By Samantha Highfill
September 11, 2020 at 04:07 PM EDT
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Yannis Drakoulidis/HBO

Jack Dylan Grazer was coming off roles in It Chapter Two and Shazam! when the 17-year-old’s career hit its first major speed bump: He bombed an audition for an HBO show. Or at least thought he did. "I walked out and was like,'That was the worst audition I’ve ever done. I tanked that,’'" Grazer remembers of his tryout for We Are Who We Are, the series from Call Me by Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino. But luckily for him, the visionary director did not agree. "When I saw him improvising in such a mature, thoughtful way, I chose him immediately," Guadagnino says.

One phone call later, Grazer had landed the role of Fraser in the eight-episode series about two families living on an American military base in Italy, and specifically, the relationship between teenagers Fraser and Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón). "Fraser’s got so many conflicting ideas — he doesn’t know who he is, he doesn’t know what he wants," Grazer says. "He’s questioning his identity, questioning all of it. But also balancing that with his volatility and his expressive behavior."

The series begins when Fraser’s family arrives on base and he finds himself in every teenager’s worst nightmare: having to make new friends. Eventually, he finds Caitlin, his headstrong neighbor who’s struggling with her gender identity. "She was described as really strong, really forward," Seamón says. "She said whatever she felt like saying at any given time, whether it was appropriate or not."

The series — which also stars Chloë Sevigny, Kid Cudi, and more — follows Fraser, Caitlin, and their families and friends as they experience the ups and downs of friendship, first love, teen hormones, and everything life has to offer. In other words, the drama is painstakingly real — no crazy sci-fi twists involved. "For all my love of the genres and the possibilities of storytelling, I think the most compelling and empowering narrative is the one based on the behavior of people," Guadagnino says. "That’s what I get from the movies I love, and that’s what I search for."

We Are Who We Are premieres Monday, Sept. 14 on HBO.

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