INTERVIEW: Tristan Wilds Talks About “The Secret Life of Bees”, “The Wire” and 90210

In the upcoming movie “The Secret Life of Bees” (starring Jennifer Hudson, Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah) Tristan Wilds portrays Zack Taylor, a young, idealistic teen growing up in the tumultuous racially charged sixties during the height of the civil rights movement. As a young black man trying to find his way to becoming a lawyer, Zack works part-time for the Boatwright sisters who introduced him to a world of bee keeping, love, sisterhood and a forbidden friendship with Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning); a young white girl on a quest to find out the truth about her dead mother.

I had a chance to sit down and chat with Tristan about his role in this film, bringing “The Wire” to a close and his newest adventure on The CW’s smash hit remake of 90210 – which airs Tuesday nights at 8pm.

EM: You are known for HBO’s “The Wire” and most recently the revamped 90210, so how did you get involved with this film?

TW: My manager told me about the movie at first. Then after I read the script we got a call for it and it was Gina (Gina Prince-Bythewood) and she said she thought about me for the part and she wanted me to come out and audition for it. One thing lead to another!

EM: Have you read the book?

TW: Actually, I did. It was funny because I read it in the eighth grade. It was on the summer reading list. I did Cliffs Notes through it so I didn’t really “read” the book until I was formed with the role so I went back to read it, really read it and understand the character thoroughly get the gist of the whole story.

EM: How was it working with such a powerful cast of women where you were one of only a few guys that had a primary role in the film?

TW: It was amazing to be around so much female power. It’s weird, it’s tangible even, you can feel it. It’s crazy, it gives you such a good feeling. You always feel at home you always feel safe. Just like my character in the story, he always felt safe around because they had so much power…togetherness. You would catch me on set days when I wasn’t working just to be around them.

EM: It is emotionally draining to do scenes like the one in the theater where your character is ripped from his seat by an angry group of racially charged men? Do you find that it makes you emotional filming them?

TW: Definitely. Especially since you have to get emotional, you have to build up so much emotion and then have it yanked out of you just like in real life. If anybody goes through that you have so much emotion and every time you’re getting pulled or every time you cry. Yeah man, it is emotionally draining but it’s our job.

EM: Have you seen the film yet?

TW: Yes, I’ve finally seen it and it’s amazing.

EM: When you see a scene like the movie theater, what is your reaction? Because it’s obviously different when you are filming and then when you see yourself in it.

TW: You know, the way that it was edited and the way that it was all put together and how it sinks so well with the book…it kind of made me swell up inside. It was a proud feeling. I can also step out of myself and see that this is a really good movie. It almost made me cry.  I didn’t cry…

EM: It made ME cry! I was a hot mess.

EM: As your career is really starting to take off, how do you feel about the progress of what you’re doing? Because in The Wire you go from playing Michael, a character that’s a drug dealer who has to show no emotion to this film where you have to produce a lot of range and the teenage love interest?

TW: It was fun. It was fun to step out of the character of Michael. I mean I love Michael, Michael was a great character and he was so great to play but I like to play…I still a kid at heart so to get that chance to play inside of a character and have fun with it, have as much fun as like with it…it’s just a lot of fun.

EM: How is it different being on a set like this compared to a set like 90210?

TW: Umm…a lot more ladies! No, no, no…on the set of 90210 because we’re all around the same age and we’re all pretty close nit it’s more like a school environment. Every time I go to work it’s like school. You never know what’s going to happen, you always play pranks on each other, it’s really stuff like that. Coming on a set like this with such an aura of family it’s more like going to a family reunion or the feeling that you get when you see your family on Thanksgiving. You know?

EM: You sang a little in this movie. Do you have any plans to start a music career?

TW: Maybe a little bit. I’m writing a whole lot of music right now but eventually I probably put something out there.

EM: How was it working with Dakota Fanning?

TW: She’s amazing. Words can’t even express how amazing that little girl is. I can’t even say little girl because she is so grown up. She made me look at myself and say dang, I’m a little boy! Yeah, she’s amazing.

EM: We’re so use to thinking of Dakota Fanning as this little girl. So how was the kissing scene? Was it awkward at all?

TW: You know what was funny; it was a lot more awkward for me than it was for her. She took it like it was nothing like “come on now I’m ready, let’s do this” and I’m like “I hope I kiss her right, are my lips nice are they moist”…but it came together really nice.

EM: Preparing for the role of Zack, this takes place in the sixties during the civil rights era did you do any research, talk to your family (Tristan’s grandfather was present at the interview)?

TW: Of course talking with my family and Gina made sure that we all had our research down pat. She gave us books, she gave us music, DVDs to watch, websites to look at…just all different things that would just throw us back into the sixties…how the sixties were in the south. It was a lot of research done on all of our parts; from getting the talking down, the different dialects, what they listened to, how they acted, all of that down to the smallest nook and cranny. It took a lot of preparation but we got it done.

EM: Do you think you pulled off the South Carolina accent?

TW: I hope I did!

EM: I have to ask you about the bees.

It was a weird thing to start because we first did bee school and I’m learning how to do it and it was all cool but then Gina said you guys have to be experienced bee keepers and I’m like yeah, yeah, that’s alright, and that’s no problem. Then she was like you gotta take the gloves off. What? Take what off? So yeah, we had to learn how to handle the bees with no gloves. After a couple of tries and getting stung about twice I got to the point where it was cool. I was able to let bees crawl on my fingers without being scared.

One of the main themes of the book was that bee keeping is a metaphor for life. Do you believe that?

TW: Oh definitely. The bees as a whole and just bees being mainly females and that they work so hard it shows the dynamic of women, especially the Boatwright sisters. They work so hard to produce all of this honey, to produce the sweetness for the world.

Interview by
Tiffany N. D’Emidio
Originally Posted 10.14.08

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