Swagger is a characteristic that can be described in many ways. It can either define a person as being overly confident or downright cocky. In the Apple TV+ plus original series Swagger, the show’s characters each display their brand of the adjective.
Swagger is the brainchild of creator and showrunner Reggie Rock Bythewood, NBA superstar Kevin Durant and Imagine’s Brian Grazer and “inspired by Durant’s experiences.” In fact, it wasn’t all about mirroring KD’s court skills but the importance of putting in that work when no one else is around.
“We didn’t talk as much about his hooping style as we did the importance of having a strong work ethic. He really impressed upon me that doing the work takes care of a lot of the nerves and superstition leading up to the game. That advice really stuck with me in centering my focus,” explains Jace.
The show primarily follows a rising D.C. basketball phenomenon, Jace Carson, brilliantly portrayed by Isaiah Hill. Jace finds himself on a youth basketball team coached by Ike (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), who is given the opportunity at redemption when Jace lands on his team.
Anytime Reggie comes to me with anything, I know it’s something real, I know it’s something dope, and I know it’s something that we’re going to be able to have a lot of fun with.
Like many similar movies and shows, finding someone who can decently play the sport but still act, is a casting feat in and of itself. But luckily for executive producer/creator Reggie Rock Bythewood, Hill approached basketball the same way he did acting.
“I was shown a video of Isaiah playing basketball. That’s what first got my attention. I then saw a tape of him reading for the role of Jace, and it was very promising. What I expected was to cast an actor who we would train to play basketball. However, in Isaiah’s case, I got a dynamic ballplayer who learned how to act. Inherently, he already had sincerity and vulnerability. That comes through in his performance. He approaches acting the same way he approaches basketball, he wants to win,” explained Bythewood.
Already being a baller added to his character, as Ike immediately learns getting an extremely cocky Jace to buy into his coaching philosophy won’t be easy. Jace realizes that being a great basketball player won’t keep him from the ills of the world, and the road to basketball stardom won’t be easy. So the two have to learn to depend on each other while overcoming obstacles in front of them, whether that’s racism, corrupt coaches, or shady businessmen looking to make a buck off youth sports.
Cassius Life spoke with one of the series’ stars Tristan Mack Wilds, who graces our Men of Swagger cover about his role. In the show, he plays Alonzo Power, a young executive in an up-and-coming sneaker brand, and is looking to make his mark within the company. In our zoom conversation, we spoke to the seasoned actor and musician about his swagger, on and off the screen, his character in the show, reuniting with Reggie Rock Bythewood, being a girl-dad, and mentoring the younger actors in the show.
Cassius Life: First question off the bat, what does swagger mean to Tristan Mack Wilds? How would you describe your own swagger?
Tristan Mack Wilds: Describe my own swagger. I don’t think I can describe my swagger. It’s weird. I think it’s just something innate. It’s something that’s in you. It can be created, but still, it has to be something that’s inside of you. It’s the way that you walk. It’s the way that you talk. It’s the feeling that people get when you come into a room. It’s something effervescent. It’s literally something that you can’t touch.
CL: Being that we have seen you in person and met you a few times, we think you got a pretty decent swagger, man. It’s pretty good. You’re good in these streets.
TW: Thanks, man.
CL: In the show, you play Alonzo Power. Can you tell us about your character?
TW: So Alonzo is a young executive at a sneaker company that’s a smaller sneaker company. Think Under Armor before Under Armor was Under Armor. He has a really crazy idea on a way to become a little more competitive with the bigger companies, and I think throughout the season, you get a chance to see what is his decision on his idea and what does that costs him.
I don’t think I can describe my swagger. It’s weird. I think it’s just something innate. It’s something that’s in you.
CL: Now again, speaking on Swagger, of course, every character in the show has their own “swagger.” So how would you describe your character’s swagger?
TW: Alonzo is a shark. He’s somebody who constantly wants to be the one in the room who knows the most, and if he doesn’t then he knows how to play the game to where he can learn as much as he possibly can. He’ll stay low until it’s time to come up. But every time you see him, he’s always on 100, dressed to the nines, he’s after everybody’s neck, and he wants everybody to know that he’s the biggest and brightest in the room.
CL: Alonzo does get some fits off in the show. We saw some dope fits. There were many times we were like, “That is a clean look.” Now, you touched on your character being involved in the business aspect of the show by working with the smaller athletic apparel company. Now you’re a pretty big sneakerhead yourself, and you’re into kicks and stuff like that. Did your character make you look at those companies differently and how they move as far as being in the youth sports world?
