Ashton Sanders is widely known for his breakthrough role in Moonlight – the small-budget indie-turned-Oscar-winning blockbuster beater that shows, in three stages of life, the struggle growing up as a young, gay black man in Miami. Starring alongside Denzel Washington in his latest film the Equalizer 2, ASOS Magazine sat down with Sanders to talk about embracing imperfections, taking notes from Washington and expanding black film culture. Read a taster of the interview below, and for the full feature, grab your copy of the latest ASOS Magazine here.
STYLE AND CULTURE
ASHTON SANDERS' STYLE FILE
By Sam Higgins, 17 September 2018
Growing up, your mother struggled with addiction and you experienced bullying – just like your character Chiron in Moonlight. Do you feel that the role immediately resonated with you?
I do. We’re all products of our environments, so everything I’ve gone through, good or bad, has shaped who I am.
When you first started out, you joined the Amazing Grace Conservatory – an all-black acting programme that Insecure’s Issa Rae also attended. How was that experience?
[It] made me feel as though I wasn’t alone being this artistic black kid. I was comfortable in this environment with like-minded individuals who weren’t judging me being myself, and that has cultivated who I am today. Growing up, most kids are playing sports and I wasn’t there – there’s a separation from being an artist and an athlete in black culture.
What impact has acting had on your outlook on your own life?
I believe that every part I do has been a time to self-reflect. Every role is a chance to fully embody a different lifestyle and live in those circumstances, and I always end up coming to terms more with myself. Chiron was a part of me that I needed to play for my growth.
Moonlight featured a predominantly black cast and achieved widespread success at the Oscars. What do you think is the next step for the industry in terms of continuing the diversification of film?
The next step is bridging the gap between black films and white films, so we just talk about great film work. It doesn’t have to be ‘that great black film that won an Oscar,’ it should just be a great film that won. Of course, it’s cool to give recognition to the fact that we haven’t had any before and now we’re getting it, but we need to move past it. There’s so much work to be done. We as black actors, or black anything in America, have to be great to match anybody else’s ability. So, with that, it’s about being and knowing you’re great, no matter what the payslip is. Knowing that we’re doing something to further expand the culture of black film.
You star alongside esteemed black actor Denzel Washington in The Equalizer 2. Did he give you any career advice?
Denzel was very wise and honest because he’s a connoisseur of the art. The best advice he gave me was to always be working to better myself as an actor, to not get settled in, and always work to be a better person.
Another film you feature in that's due out soon is Native Son directed by Rashid Johnson and shot by Matthew Libatique (the expert cinematographer on films like Black Swan and Requiem For A Dream). What was this film like to work on?
It was just a really beautiful project and a privilege to be a part of. To be Thomas – who’s this iconic black character – to be able to embody him in this world and be in his head is just f*****g incredible. I really have no words for it.
What advice do you have for young, upcoming actors?
I’d say to always love yourself and to not lose hope in yourself. Nobody understands you as much as you. Continue to self-reflect and not be hard on yourself when the world is, because we’re always learning and growing, experiencing and reflecting, and that’s beautiful. It’s also liberating to know that I’m OK with my imperfections. I am a work in progress. Period.