Wonderland.

ASHTON SANDERS

Breaking into the mainstream.

All clothing BALENCIAGA, underwear American Apparel, belt STYLIST’S OWN

All clothing BALENCIAGA, underwear American Apparel, belt STYLIST’S OWN

In Moonlight, three actors play one character at three stages of his life. Alex R. Hibbert is Little, a quiet black boy, maybe eight, who drags his feet solitary, or runs to hide from bullies, around a poor Miami project; his mom is single and into drugs. Trevante Rhodes is Black, a grown man worked swole with a mouth full of gold and a soundtrack to match. And centred between them is Chiron, pronounced Shy-rone, the character’s given name — mid-adolescent, he’s played in vivid fight-flight-freeze, bullied for his beauty, an inability to camouflage himself like others, by the American actor Ashton Sanders.

What’s remarkable about the triptych — each life-stage is marked a decade break between — is how consistent the acting is. Little, Chiron, and Black look alike. Their eyes stare, laugh, evade and long the same way. What’s remarkable about that is that the actors, Hibbert, Rhodes and Sanders, didn’t get to meet on set. They were sequestered from one another at writer-director, Barry Jenkins’ behest. Sanders, now 21 years old and sitting with me in Sandy Kim’s Downtown Los Angeles loft, credits the script and spirit for the uncanny likeness between the three Chirons. “I feel like,” he tells me, “in some way our souls and our intuitions connected while filming without even knowing it.”

Sanders has puppy proportioned hands and pupils that quiver. He’s tall, graceful and wearing beige on forest green plaid. He says he loves fashion. He smokes. There’s a treble to his being that reminds me of my dear friend Henry, who like Sanders, grew up in LA, acting. It’s the treble of trust issues. “It’s hard—” in Los Angeles, in show business, Sanders explains, “to tell what people want or what their intentions are. You gotta keep shit tight.”

“I feel like, in some way our souls and our intuitions connected while filming without even knowing it.”

Sanders grew up in Carson, a suburb of Los Angeles, where, he says, “I was an other. I didn’t have that many friends within my community.” He was “the weird artistic kid”. Thankfully, he went to high school downtown, at Grand Arts, also known as the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, a magnet public school with soaring space landing architecture that’s been described, “like its students,” as, “something of a proud outcast: gangly, dreamy and beautiful at the same time.” There, in his senior year, Sanders was assigned to make a dream board. “Where do you see yourself in ve years?” was the prompt. “A lot of the stuff on that board,” the actor tells me, “has come to pass.”

Moonlight is nominated for eight Academy Awards. It won Best Drama at the Golden Globes. There’s a picture from that event of Sanders holding the trophy. He looks awkward, like he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. In red carpet photos, he tends to cross his arms or throw peace signs. Today, his hands rest in his lap. His smile is natural, especially after we talk about his dogs — his cub-like Koda, his orange terrier Billy and his year-old pit bull Buddha, who, “raised around the little dogs, thinks he’s small.”

Sanders is most animated after I compliment his birth year: “Y’all born in 1995 are advanced.” He agrees: “My generation is definitely woke,” he leans back as if to take it in. “Look, it’s like we’re not from Earth. Thank you for seeing that.”

Regarding Moonlight, he’s gracious, thanking skyward. The movie changed his life, like years of therapy. “One thing that Moonlight taught me,” Sanders details, “is to always be and love yourself yo. Chiron was a beautiful soul — so vulnerable. It’s a scary thing to be too vulnerable. We are trained to walk around like… Like, when you put on a social mask to become somebody that you’re not to accommodate society or certain people, it diminishes spirit. Be authentic.”

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(LEFT) Shirt, LANVIN, jacket, MARNI, shorts AMERICAN APPAREL, earring VINTAGE FAUX GIVENCHY
(RIGHT) Jacket and shirt SAINT LAURENT PARIS, earring VINTAGE FAUX GIVENCHY

Shirt, LANVIN, jacket, MARNI, shorts AMERICAN APPAREL, earring VINTAGE FAUX GIVENCHY
Jacket and shirt SAINT LAURENT PARIS, earring VINTAGE FAUX GIVENCHY

Suit JIL SANDER, hat and shoes BALENCIAGA, jacket VINTAGE FROM THE CORBA SHOP

Suit JIL SANDER, hat and shoes BALENCIAGA, jacket VINTAGE FROM THE CORBA SHOP

(LEFT) Top and trousers MARNI, fishnet tights TRASHY LINGERIE, necklace CHRISTIAN DIOR
(RIGHT) Jacket MCQUEEN, shirt VINTAGE ANN DEMEULEMEESTER, shorts KENZO, shoes ACNE STUDIOS, necklace CHRISTIAN DIOR, hat STYLIST’S OWN

Top and trousers MARNI, fishnet tights TRASHY LINGERIE, necklace CHRISTIAN DIOR
Jacket MCQUEEN, shirt VINTAGE ANN DEMEULEMEESTER, shorts KENZO, shoes ACNE STUDIOS, necklace CHRISTIAN DIOR, hat STYLIST’S OWN

(LEFT) Trousers JIL SANDER, belt VINTAGE FROM HIDDEN TREASURES, hat STYLIST’S OWN
(RIGHT) Suit JIL SANDER, hat and shoes BALENCIAGA, jacket VINTAGE FROM THE COBRA SHOP

Trousers JIL SANDER, belt VINTAGE FROM HIDDEN TREASURES, hat STYLIST’S OWN
Suit JIL SANDER, hat and shoes BALENCIAGA, jacket VINTAGE FROM THE COBRA SHOP
Photography
Sandy Kim
Styling
Zara Mirkin
Words
Fiona Duncan
Grooming
Michelle Mungcal at Jed Root
Fashion Assistant
Jordan Wright
Photography Assistant
Colby Hewitt
2nd Photography Assistant
Maria Mathias
ASHTON SANDERS

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