TW: I think a little bit. I think there was a definite just mindset that I didn’t have as much as a sneakerhead, you could be as big of a sneakerhead as you want until you actually understand the business of it, or how they start to market these sneakers to different age groups, different ethnic backgrounds, and all of that, you start to realize different things. It’s not going to stop me from being a sneakerhead, I love the silhouettes, I love the architecture of it, and it definitely was an eye-opener.
CL: On Swagger you’re reunited with Reggie Rock Bythewood. You both worked together on 2017’s Shot’s Fired. Was he one of the reasons you signed onto Swagger? What was it like working with him again?
TW: Absolutely. Reggie’s a mentor. He’s somebody who I’ve always looked up to since I was a kid, man, since my first time working with Gina, but him being around and just always just watching and seeing what I was doing when I was 17 doing The Secret Life of Bees. So it always made sense, man. Anytime Reggie comes to me with anything, I know it’s something real, I know it’s something dope, and I know it’s something that we’re going to be able to have a lot of fun with. So it just made sense.
CL: Crystal, a character on the show brilliantly played by Quvenzhane Wallace, her character experiences some serious issues with her coach. With you being a recent girl dad, did that situation resonate with you being a parent at all?
TW: Absolutely. I think looking at all of these kids, looking at what they go through as young adults, as young people, even everything that’s going on with the young black men in the series. Just now, as a parent, every time I went home after a set, I just wanted to hug my daughter a little more. You get nervous. The world is crazy. You never know what you’re up against when you let them out of that front door. They’re constantly up against the world. So yeah, it’s scary, and it definitely made me, as a dad, it definitely touched certain parts of my heart that I didn’t know it would. Still, I think I’m praying that all of the knowledge and the tutelage that we give my daughter from now until whenever she’s up against anything in the world, that she knows how to move, she knows how to speak up for herself, and she knows that dad will murder somebody.
CW: We totally understand. You got to keep an eye on these fellas nowadays. They’re a bit wild out here. We definitely appreciate in Swagger that Jace being played by Isaiah Hill is also a professional hooper. So he is acting, but he’s actually also balling out on the court. What was it like watching him handle his business on the court?
TW: Amazing man, Isaiah, all of the kids, man, the majority of our kids were actual hoopers. There were maybe two or three of the actors that were actors first and then became hoopers, but for real, everybody played ball. So even just watching them do the plays that they drew up, they would do the plays, and then the camera crew would just let them run, just let them play, and the kids are playing against other hoopers, and it would get real serious. It was amazing to see man. Isaiah is one of those kids, man, that I feel he has so much talent. He has so much talent. I’m honored to be in this project with him, and I can’t wait to see where he goes next.
CL: We didn’t know that all the kids were hoopers. That’s amazing. We also appreciate the fact that they let the kids ball out. Because it did seem very natural watching all the basketball playing going on, it didn’t feel fake or anything like that, so that’s pretty dope to know. Since you touched on his acting skills, you came into the game at a young age yourself. Did you give Jace any advice? Did you give any of the kids acting advice on the set as well?
TW: I more so just stayed around like a shadow. I paid attention to watch them, and I will pull them to the side if need be. But every now and then, Zay and I would really have a conversation, and our discussions were more so not about the acting part, the acting comes as you do it more and more like any other skill, but our conversations were more about how to maneuver through this business and just how to be a better man. And he was very interested in that, and that’s what drew me to him, somebody at that young age, like I was, who is ultimately interested in just being a better person, being a better human.
CW: Jace’s character is very ambitious and wants to make it to the league. In what ways do you see your young self in that character?
TW: We all have a certain level of ambition, and that flame needs to be fanned by family members, people who believe in you, et cetera, et cetera. So I think the way that I see myself like Jace was I had a great team behind me. I had a great family. My mom, my dad, I grew up in a very creative household. So anytime I wanted to do anything creative, instead of being like, “No, you need to focus on this.” I wasn’t really stifled. I was able to just fully realize any type of creative idea that I had. So I think that’s where we always had the same dreams. I still have dreams of grandeur. I still let that child in me, those dreams that we’ve had, still live. So with the team that I have with my family and now my wife and my daughter, just the right people behind me to push, man, we could do anything. I feel like I can do anything.
CL: Nurture creativity. We like that. You’re back working and extremely busy. So what’s it like being on Broadway and back on TV screens again?
TW: It’s amazing, man. It’s amazing. I think the biggest thing is just I’m now more in a place where I’m just so happy to just be able to create and not have to worry about expectations, or comparisons, or anything of that nature. I can literally just freely be. And man, look what happens. On Broadway, we got short films. We got music coming, we’re on television shows in 100 countries. That’s crazy. It’s nuts. God is good, man.
CL: We love to see it.
You can catch Tristan Wilds along with Isaiah Hill, O’Shea Jackson Jr, and Quvenzhane Wallace in Swagger in season one of Swagger, currently streaming on Apple TV+.