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Showing His Range

The Wire Alumnus Tristan Wilds Shifts Gears in The Secret Life of Bees

Tristan Wilds Gets Sweet On Dakota Fanning In The Secret Life Of Bees.

By Wendy Ward | Posted 10/15/2008

"I don't want to talk about it," Tristan Wilds laughs at the mention that, once again, The Wire was shamefully shut out at the 2008 Emmy Awards. The charming 19-year-old sits in this Washington hotel suite to talk about his new movie, The Secret Life of Bees, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and based on the best-selling book by Sue Monk Kidd that he read in the eighth grade. Baltimoreans, in particular, may remember him for playing the heartbreaking teenager Michael Lee on the HBO series.

"I loved my character on The Wire--I loved Michael, seriously," Wilds, dressed in black baseball cap, black T-shirt, and baggy jeans, continues. "And if we would have kept on going extra seasons, I definitely would have been down for it. But, it was bittersweet--we had to part our separate ways. And when Zach [the character he plays in Bees] came along, I just picked up and I had to change it up. I had to change and show that I'm not Michael, that I'm not that character--I don't need to be put in a box."

Bees is set in 1964 South Carolina, a time when the civil-rights struggle was affecting the nation as whole and, in particular, the lives of Lily (Dakota Fanning), her friend and ex-nanny Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), and the independent Boatwright sisters who take them in: beekeeper August (Queen Latifah), June (Alicia Keyes), and May (Sophie Okonedo). Wilds' Zach is August's employee at the hives, and he works alongside and befriends Lily.

Bees offered Wilds more than a new character to play; the movie was an opportunity to be a part of history. "You know, I got to explore a whole new realm," he says, messing with his hat. "I don't have to be in this time, I can be in somebody else's time, you know, and just try to play myself back in those times. Try to put the character as well as I possibly could within me and put myself into the '60s."

Wilds says he tries to find a commonality with the characters he plays, and with Zach, it was the drive to be more than whom you are, more than what people expect. "That was one of the main things, I guess, Miss Gina wanted to get across," he says, referring to Bees director Gina Prince-Bythewood. "That through all of this racism and everything like that, you know there's people out there still striving, still trying hard for whatever they're trying to get to."

Working alongside so many women inspired him, too. "It was amazing," he says, emphasizing each word and laughing. "I mean, there's no other way to say it or put it. I mean, all those women are great, top, topnotch women--always on the top of their game, they always bring their A game--and it's amazing to be around such a force like that. It kind of makes you want to step up your game. I saw them bringing it, so I'm like, `I gotta bring it, too.' I can't be the only one out here like that. I can definitely say, after watching those women work, I have some new role models in my life."

But when it came to working with Fanning, an actress five years his junior playing his love interest, he took on a more protective role. "It was definitely weird, but she was cool," he says. "And when I seen that she was cool, I was like, Alright, I'm cool, too. As long as I can make sure she's comfortable--that was my main focus."

His '60s tucked-in shirt and belted trousers wardrobe was another story. "[Wearing] those high-waisted tight jeans--oh my goodness," he shudders. "Jeez. It's a completely different feeling. I wanted to burn those afterward."

Of course, trying out another time period doesn't just mean wearing its clothes. In a pivotal point in Bees, Zach breaks the "coloreds only" rules by taking Lily to the theater and is taken away by men who aren't law officers. "It was very strenuous, but, you know, as an actor, you have to be ready for that," Wilds says. "It pulled me through a lot of emotions, but the end result, after you see everything, it came out pretty dope."

And now he's wearing designer jeans on the CW network's 90210 update as the adopted son of a white family. It's a career move that takes him quite a distance from Baltimore's mean streets and the '60s South. "Got to make strategic moves like a chess game," Wilds says of his burgeoning career. "I can't slip up, you know, I got make sure you guys see that I am broad."

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