If your idea of “Friday Night Lights” are those bouncing off of the big screen, then you’ve probably heard the buzz around “Moonlight.” It’s the story of a young black man struggling with his identity and sexuality in Miami. The film’s breakout star is a North Texan. The Texas Standard’s Laura Rice connected with Trevante Rhodes and found out about his unusual path to fame and his message for those headed to theaters.
Trevante Rhodes is a busy guy these days. He’s juggling television and film roles along with press appearances. In-between, there’s maintenance.
“I just finished up abs, I’ve got to do some shoulders right now,” Rhodes says, speaking from the gym during his workout routine. “I’m almost done, though, almost done.”
The gym is a familiar place for Rhodes. He moved to Austin from his hometown of Dallas to run track at the University of Texas at Austin – that’s how he found his way into the film business.
“I was jogging around campus actually. And I was noticed by a young lady who ended up being a relatively well-known casting director in Austin,” Rhodes says. “She emphatically waves me down and she’s like, ‘I’m sorry but in my mind, I’m casting this film and you look exactly like this guy that’s in my mind right now. I need you to audition for this film I’m casting.’”
So he did.
“It was for a film called ‘Joe’. I didn’t get the film but, for whatever reason, it enticed something in me,” he says. “When I graduated, I moved out to L.A.”
It wasn’t exactly Plan A. He’d never even considered acting. He was all set to have a job as a petroleum landman after school.
“For a moment my mother was like, ‘Are you sure? You’ve laid this foundation for this and all these wonderful things. You’re going to have this job, it pays well,’” Rhodes says. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, I just feel, yeah, I’m going to do this thing in L.A.’ And she backed me 100 percent.”
What did he really have to lose? He decided to give himself two years to make something happen. Turns out, he didn’t need nearly that long. Two months later, he had another audition. And shortly after that, he was getting jobs.
“It was just a thing where every two to three months I would book something,” he says. “Whether it be something incredibly small or relatively notable, I would always have something so it would keep me enticed.”
He’s already worked with everyone from Tyler Perry to Terrence Malick. He’s appeared in the smash HBO hit “Westworld”. But the role that’s skyrocketing his career is Chiron, also known as ‘Black’, in “Moonlight.”
Rhodes actually shares the role of Chiron with two younger actors. The three play Chiron through different phases of life: childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.
The story revolves around this character struggling to define himself as a gay Black man coping with outside circumstances – such as a drug-addicted mother. It’s nothing like Rhodes’ own life, but he says there are universal elements he – and everyone – can relate to.
“We all have moments … of insecurity, moments where we’re trying to discover who we are as a people,” he says
He says it’s a story we need to be reminded of.
“The film is about love and understanding,” Rhodes says. “Developing that as a collective, as a people, is very valuable. … Especially right now.”
“Moonlight” is in theaters now.