These days, simply landing a job is a feat in itself, let alone scoring one as a fresh college graduate. But that’s more or less how Atlanta-native Tommy Dorfman landed a part on “13 Reasons Why,” one of the most anticipated Netflix debuts of the season. One year after matriculating from the theater program at New York’s Fordham University, in 2015, the actor nabbed his breakout role as Ryan Shaver on the Selena Gomez-produced television series, which drops this Friday. After four years studying to perfect his craft, it’s no surprise that the 24 year-old (and newlywed!) is fully immersing himself in the opportunity to take a stage with legitimate lights, camera, and action.
Based on Jay Asher’s 2007 novel of the same name, the show follows the lives of a group of high school students in the aftermath of a classmate’s suicide, touching on major social issues—from the complexities of mental health to bullying to championing diversity and LGBTQ+ rights—along the way.
“It’s a privilege to be a gay person playing a gay character, especially with everything’s that going on right now,” says Dorfman, a man of his millennial generation if ever there was one. “I always felt sort of out of place in high school. One of the great things about our show, and the book, is that it gives a voice to the [kids] who feel different and excluded.” The actor identifies himself as an advocate for the rights of the many types of individual represented in the series or, as he puts it, “basically everyone but a straight, white-male.”
To portray his fictional character’s underlying struggle—finding normalcy in the wake of tragedy during the already emotionally tumultuous high school years—required Dorfman to tap into some very real emotions, like self-doubt and a ceaseless lust for better days, that he experienced growing up in the South. “I was itching to get out of Atlanta. I wanted to be in New York from the time I was twelve,” he says. “Then college had its own challenges, and I grew up in different ways.”
But despite his growing pains there, Atlanta still holds a tender place in Dorfman’s heart. The city itself has become an entertainment industry epicenter (earning the nickname “the Hollywood of the South”) and, as Dorfman guarantees, there’s much, much more to ATL than its airport. “So many people that I’ve talked to are like, ‘Yes, I’ve been to the airport in Atlanta—it is the worst,’” he explains. Below, the actor’s favorite hometown hangouts (for those smart enough to venture further than their boarding gate).
Cup of Joe: Octane has the best coffee in the city, and its chic decor offers an optimal working environment.
Power Lunch: Ton Ton Ramen, in Ponce City Market, serves the best ramen in Atlanta. Their hot chili pepper sauce is dangerous.
Cocktail Hour: I don’t drink, so I recommend Arden’s Garden, a local juicery that’s been around forever, before juicing became trendy and cool. Get the Grandslam: lemon, ginger, cranberry, and wheatgrass.
Retail Therapy: Sid Mashburn for its custom men’s suiting and inventory, from APC to Adidas to Diptyque to Globe Trotter Luggage (a personal fave). Plus, there’s a ping-pong table. (For women’s apparel head to Ann Mashburn, next door.)
Field Trip: Six Flags Over Georgia. Call me basic, but there’s nothing like coming home and revisiting your childhood amusement park. Superman is my all-time favorite ride.
Date Night: I had my bachelor party dinner at Kimble House. Really great food, and atmosphere.
Don’t Miss: See a show at The Fox Theatre. I grew up performing there with the Atlanta Ballet and it’s one of the most magical performance spaces in the country.
Hidden Gem: Paris on Ponce—it’s part antique store, part vintage retailer, and part art gallery, with a Moulin Rouge-themed event space. My husband and I have a lot of handmade pieces from there in our New York apartment.