On being childlike—a doorway to the here and now
'Pull yourself together, man! Be serious! Life's tough; you gotta face the facts.'
Our world is a serious place—or is it?
So, when was the last time you played like a child? Looked up, let loose, and acted wild? And how would your life be different if you awakened your inner child and brought it with you—everywhere you went?
Let's go explore, and see where we end up.
Jonathan Harboe, a Danish actor and our ambassador for the coming months, will guide us through a doorway to a place where adults and kids aren't that far apart. We tell his story to inspire people to embrace who they are—and take brave steps. It's a purpose close to our hearts and what drives us before ever conceiving anything trousers.
Always childlike and constantly evolving, Jonathan recently discovered 'directness' and how awesome it is—and managed to integrate this childlike virtue into his adult life.
How, you might ask?
In the following interview, we'll share a glimpse of our experience with him, trying to convey the wisdom he unwittingly beholds.
Read the interview below
Jonathan's favourites from Plain Units
Arthur 314 Modest Brown Herringbone
Tapered-fit trousers crafted from mid-weight herringbone-weave fabric in a refined look.
Oscar 834 Blue Brown Herringbone
Straight-fit trousers crafted from rich herringbone-weave fabric in a casually elegant look.
Tony: When was the last time you discovered something about yourself that you embraced and stood by?
Jonathan: I've recently discovered 'honesty' and how to be direct with others. Not that I haven't been honest before, but I've become much more capable of being direct lately. And that's good, I like it. It's cool.
Tony: Can you elaborate?
Jonathan: Well, there's less pretending and less bullshit. Instead, it's straight to the point. I love when people are like that, so it feels great to do it myself.
Tony: It reminds me of how children act. Action, action, action—no blocking. It's inspiring.
Jonathan: Yes! Being childlike is so great. I love being a child, and I always have. It's like I've insisted on it my whole life. Stopping, looking, smelling, touching, and being curious. It's fantastic. It's Curious George all over the place.
Tony: Is it something your parents put a lot of effort into fostering?
Jonathan: I don't know for sure. But being in a playpen was the worst thing I knew. I just wanted to get out and explore.
Tony: Being a relatively new thing, did you use to feel friction around being direct?
Jonathan: Yes. I was afraid of being judged. I think it's cool and sexy, though, and I love it when people are direct with me—so it felt right to be so myself. And the thought of giving the gift of directness to others was very motivating, too.
Tony: Was it a specific situation that sparked your newfound interest in being direct?
Jonathan: No, it's been growing recently. It's been subtly there but has gained momentum in the last year. And I've got to feel how cool it is. It's so awesome! It's like, 'come-on man!'. A bit like being a child without a filter, even though it's good to have a filter to avoid hurting people.
Even though it might sound counter-intuitive, I've also made new friends because I'm honest and push people's boundaries. That's life—you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.
Tony: How do you think you inspire other people?
Jonathan: The characters I play as an actor have the potential to inspire people in general. But I also hope to inspire others to become actors, although I always advise people not to, hah!
I teach acting classes, and because the chances of becoming an actor are tiny, I tell my students to do something else if they're the least able to. People are most likely to succeed if they can't imagine doing anything else and are all in. Without comparing myself to Picasso, but simply using him as a reference, imagine if his painting brushes and canvas were taken from him—and imagine him painting anyway. That's what I mean.
Tony: Did you feel that way when you started?
Jonathan: Oh, yeah. It was life or death to me. Without a doubt, it was what I wanted.
Tony: So it's an attempt to help your students understand their own truth?
Jonathan: Yes, in a way, but mostly, I'm telling them because it's a shame when people waste so much time and money studying at school. Many aspiring actors waste their time, and most end up doing something else because they discover how demanding it is and quit.
Tony: How do you settle into a role, and why is it so demanding?
Jonathan: I have a strange way of working compared to my colleagues and from what I hear by talking to others. I may be very extreme. Not to say what others are doing isn't cool; I wish I could go in and perform on the spot. But I have to work hard at it.
I start by bringing the role into my subconscious, and when I've done so, I let it go for several months. Later, without consciously working on the part, I slowly start having new thoughts, dreams and mannerisms. Suddenly, I notice the character manifested in people on the street. And when I feel like I have enough, I start writing things down, create my character manifest, and begin physically working on it. Then, at some point, we're ready to shoot. That's how I work. But I always start in the subconscious, and I like to spend two or three months on that.
Tony: It's funny that you catch glimpses of the character in other people you see on the street.
Jonathan: Yes, but we do that, right? If you're looking to buy a pram for your child, you'll suddenly discover prams everywhere. Or it's like, 'I'm happy today, and I noticed so many other happy people!'. We see what we already have in our subconscious.
Tony: I imagine our intellect expanding from our brains to our whole being as the subconscious comes into play—making us feel it differently and more profoundly.
Jonathan: Yes exactly.
Tony: Earlier in my life, I was unsure of my intelligence, and when I look back, that changed as I learned to be more present. That realisation dawned on me when I once heard an unusual definition of intelligence; the ability to be present, see clearly and take in more 'data' from the moment.
Jonathan: I see what you mean, and I can relate to being more 'intelligent' when I'm more present in the moment. Funny, I haven't thought about it in that way before.
Tony: When did you start acting, and how have you grown personally since then?
Jonathan: I started 12 years ago, in 2010, when I was around 23. I applied to what was then called Statens Teaterskole (Danish National School of Theatre and Contemporary Dance) when I was 18. I made it to the second audition but deliberately didn't show up. I thought I was too young and lacked life experience. So acting's been with me for a long time. And then, 12 years ago, I started studying at a private school in Copenhagen.
