Q&A with Ashton Sanders

interview+photography JORGE PEREZCHICA

2017 Academy Award Winner – Best Picture & Best Adapted Screenplay, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

Following the screening of Moonlight at Tristone Palm Desert 10 Cinemas, Coachella Magazine had the opportunity to interview actor Ashton Sanders about preparing for the role in the film and working with director Barry Jenkins.

Can you tell me a little bit how you prepared for this role?
I initially fell in love with the script but there were certain specific parts that resonated with me and my life. I basically took some of those memories and basically expanded or lessened those memories in order to experience this for the character. For instance, I’m wearing the same outfit in three scenes, well I’m thinking, “Well, why am I wearing this outfit in those three scenes, how long have I not been home, how long have I not taken a shower?” It’s all the minute details that we don’t think about in life when acting that you have to really think about in order to make them as authentic and as real as possible. Doing that and also like I said, being within the environment and talking to the people and walking around the streets and seeing how these people live, looking at the scenery, all of that was super important and collectively, bringing it together and connecting with my cast mates in every scene that I do, with every actor. It was very important that I had a relationship with them first before going into doing scene work because these are heavy scenes and I wanted to be able to feel comfortable in being uncomfortable.

Is there any advice that the director gave you that helped you flesh out your character?
Barry, this was a passion project for him as well as it’s everybody involved. He was very hands on with checking on the cast and checking on me to see if I was all right. There were certain parts that really hit me hard and he would ask me if I had more in myself to give and I could’ve said no but I said, “Oh, it’s my job to deliver for the project, I know what I signed into.” He was very helpful in making things comfortable and also allowing me to fill out the space but very collaborative and assertive as well. It was kind of like a dance between Barry, myself and the cinematographer James Laxton. It was a flow of energy that bounced off all of us that allowed us to create what we did in the scenes.

Going through, after you finished this whole process of filming this movie, is there anything you remember about this whole experience that you could mention or talk about, now you’ve gone from beginning to end and now kind of looking back on it.
Just this entire experience just changed my life. I feel this is why artists do what they do, to be able to express and grow from the work that they do. Like a painter, paints a portrait and then he’s done with it and he’s moving on and that portrait meant something to him. To me, this was my portrait, so I’m just thankful that I was able to grow from the experience. It helped me grow as an artist and it changed my mind set which is rare when creating film. So, I’m just blessed to have that man.

And what’s next for you, where are you going next?
I just signed onto this film called Captive State, which should be pretty cool. It’s a post-apocalyptic film, it’s with myself and I believe Tilda Swinton should be signed on, among others. So, right now I have that but I’m trying to line up projects for the year, so taking meetings. I have a few things lined up later on in the year as well, but for now it’s Captive State. I’m just focusing on owning my craft and my coming into myself. Normal stuff man.