I hope you have been following the series of interviews with filmmaker and cast of the Civil War-set drama The Retrieval, which premiered to much acclaim at this year’s SXSW Film Festival. If you’re just catching up, make sure you read my review of the film HERE, interview with writer/director Chris Eska HERE and our interview with SXSW Jury Award winner for best actor, Tishuan Scott, HERE.
Young newcomer Ashton Sanders delivers another amazing performance as Will, a 13 year-old boy sent by a gang of bounty hunters along with his cousin Marcus to capture a fugitive ex-slave. His character is at the very center of the narrative. A guilt-ridden Will is in the dilemma of turning in a man who has become a father figure to him.
Sanders, who is currently seeking representation and auditioning for different roles, is entering his freshman year at DePaul University for the Theater/Arts Program. He tells us in this brief Q&A about his feature film debut and playing such an intense role.
S&A: How old are you? Are you 15?
AS: I’m 17 now. I was 15 at the time I was filming.
S&A: I was just speaking with Tishuan Scott about a lot of actors being afraid to play roles set in this period. Were you hesitant?
AS: I went into the experience with an open mind, I wasn’t necessarily scared. It was my first film so Chris [Eska] had to work with me and tell me how to develop my character. So once I started filming, I had a clear understanding of who Will was and Chris molded me into what the character was. My character had internal conflict, especially when Marcus dies. I look up to this man [Nate] as a father figure and now he has to turn this man in because his own life is on the line. It’s just like crazy for this 13-year old boy to have to do this on his own.
S&A: I see all of your characters as survivors, and you have no choice but to turn this man in. How difficult was it to manage a balance between being tough and in survival mode and expressing emotion? Did it feel natural?
AS: I was very cautious. I didn’t want to give too much at certain moments. The final scene, we had to reshoot it because the first time we shot it, I was bawling, crying, because it was so emotional for me and that character. I was very cautious of my emotions and what I was to do in the moment, but it also came very natural. Chris [Eska] is very like, “less is more”, so he made the film feel natural. Just the writing alone gives you a lot to go off of. Thinking of our ancestors and that this actually happened, gave us a lot of emotion to go off of.
S&A: How much of a leaning experience was this for you? Were you shocked that slaves were in these types of dilemmas?
AS: Yeah, actually. I never thought this kind of thing happened during that time. Who would have thought these African Americans were working for bounty hunters and turning in their own people? it was over my head.