Ashton Sanders Reveals the Most Important Lesson He Learned from Denzel Washington & Mahershala Ali [INTERVIEW]
Ashton Sanders sat down with Okayplayer and talked about starring alongside Denzel Washington in The Equalizer 2 and his role in the upcoming Native Son movie
In the summer blockbuster Equalizer 2 — in theaters this Friday, July 20th — actor Ashton Sanders stars as Miles, a teen with tremendous potential who faces enormous pressure to steer his life down the wrong path. That is until an encounter with Robert McCall (played by Denzel Washington) places Miles on a different path.
In real life, 22-year-old Sanders is busy reaping the rewards of a decision he made years ago — to pursue his love for acting. Through hard work, discipline, and sacrifice, Sanders has secured his place in Hollywood, thanks to the success of high-profile films like Straight Outta Compton and Moonlight.
Next year, Sanders will star in the adaption of Richard Wright’s classic novel Native Son. Sanders will play the controversial protagonist Bigger Thomas.
In this exclusive interview with Okayplayer, the thoughtful and insightful Sanders shares his thoughts on working with the likes of Washington and Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), how he’s handling his success, his talks with God, and being grateful for his beautiful bounty.
Check out the interview below.
Okayplayer: You play the character Miles in Equalizer 2, a troubled teen who is struggling to find his way. What would you say you have in common with Miles?
Ashton Sanders: Well, I come from the same place that Miles comes from. I was raised in the same environment. I think Miles is a character that a lot of people in our community are going to be able to relate to just because we know him so well. With everything that I do, I try to basically stay as true to the character’s circumstances as possible, [while being] as authentic as possible. I believe that acting is like creating life, so I try to stay as real as me sitting here having this conversation with you. So yeah, Miles wasn’t too unfamiliar. Although he wasn’t me, I feel like he represents hope in the hood.
OKP: One of the most touching and pivotal moments in the movie is when your character, Miles, turns to Denzel’s character and asks “Why me?” Did you have any moments in your real life where you sit back and ask yourself that very same question?
AS: I’m getting chills by just hearing you say that. That’s how unreal it seems. What I’m living in now is everything I’ve worked for. I kind of sacrificed my childhood to be in acting classes. Not by force, but because I wanted to. I made all these sacrifices to get to this point, so it does feel good. But yeah, it definitely does feel surreal. It’s a blessing. And yes, to this day, I’m in a car somewhere talking to God, like: “Why me? Why did you choose me for this?” And although I may not understand it now, I do know that the rest will be revealed, and I do know that I was chosen to do this for a reason.
OKP: Having co-starred with two of the biggest names in Hollywood, Washington and Ali, did you have any moments with them wherein they imparted any bits of wisdom?
AS: One thing I got from Denzel and Mahershala, both of them being kind of like mentors, would be that they both instilled in me to just trust myself. And stay true to who I am and who my artist is and to just trust my intuition. That’s one thing that the both of them actually said to me, and I carry that with me. That’s been a major theme within these past two or three years – I’ve been hearing that a lot, but coming from those two men, it’s definitely something that I’m meant to hear at this moment in my life.
OKP: What are your thoughts on Moonlight, and how it’s impacted your career?
AS: Moonolight was my baby. It was God sent on every level — spiritual and just literal. That was a film that was really precious to me, and I think it’s important to me and my career to play characters that are relatable and to use my art to teach people, to play characters that people can relate to and learn from. And that’s exactly what Chiron was and what Moonlight was all about. It was about breaking down a stereotype and understanding humanity. Moonlight was special and, obviously, it’s laid down the foundation for what my career could be and where it’s at right now. I’m very thankful for that experience.
OKP: Do people ever tell you that you have an “old soul?”
AS: Yes. I hear that more than you can even imagine. I can say that I think we’re living in a time where there’s a lot of bad in the world and a lot of good. A lot of good people, a lot of good souls, and a lot of bad souls and bad spirits. I’m not perfect, but I do think that I’m a good soul, and maybe I have been here before.
OKP: Do you envision yourself eventually shifting from being in front of the camera to writing, directing or producing projects?
AS: That’s all in the works. I’ve always been interested in directing. I was taking directing and writing classes as a teenager. Everything is a possibility and as long as I’m here I want to experience that with you guys. So yes, I’ll for sure be directing, producing, and creating projects.
OKP: You’re playing Bigger Thomas in the upcoming movie Native Son. What was it like taking on such a significant role?
AS: That role was everything I could’ve wanted. I think we were able to get the story and get him and the narrative down packed. So I’m really excited to showcase that to you guys. Rashid Johnson, it’s his directorial debut and he’s brilliant. We have an all-star cast: Matthew Libatique is the cinematographer and his list of work is incredible (Editors note: Black Swan, Straight Outta Compton). Suzan-Lori Parks adapted the book into a screenplay, and she’s a Pullitzer Prize-winning genius and playwright. So it’s gonna be good.
Samantha Hunter resides in Westchester, New York and has written entertainment and lifestyle features for Essence, SoulBounce, Inspirer, Haute d’ Vie, Black Westchester, DELUX, and VH1.com. Her family and friends say she’s always going somewhere, but you can find her on Instagram at @Sapodillic.