There’s a thing that happens when the time since high school starts to be measured in the fives, then 10s, and then 20s of years: When you look back at your experience, the rose-colored nostalgia blooms more intensely and sweetly as the years pass. So too does the horror and trauma. (Growing up, man…)

Those dueling dynamics are at the heart of The Afterparty, the Apple TV+ series that sees a group of high school classmates gathering for their 20-year reunion. Most are seeing each other for the first time since graduation, but they almost instantly fall back into past dynamics—and, as such, begin reopening old wounds.

There also happens to be a tragic death at the reunion’s afterparty, from which the series then unfolds as a murder-mystery as detectives interrogate the partiers, dredge up stories about what happened in high school, and try to pinpoint a suspect and a motive.

While, sure, that trauma is arguably more heightened than what most of us experience at these kinds of reunions, the characters’ complicated feelings about their shared past are certainly relatable. And for the cast—a stacked lineup of comedy stars that includes Sam Richardson, Ilana Glazer, Tiffany Haddish, and John Early—that meant donning throwback threads and embarrassing hairstyles, reviving all the cringe lingo of a turn-of-the-millennium teenager, and time traveling through their own lives.

Jamie Demetriou didn’t quite have that issue.

“My memory of high school is people telling me that I’d miss it when it’s gone,” the British actor, who plays desperate-to-be-accepted Walt, says. “Like, ‘Don’t wish these years away.’”

Speaking to The Daily Beast over Zoom, he smirks into a crooked, delighted smile and arches his eyebrow, an elastic asymmetry he employs to brilliant physical comedy effect in both The Afterparty and his award-winning sitcom Stath Lets Flats.

“I’m so pleased, at the age of 34, that I still haven’t spent one millisecond missing high school. I wonder if it will come when I’m like, 80. I’ll be like, ‘No, I wouldn’t mind being in a room full of people that I have very little in common with [except] being told by a teacher who doesn’t want to be there how to say pencil in Spanish.’”

Suffice it to say that Demetriou is not among those who so-called “peaked” in any teenage glory days. In fact, those peak days might be happening now.

The most recent episode of The Afterparty is a showcase for Demetriou’s Walt, revealing how he, of all people, is the one responsible for the events of senior year that reverberated all these decades later, resulting in the possible murder. Joining the cast of the Apple TV+ series, from American comedy juggernauts Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie), “was a dream come true as a British guy,” Demetriou says.

He’s spent the last few years popping up in major studio comedies, including Cruella and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. But this has him trying on new skills for size: not just channeling a teenager again in flashback scenes, but speaking in an American accent.

It’s a pond-crossing rise in the tailwinds of what’s been Demetriou’s biggest career success to date. He had been trying for more than five years to get a show made when Stath Lets Flats, about a hapless Greek-Cypriot real estate agent whose personality replaces all self-awareness with delusion, debuted on Britain’s Channel 4 in 2018. (A quick tutorial on that tongue-twister of a title: his character is named Stath, and in Britain, “lets flats” means “rents apartments.”)

The show’s three seasons became a word-of-mouth hit stateside when they began streaming on HBO Max. And that’s not to mention the boost it received after its now-legendary achievement: In the unstoppable steamroll year during which Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s second season of Fleabag won every award imaginable, Demetriou’s Stath Lets Flats, which he created and stars in, was the only series to beat it for a major Best Comedy Series award. Not only that, but it was the BAFTA, on Fleabag’s home turf, that Stath Lets Flats won.

On the occasion of discussing a TV series set at a high school reunion, surely that’s an accomplishment someone would want to return home to gloat about. That is, if you’re the kind of person who may have spent two decades fantasizing about a revenge strut into the school gym, peacocking your newfound fame—which, actually, a certain character in The Afterparty does. It doesn’t go well for him; maybe that’s why Demetriou isn’t exactly a fan of the idea.

First of all, he wouldn’t consider himself at the top of the list of people who suffered terrible bullying, though he does remember one time when he bragged to a friend about buying a Beatles album. “That was, like, ‘life over’ for a month. I was a loser because I listened to one of the greatest albums of all time. At the time, they were like, ‘What? Guitars?! Get a beat, man. Where’s the beat?’ I’m like, ‘Ringo was providing the beat.’”

But he’s also not sure what kind of satisfaction gloating might actually give. Sure, when he was struggling to get his acting career off the ground, he imagined what it would be like to make it big, get booked on a talk show, and start listing off all the names of the people who were once mean to him. (Beatles guy, you’re on notice.) But who would truly care?