I've always had empathy, but acting has made me a lot more empathetic – to such an extent it's a pain in the ass for me.
Tony: What happens when you become too empathetic?
Jonathan: I get sad. Three weeks ago, I drank coffee in Pisserenden (Copenhagen City Center) and spotted a guy of around 25 years, clearly grieving. It was like I could see his wounded soul through his eyes. I looked at him, and I started to cry. And I'm like, 'no, stop, Jonathan, why, what's going on?'
Tony: Besides being a pain in the ass, isn't it also appreciating things for what they are?
Jonathan: Yes, it is, and that's a good thing. But it becomes too much when I'm like a house of cards in the wind. I love my empathy and empathy in general, but it's too much right now. I can't do anything about it—unless I close my eyes and heart.
No matter how many times I've been hurt, I've never closed my heart. I've continued to love, open, and reach out. There's so much hate and crap that we have to decide to love. It's a choice. And it's easy for me to say, and probably a cliché too, hippie-like, which I'm not, I'm not a hippie, but I still think that's how it is.
It's such a shame when we close our hearts. I've met many beautiful women who've closed their hearts because they've been hurt. It's like, 'I could give you love if you wanted, and so could that guy over there, or that guy, or her.' But as we start shutting down, it becomes destructive—we should keep opening up.
Tony: It's paradoxical how the distance between being open and being closed is so short—yet so far. It's like having a bubble around our heads blurring our vision, defining our world, but also a bubble that, in reality, comes with a delicate, burstable membrane...
Jonathan: Haha, yes, that's so true!
Tony:It reminds me of what you said earlier about manifesting things. We can easily tell ourselves that closing our hearts is the best way to live. And vice versa—and suddenly see people opening up everywhere. Is it really that straightforward?
Jonathan: That's the paradox. Life's tough, life's easy, the world's full of hate, the world's full of love—I say, give love a try and keep trying.
Jonathan: On that note, thanks for talking and sharing so much of yourself.
Jonathan: Thanks, and the same to you.
By Tony Schjønning, Heart of Stories at Our Units
On trousers—and how aparticular pair helped Jonathan embrace his weird
Tony: When was the last time you bought a pair of trousers that marked a change in your life?
Jonathan: I've always been incredibly fond of James Dean. Marlon Brando. Montgomery Clift. Their style, the 50's style, wide trousers, high waist. There's something cool, sexy, and masculine about it.
In my early 20s, I'm walking on the streets of New York, and I see a tailor shop with lots of wide trousers. That's so rare, seeing wide trousers, at least to me, so I'm thinking, 'I gotta have a pair!'. I'm also young and a bit insecure, so I'm also thinking, 'what's wrong with that, to want to feel like 'them'? 'Them' being the guys I mentioned before.
I went into the store and got a pair made for me, and I ended up living in those trousers at one point. Everyone thought I was out of my mind because I was the only one wearing wide trousers.
Tony: How did it feel wearing those trousers?
Jonathan: As I had been looking for wide trousers for a while without luck, when I finally bought them, I felt like 'now I'm one of them, even though I'm not'. That's the effect of fashion—it lets us tap into a personality. Humans are herd animals. We like to belong to something. It's like, 'I'm goth, and now I have my goth family,' or 'I'm high-fashion, so now I have my high-fashion family'.
And I felt like a part of that acting family, subconsciously.
Tony: What was it like to be in that state of mind?
Jonathan: It was great. For as long as I can remember, I've struggled to differentiate fiction/play and reality. And I have a vivid imagination, so I sometimes imagine myself living in the '50s. Absolutely crazy, I know. But those trousers gave me something. I also wore them at acting school, leaving people looking at me as some clown—frankly, I was. I mean, I wasn't very cool, haha!
I don't know... It gave me the freedom to play. It's like, hand a 5-year-old boy a cape, and he's Batman. Fully. It was the same with the trousers—I was one of those guys.
Tony: A dad I know says children have horrible taste. They don't seem to care about their appearance like adults do. You know, t-shirts with cartoon characters, random colour
combinations, unicorns, pink, and glitter everywhere.
Jonathan: Oh, completely. It's not the same for a child—they're so delightfully innocent, they haven't been contaminated by growing up, yet, by society.
Tony: You said you've always had difficulty separating play from reality—are those two the same for you?
Jonathan: Yes, in a way. We grow up, burn our fingers, and learn about the complicated side of life. But it's also bullshit. That's why I like being childlike. I can also be an 'adult', whatever that entails, but I try to bring my inner child everywhere I go—the childlike innocence brings me right to the present moment. It's like, I stop, look, smell, feel and enjoy things as they are. Life's now. You don't have to be here and now all the time, but it helps.
Tony: Today, when you look for a pair of trousers, what do you want them to do for you, apart from
Jonathan: Make me look neat and presentable and feel comfortable, and be versatile. That's why I almost always wear suit trousers, which go with a t-shirt, a suit, a denim jacket, everything.
Tony: How has your relationship with your style evolved?
Jonathan: I'm old-fashioned, and I like a classic look. I'll never be one of the cool kids, nor do I want to be.
From when I was a teenager until I was 27, I figured out my style of clothing, and now, at 35, I've finally found out exactly what I like, and I'm cool with it.
I've embraced my weird side.
By Tony Schjønning, Heart of Stories at Our Units