If you’ve been on Twitter and various social media sites this past season, you’ll be familiar with the runaway hit television show Runaways (yes I know it’s corny but I couldn’t resist). Runaways is the newest Marvel series in their franchise lineup, but unlike The Punisher, DareDevil and Jessica Jones, Runaways airs weekly on the subscription streaming service Hulu, creating its own niche separate from its counterparts on Netflix.
Being unfamiliar with Runaways prior to its televised premiere in November of 2017, I was intrigued with the premise of a Marvel property that focused not only on teenagers, but also their relationships with their parents as it’s a dynamic not currently found in any of the other shows, or even the films. When the chance arose to speak to Ryan Sands who plays Geoffrey Wilder a man with many secrets, I jumped at the opportunity and had a blast talking to him about his career, Runaways and his love of comics.
Carolyn: Ryan thank you for taking the time to speak with me today about your new show Marvel’s Runaways, but before we get into that, I wanted to talk a little bit about your history as an actor. You’ve been involved with some of the most popular television series in history such as E.R., Prison Break, Castle and most notably The Wire. Can you tell me a little bit about how you became involved with acting?
Ryan: Sure. To be truthful I was bitten by the acting bug quite a few years ago when I was very young when I saw Star Wars for the first time. I knew I wanted to be Luke Skywalker [laughs]. So I figured the closest thing to actually being a Jedi, was being an actor, maybe one day [I] could maybe hold a lightsaber. That is what initially kind of lit the fire, so I acted from young right up until middle school, then I discovered Michael Jordan, had a growth spurt and just wanted to play basketball all day, every day.
In college, on the last day of school, I saw the movie Love Jones, and that really reignited the flame, the desire to get serious about this thing, and hopefully be a part of a project like that. So I went back home to Washington, D.C., and I just started auditioning, and taking classes and acting in many student films and independent films as I could. A few years later The Wire came to town in nearby Baltimore, and I was fortunate enough to get a recurring role. That was just a really, really amazing experience because I had so much fun on that set, and I didn’t anticipate that.
You know The Wire is so gritty and had a lot of heavy material you know, but I came on in season three and it was a well-oiled machine at that time and the group of guys that I worked with was just really fun to work with. Getting those scripts in the mail and reading through them was like ‘Wow, it’s so well written”, it just felt good to be a part of something with a strong viewpoint and was crafted so well and has really stood the test of time.
Carolyn: Could you tell me about your character Geoffrey and how he differs to others you’ve played in the past?
Ryan: OH, Geoffrey is incredibly different, which is part of the reason I was so excited to play the role, just being involved with the Marvel comic related show is huge for somebody like me, who grew up daydreaming about that world, and those characters were my favorites. I was really looking forward to playing a bad guy for once, because I was a police officer on The Wire, who was trying to do the right thing, on Prison Break I was a Navy Seal captain. I’ve played a lot of military and law enforcement roles, and they’re all basically guys just trying to do their job and catch the bad guy. So as an actor to have the ability to stretch and use different muscles to play it in a different way, was very exciting, but then once I got cast and started getting the scripts and I saw Geoffrey is much more than the bad guy I thought he was, that I was looking forward to playing.
He’s a father, you know, he’s a father and a husband, he loves his wife, he loves his son and a lot of the decisions that he makes, from the outside looking in they’re bad guy decisions, but they’re based on wanting to protect his family from danger. That is really cool, being able to play a character who’s a little conflicted, and has to employ a lot of secrets, and not be open with his son, but it’s all in order to protect his son and keep his son safe, so that’s a really fun part to play for me.
Carolyn: Regarding what you said about looking forward to playing a bad guy, that’s something I’ve heard a lot of actors say in interviews, they look forward to playing a character who is vastly different to characters they’ve played previously. I guess being a bad guy allows you to tap into something a bit more visceral, in that you’re able to channel whatever anger you may be experiencing into the character.
Ryan: Yeah, you know playing a villain and I guess even for me watching a villain, you have to understand what their goals are. I think a villain can be boring if it’s just “I want to conquer the world”, for what, why, what does that represent to you? So if it’s based on “I’m a bad guy just for world domination and I want power”, that can be kind of thing you know. I think everybody fell in love with Loki in The Avengers, but then you understand “Oh he’s got daddy issues you know there’s identity issues” and right there you make him relatable and you kind of understand. I might not have done what he did being in his place but I understand how that can make him have his feelings and push him in that direction.
