Tristan Wilds stars as Ray ‘Junior’ Gannon in Red Tails, which is in theaters today.
The 22-year-old actor stars alongside Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Ne-Yo, Nate Parker, and Elijah Kelley in the film produced by George Lucas.
In an interview with theGrio, Wilds, the film’s youngest star, talked about what it was like taking part in Red Tails, and revealed his plans for a future career in music. .
theGrio: How did you get cast in Red Tails?
I knew the director Anthony Hemingway, he was the director from another show I did, The Wire. We have always had a great relationship and when I read in the trades that he was going to direct Red Tails I told him ‘I would do anything I had to do to be in the film.’ He told me I had to go through the auditioning process just like everyone else, and the rest is history.
Tell me about the character Ray ‘Junior’ Gannon that you play in Red Tails
He is the youngest pilot in the movie, and basically he gets a lot of grief because of his age. They treat him like the little brother. Throughout the movie he is fighting for the respect of the other guys. He wants to be seen as an adult, and at the end of the movie you see that everything he has gone through, changes him and makes him into the man that he wanted to be.
What was it like working with established black actors like Terrance Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr.?
These guys have been through the ringer of Hollywood. To learn from them, have them on set and have them coach us was amazing. They gave us guidance about our on-screen role and also about life in general.
George Lucas has said in several interviews that it was difficult to financial support to produce Red Tails… Why do think it was so difficult?
I don’t think it’s a black or white thing. I think it’s a money thing. Hollywood bases their standards off of statistics. They have never seen an all-black action film, so they didn’t want to take a chance on it. I don’t think they really based their commitment on whether it was a good movie or not, but they based it on figures of what has been done before. This is an anomaly and something Hollywood hasn’t seen before and they were just apprehensive because they didn’t know how much money would be made from this film.
Some of the real Tuskegee Airmen were on set during the filming of Red Tails. What was it like to meet them? Did you get any feedback from them?
They were our real life history books. They gave us everything that we needed. We are portraying their legacies. They wouldn’t let us mess it up, even a little bit. If anybody was out of line, they would pull us over and correct it. Not even a tie was out of place. I learned an immense amount from them. It was great to have them on set.
You star as one of the only African-American characters on the CW series 90210,What was it like going from being the only black lead actor on the set to being surrounded by black actors on the set of Red Tails?
Before 90210 I did The Wire, so being on a set of black actors is nothing new to me. I never have seen my roles as a black or white thing. I never think about being the only black guy on 90210. I was fortunate enough to attend a school that was predominately white and find a way to fit in, but at the same time stand out.
But I love to see young black actors work, or black actors, period. To hear that there is an ensemble cast of black actors, warms my heart.
You were the youngest actor on set of Red Tails, was that an advantage or a disadvantage?
I think it was an advantage. All of these guys are like older brothers to me, so I was able to learn something from each and every one of them. They are involved in every facet of the entertainment industry from directing to music and now they are a part of my life forever.
Why do you think movies about black history aren’t made more often, and struggle with box office ticket sales?
Not only black history films don’t get made, but the large majority of history films don’t get made. There is a lot to digest and a lot of people don’t like it. With black people, we had to go through so much pain and adversity, it is hard to watch. Not just for white people, but for black people too. People go to the movies for escapism and sometimes a history movie is not an escape, and just too much to digest.
I know that you have an album in the works. What kind of music do you sing and when will your album be released?
The album is definitely coming soon. I am in the studio working on it now. I am trying to find that right direction and build upon it. I would consider my sound is hip-hop but very R&B and soulful. It’s R&B, hip-hop and pop thrown in a blender, mixed and served with ice.
I have heard that Jay-Z is your cousin, has he given you any good advice on how to navigate through the entertainment industry?
I want to clear this up, Jay-Z is not my cousin. He is like an uncle to me. He came into my life when I was 17 or 18 and has been great to me. He is a man of little words, but he has the best one liners. Whenever you are going through something he has a great one liner to sum things up. He is like Yoda.
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