwritten and I could see so much potential. … I felt like the character was sort of someone who was still figuring himself out, too, and I tried to play that. Obviously I could incorporate parts of myself into him. 

Also I loved how the show had so many different elements to it, so many different layers. … It does an excellent job of blending sort of this family drama and character study with this really intense action/crime thriller. It’s not gimmicky. It’s a genre show but one I hadn’t seen before. I liked that it wasn’t a procedural, your typical cop show.


Did you research foster care?

Catherine Hardwicke and I talked about the foster kid side of it. I had no knowledge about what it is like to be a foster child at 17 years old. It’s not a typical thing. Usually when people are looking for a foster child they go for the cute little babies. I read some books and read as many articles as I could on it. I watched some documentaries about the foster care program.

One book I read was about being in and out of the foster care system while a parent keeps trying to get you back, but maybe they’re struggling with an issue like alcoholism or drug addiction. A character in the book was similar to Philip in that sense. I sort of used a lot of that character’s quirks and his background and perspective to create the back story for Philip. Philip didn’t really have a huge back story coming into the show and I wanted to know all that information, at least for myself, so I could feel he was a real person.


You work with a crazy good cast. How was the experience as a young actor?

These are the best actors I’ve ever worked with in my life. It was an ensemble show and everybody pulled their own weight and there were no weak links. In particular, working with Julianne Nicholson, who I was a big fan of before this show, was just a dream. She is one of the most talented, effortless, kind actresses I’ve ever worked with and just one of the best people that I’ve personally ever known, to be honest.

Truly, I think you hear a lot of actors saying, “We all love each other.” But we really did. The situation forced us to create this weird family because we were all living together this summer in this tiny resort in Northern Ontario on a lake. We had to really unite, because we’re all away from our homes and away from our families. 

Gil, who is so paternal, really took on James and I sort of in a fatherly way. He was always there to give us advice and guidance and must have asked me at least 20 times a day, “You’re good?” He was very concerned with our well-being and how we were handling it all.

James and I were on our first big show on our first big set—it can be very overwhelming. But with people like Julianne and Gil taking on the role of your parents, you’re in really good hands. We were really lucky.

I worked with Warren just a little bit and didn’t get to work with Amanda Brugel or Tattiawna Jones. But I still feel like I did because we were with them so much. We all spent so much time with each other. It is a dream come true and I still can’t believe it happened.


I heard you encountered a bear, too?

We were living in this hotel in literally the middle of the forest in Northern Ontario, in this town called Perry Sound. There were bears all over the place. They told us there were bears and a pack of wolves. We laughed because we thought they were joking. They weren’t. … Everybody on the crew and the cast was like, “I saw a bear! “I saw a moose! “I saw a wolf!” Whatever—I didn’t see anything. I saw a raccoon on the property that used to eat banana peels out of the garbage but really, this is what I get to see?

Then one day, I was walking on the property with James and off in the distance we saw what looked like a dog. As we approached, we saw it was a bear standing in the middle of the woods. This big brown bear looked right at us! I freaked out. I’d never seen a bear before. I’m from the Midwest; we don’t have any bears. We have the Chicago Bears, but that’s a whole other story. Yeah, it was a real, living bear and it wasn’t in the Lincoln Park Zoo. If it wanted to, it could have eaten my face off. Luckily it didn’t and I lived to tweet about it. But it was a very exciting moment for me.

Tyler Young’s Chicago roots prepared him for Eyewitness fame
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Eyewitness spotlights gay teen love story