That’s always better for me to relate to, a villain to relate to, a bad guy. So you just see what was that incident, what was the straw that just broke the camel’s back that pushed him all the way over the edge, or just started that descent into madness or villainy or whatever. So that’s one of my favorite aspects of our show and it’s that our bad guys so to speak, our villains, is that you see why they made the choices that they made, that they’re regular people who were presented with an opportunity and they took it without considering what the ramifications were and it just snowballed. We’re allowed to play real people instead of this mustache-twirling bad guy.
Carolyn: As the show progresses Geoffrey’s relationship with his son Alex (Rhenzy Feliz) is changing. When the show started Alex had complete trust in his father but now Alex knows who his father is. He knows that his father is a murder, a criminal and involved with a cult. What has it been like playing Geoffrey as his relationship with his son is evolved from one of trust to his son is now looking at him with suspicion and fear?
Ryan: For starters the world that our writers present was a world where Geoffrey and his son Alex were very close, I loved that, just as a Black man wanting to see more representation on TV [laughs] you know speaking as someone playing a villain who sacrifices teenagers, I was excited to see a Black man openly showing love and concern for his son and his family you know? So just what was exciting for me to play. Now we have this world where that dynamic is absolutely there and Geoffrey is living this lie of secrecy to basically shield his son from not only the things he’s involved with in the Pride, but also shielding his son from his past, Darius and his life in the gang, where he was almost going to jail for killing someone.
But now that all of that is starting to unravel, Geoffrey is free and he’s trying to keep his son close. Catherine and Geoffrey have created their own worst enemy in Alex because Catherine and Geoffrey are smart, they’re leaders, so they’ve raised a smart kid who is the leader, who is very intelligent, someone who won’t stop until the truth is revealed.
So Geoffrey is still trying to shield him and keep him close, but he’s trying to not expose the reality of what he’s involved with. That is really fun to play because it’s rooted in love and concern, and that’s something to play in this world with aliens dinosaurs, and people glowing, it’s still really cool to find some human moments in there and I think it’s a really fun mix that we’ve got going.
Carolyn: You mentioned that you grew up loving comic books, what was your favorite run or comic?
Ryan: “Spider-Man” has always been my favorite, that was my favorite as a kid, he’s my favorite now, but I’ve really gotten into a few of the “Black Panther” ones. Black Panther has been a long time favorite as well, I really dug Christopher Priest’s work, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent stuff, so I’m digging that and I’m also really digging the current run of “Falcon” which is written by one of our producers and writer, Rodney Barge. It’s not a biased view, but I’m really enjoying that right now.
Carolyn: So then I have to ask have you seen the trailer for the animated Spider-Man Miles Morales movie?
Ryan: [laughs] Why don’t you ask me how many times I’ve seen the trailer, I don’t even know how many times I’ve checked it out, I love it, and it’s funny, I’m an illustrator as well so I had started drawing a picture of Miles like over a year ago and I just didn’t finish. I got busy and I never went back to the piece, but when I saw that trailer with him wearing some Air Jordans, and I’m a big sneakerhead too, I went back to finish that drawing and put some Jordans on him [laughs] I knew exactly what I wanted to do with that piece after that, but yes I’m really excited for that and I can’t wait.
Carolyn: Well since you’re an illustrator will we ever get a chance to see you partake in a comic book run in the future?
Ryan: We’re working on some things and I can’t quite say too much, but we’re working on some things but that would be really, really cool and an absolute dream come true. You know I’m already living the dream of a kid that just loves this world of Marvel characters, and read so many comics, my comics are in bad shape the ones that I’ve just read them over and over again.
I drew the characters, I watched the cartoons every chance I got, so to play a Marvel character that’s just mind-blowing, but I’m hoping that it will really open some really cool doors for the artwork as well, cause I’d be done “I don’t really need anything else right now” [laughs] that’s career goals, so we’ll see.
Carolyn: It’s great that you’re getting to live your dream, not many people get that chance but you’re not only acting, you’re in a Marvel property which was your favorite growing up, and seeing how the franchise is progressing and branching out more with all of the films coming out in the next few years.
Ryan: Yeah it’s an absolute dream come true, I don’t take it for granted, not a bit of it, so it’s all good, sometimes it’s hard to put into words. I have a picture in my office of me at eight years old drawing and wearing an Incredible Hulk shirt and to have that next to a picture that I took with Stan Lee earlier this year, it’s just a constant reminder to me of how blessed and fortunate I am, and to enjoy this as much as possible. Hopefully, it will encourage anybody who’s got some dreams, anybody working toward something they think is out of reach, it’s not.
It took some time, took some patience and a lot of hard work and it can happen, it’s a constant reminder to me but I hope that when people hear me talk about the fact that I was a big comic book kid and I work on a Marvel show now, they’ll be able to draw some inspiration from that and keep dreaming.
It was announced on January 8th that Runaways has been renewed for a second season, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store.
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