The Afterparty

Aaron Epstein/Apple TV+

“I think the reality is that it would only take one or two minutes of being back for the status to return to what it was and you just completely regain the position you were in,” he says. “I can flash my IMDb page at whoever I want, and they can quite easily be like, ‘Yeah, I don’t really get your stuff.’ Or, ‘To be honest, I don’t understand how you got to where you are.’”

He shakes his head at himself and apologizes: “That’s a very cynical view of people. People aren’t that bad.”

The truth is, Demetriou doesn’t have a cynical view of people. You’d know that if you’ve seen his work. His comedy hinges on a clear-eyed perspective of how or why a person–an oddball, especially–may have gotten to be that way. The laughs come because of how empathetically he inhabits them in all of their awkwardness and even occasional obnoxiousness. The idea isn’t cruelty. It’s understanding, no matter how exasperating—and, as such, funny—his characters’ actions might be.

He once described Stath in Stath Lets Flats as “an asexual idiot with a Greek-London accent.” A person like that, one could imagine, might be quite hard to be around on a daily basis. But they’re certainly fun to cringe and chuckle at. (Think of Stath as a worthy successor to The Office’s David Brent or Michael Scott in that regard.) It can be similarly painful (though, again, entertaining) to watch Walt in The Afterparty. He’s a guy who was desperate to be acknowledged and thought of as cool in high school and, 20 years later, that eagerness has only amplified. You can’t help wanting to shake some sense and perspective into him.

“I’m drawn to people who don’t know who they are, because I just think that’s where comedy lives, in someone with an incorrect perception of themselves,” Demetriou says. “Walt is so full of hope that things are going to go right. That’s why he just keeps plugging away and keeps on trying. I think with Stath, he’s never questioned the possibility that he might not be the best version of himself. I just think there’s so much comedy to be found in that kind of personality blindness.”

I’m drawn to people who don’t know who they are, because I just think that’s where comedy lives, in someone with an incorrect perception of themselves. … I just think there’s so much comedy to be found in that kind of personality blindness.

And if that manifests itself in a little bit of a panic that he, Jamie, might be the person everyone is aghast over—that he might ever be in a situation where everyone knows something about his personality except for him—well, maybe that could be healthy, too.

“There’s a big culture I think that kicked off with reality TV and the Brit-pop ’90s in the U.K. of people being like, ‘I speak my mind!’ Like, ‘I say, anything that pops into my head. I just say it because I’m real!’ And I’m very much of the opinion that you mustn’t. You mustn’t behave like that.”

Perhaps all of this observational intelligence comes from an upbringing that was much different from Demetriou’s classmates. He grew up in London with a family he candidly describes as eccentric. His father was Greek-Cypriot, and his Anglo-Greek-Cypriot culture clash informed a lot of the dialogue and familial mayhem that unfurls in Stath Lets Flats.

His sister is Natasia Demetriou, who was his co-star on Stath Lets Flats, playing Stath’s quiet, supportive sister, Sophie, and currently portrays bawdy vampire Nadja in FX’s What We Do in the Shadows. They’ve always been close. In one of their first joint profiles when their careers were taking off, they recalled Christmas of 1989, when Jamie was two and Natasia was five, and she huddled with him in her stroller and made him pledge with her to always be “championing each other’s work.”

“We have this shared sensibility, which is kind of a combination of nature and nurture,” Jamie says. “I suppose we were raised under quite eccentric circumstances. Our parents weren’t your typical kind of stiff upper lip Brits. We had this quite surreal Greek dad, and my mum is a character too. I think that Natasia and I sort of found each other down the hall, kind of catching each other’s eye.”

Natasia once compared that sensibility to “a Muppet with its mouth open.”

Pressed on what, pray tell, that means, Jamie starts stuttering and rambling, but then has a bit of an epiphany and becomes visibly excited to explain it. Picture what a Muppet looks like, he says. There’s only so much you can do with their faces; you essentially can only open their mouths and rely on context to telegraph what emotion they might be feeling. That also means that at any moment, a Muppet’s face is primed to be interpreted as a smile.

“A Muppet is just always waiting for a reason to be happy,” he says. “So it’s like, I’m just going to leave my mouth open in a kind of happy way until the information comes that makes my open mouth make sense.”

His own open mouth starts laughing. “I’ve never articulated that. But yeah, I think that’s what it is.”

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