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A Rising Star

“Outer Banks” was released on Netflix in early 2020, in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The show follows a group of teenagers in the Outer Banks — an island of haves, have-nots and clique-based rivalry and romance — as they hunt for a legendary treasure linked to a father’s mysterious disappearance.

The first three seasons of the series are currently streaming on Netflix. Although it doesn’t have a release date just yet, “Outer Banks” was renewed for season 4 in February, which has many super-fans waiting in anticipation.

One of the main antagonists in the show is Rafe Cameron, a teen with an aggressive edge and a dark, troubled past. Rafe is portrayed by Drew Starkey ’16, who took on the breakout role in 2019. Since its release, “Outer Banks” has been a runaway success and Starkey has skyrocketed to fame.  

Starkey enrolled at WCU in 2012. Originally from Hickory, Starkey was born and raised in North Carolina. In 2016, he graduated with a double major in English and theatre performance. His former classmate Samuel Wallace ’16, WCU director of photo and video production, described Starkey as “one of the hardest working and humble classmates we had. I can’t think of anyone who deserves all of the success more than he does.”

This sentiment is echoed by Brenda Lilly, assistant professor in the School of Stage and Screen and award-winning screenwriter, playwright, director and producer, who taught Starkey when he attended WCU and encouraged him to begin acting. Lilly first noticed Starkey’s talent in a beginner’s acting class that was offered to all majors across colleges, including non-actors like Drew.  

During a dramatic scene reading in class, Lilly watched Starkey take the stage and shine. She said, “He was unbelievably talented. The first things I noticed was that he can take direction and clearly had skill.” She asked him to see her after class to chat — Starkey’s initial reaction was that he might be in trouble, but instead, Lilly wanted to have a chance to encourage him to audition for the School of Stage and Screen to dive deeper into the world of acting.  

A passion was sparked. Drew was a sophomore when he was cast as the lead in WCU’s production “A Doll’s House.” He also starred in “Peter Pan.” Lilly exclaimed after the show to Drew’s family and other WCU Stage and Screen colleagues, “He’s going to be very successful. He’s a movie star.”  

In a past interview with WCU, Starkey stated that sometimes life in Los Angeles reminds him of college days. “Ironically, I’m just chasing the experience I had in the WCU Stage and Screen program — running around, putting on plays and making movies with my friends,” he said.

Prior to “Outer Banks,” Starkey kickstarted his acting career with roles in movies “Love, Simon” (2018), “The Hate U Give” (2018) and “Just Mercy” (2019). He also appeared in a series of TV shows including “Mercy Street,” “Ozark,” “Brockmire,” “Good Behavior,” “Doom Patrol,” “Queen Sugar” and “Scream: Resurrection.”  

Today, Starkey has just under four million followers on Instagram. He’s been interviewed by MTV, People Magazine, Teen Vogue, Entertainment Weekly and more. If you Google his name, there are countless results. At just 29 years old, he’s achieved great success as an actor. Despite the recognition, Starkey has managed to maintain his humble demeanor.

Brian Boyer, WCU residential case manager and former supervisor of Starkey, who was a student assistant in Residential Living, said, “The main thing that I would say about the success that he has found is that it truly could not happen to a nicer person. And when I talk to him today, he is still the same person that he was back in the summer of 2012 when I first met him.”

Since “Outer Banks” premiered, the actor has acquired several big roles. He starred in the 2022 reboot of “Hellraiser” and the star-studded 2022 Amazon Prime series “The Terminal List.” Starkey also starred alongside Josephine Langford in a romantic comedy, “The Other Zoey.”

One upcoming project for Starkey is starring alongside Daniel Craig in the upcoming movie “Queer,” an adaptation of the novel by William S. Burroughs, directed by Luca Guadagnino. Although the movie is set in Mexico, filming commenced in Italy in April. “Queer” will mark the most prominent film role to date for Starkey. 

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