Chris Olsen on His 'Whirlwind' Acting Debut and Bringing Therapy to TikTok: 'I Love to Connect'

The TikToker talks exclusively to PEOPLE about pursuing his long-held passion for acting in The Book of Queer on discovery+: "I feel like I'm just running the craziest marathon and on a runner's high"

Chris Olsen
Photo: Max Montgomery

Seeing Chris Olsen embody another character in The Book of Queer may be new territory for his millions of followers on TikTok, but working as an actor has been a longtime goal for the influencer.

The Maryland native has been immersed in the world of theater since he can remember, he tells PEOPLE. "It became serious when I went to boarding school for acting," he recalls. "We did academic classes in the morning, acting classes at night and that really got me seriously practicing the craft."

Olsen, 24, reached a new milestone on Thursday in his debut appearance on the discovery+ series, which retells well-known stories throughout history through a queer lens.

As it happens, the Book of Queer role was Olsen's all along — show creator and historian Eric Cervini envisioned the TikTok-er when creating the show.

Naturally, Olsen caught Cervini's attention via his TikTok, which he says he slipped into pretty much accidentally during the pandemic while virtually completing his degree in musical theater from the prestigious Boston Conservatory at Berklee.

At first, Olsen made videos about quarantining with his then-boyfriend, Ian Paget. The couple posted about navigating their relationship as Olsen's spring break visit to Paget's Los Angeles apartment turned into a two-year stay.

"It really quickly, in that moment, became my job, without me even realizing it," he says of his unexpected first taste of success in August 2020.

Within two weeks, he had a manager, started selling merchandise related to his content and secured his first brand deal. "After that, it was like everything changed."

Now, the resident PEOPLE Sexiest Guy on TikTok is helping share the queer side of history in The Book of Queer.

The actual filming process was a "whirlwind," he says, consisting of one long day on set. "I feel like I'm just running the craziest marathon and on a runner's high."

The discovery+ series aims to highlight the queer elements of some of history's most well-known stories, such as the legendary legion of Greek warriors and their reign in 300 BCE.

Olsen stars as Greek warrior Epaminondas, who was part of a "band of boyfriends" — a military unit made up of 300 men who were apparently all lovers. The group fought Sparta repeatedly for control of their ancient city, Thebes, and went undefeated for more than 30 years.

The Sacred Band of Thebes use their powers of intimidation on the enemy. discovery+'s The Book of Queer: Chris Olsen

"I really did not know the depths at which queerness has been intertwined through all of these stories," Olsen says of the show's storylines. "So it was a really nice surprise. I felt like I was learning so much that day, in addition to being able to retell it myself, and so I'm really excited for an audience to be able to learn so many new things as well."

The five-episode miniseries first premiered on June 2, and a new episode airs each Thursday through June 30. Fans can get their fix of Olsen — mostly shirtless, alongside his lover, fellow warrior Pelopidas (Rob Anderson) — in the third episode, which is now streaming.

Like the show, Olsen's TikTok account is full of storytelling, much of which has to do with his queer identity. "I really try to mirror back things I'm going through, or things I struggle with in a vein of humor," he tells PEOPLE.

His accessibility has earned him not only his social media following, but also opportunities to co-host the Academy Awards' 2022 Oscars Red Carpet Experience and attend the amFAR Cannes Gala.

A key part of his success has been his willingness to be open about the experiences that haven't been as glamorous.

"I got sober when I was 19," he says. "Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community who got sober so young, I try to communicate that often because I know that can be an issue for a lot of us."

He's also found a niche in an unexpected kind of video — recording his therapy appointments.

While the videos are almost entirely satirical — "Can we talk about the breakup?" his therapist asks in one TikTok from January, to which he quickly brings up the latest episode of HBO's Euphoria, avoiding the question altogether — they have been groundbreaking.

"My therapy videos really took the app by storm for a second and that made me so happy," he says. "The amount of DMs I got of people saying, 'I started therapy because of these videos. I was so scared of it before and you really demystified it for me.'"

Talking about his teenage struggles with alcoholism, making light of his very public breakup and demystifying therapy, albeit satirically, are all what have drawn people to Olsen. And while he hopes acting will become "more of a job than it is right now," he says he will always have a soft spot for the place where he got his start.

"I will always want to connect with my followers," he says. "Even though I joke often that I would love to be that mysterious person who posts once a month and you have no idea what he's doing otherwise, I just don't think that's in me. Like, I can't shut up, and I love to connect with people."

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New episodes of The Book of Queer drop Thursdays on discovery+.

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