After his breakout performance as the teenage Chiron in Barry Jenkins’ Oscar winner “Moonlight,” Ashton Sanders has a jam-packed movie schedule, with the recent opening of “The Equalizer 2” with Denzel Washington and the upcoming “Native Son” and “Captive State” (the latter with John Goodman and Vera Farmiga). Sanders is also a burgeoning fashion icon and spoke with Variety about his work with designer Jessie Jamz.
What’s your role in “Equalizer 2”?
I play a young man, Miles, who is without a father, and Denzel becomes a mentor to him. They start to build a bond that they both end up needing. “Captive State” was a totally different experience — a sci-fi thriller. I play Gabriel, who ends up becoming a savior of sorts to a revolution at a time when aliens have infiltrated the Earth. I was halfway finished with filming that when the “Moonlight” buzz and the Oscars were happening. I shot a couple of scenes that morning, then flew to L.A. for the Oscars and flew back the next day so I could finish filming.
“Moonlight” was a character study, as is Richard Wright’s “Native Son.” Are these the kind of roles that you gravitate toward?
I think it’s our job as artists, as creatives, to change people through our art, or make them feel, or introduce them to different ideals — to teach, almost. I learned so much through these characters, and my hope is that other people can learn as much as I have.
How did you develop your sense of red-carpet style?
I grew up in a fashion household. My father was a fashion designer, so although it wasn’t forced upon me, it was around me. I find that the way I dress is an extension of who I am. And that’s constantly growing and changing. I really like eccentric, stylized people like André 3000, Pharrell and David Bowie. He had the craziest style. I collectively put everything in a pot and just see what happens.
You and your “Moonlight” co-stars did a Calvin Klein campaign. Do you want to design clothes yourself?
That’s definitely something that I want to do further down the line. I collaborate with Jessie Jamz, who styled me last year, on all of my red carpet looks, and I have the opportunity to really get into runway looks or whatever types of designs I’d want to wear on the carpet. We just style it the way that I would naturally do it. I’ve been able to meet so many great people in the fashion industry that have been very inspiring.
How did you catch the acting bug?
At 11 or 12, I enrolled in an acting program called Amazing Grace Conservatory and was surrounded by people with this familiar artistic soul to them. It was a year-round program that trained us in acting, singing and dancing. We would put on shows at the end of every quarter. That’s where I developed who I am today as an artist and that’s where the structure came.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
As of late, I’ve been getting to “just stay true to my artistic spirit, my artistic soul.” To trust my intuition, myself and to stay true to my roots. I think once you do that, then the steps will be ordered and things will reveal themselves. You just have to trust the process and be consistent.
Things You Didn’t Know About Ashton Sanders
AGE: 22 BIRTHPLACE: Inglewood, Calif. MOST REWATCHABLE MOVIES: “Nocturnal Animals,” “The Color Purple” COMFORT FOOD: Any type of potato LAST SHOW BINGE-WATCHED: “Black Lightning” Dream Destination: South Africa IDEAL SATURDAY: On a beach all day with the sun beaming, not too many people around and good music