Tristan “Mack” Wilds’ career has taken him from the streets of Baltimore to the mansions of Beverly Hills to one of music’s most successful videos ever. Now, the actor and musician is headed to the past for his new VH1 series, The Breaks.
Set in 1990 New York City, the series, which premiered last year as a TV movie, goes inside the rise of hip-hop. At the center of the action is DeeVee (Wilds), an aspiring producer, who thinks he has discovered the next big rapper. The project is filled with music heavyweights like Method Man and T.I., while also featuring plenty of recognizable actors, including Wood Harris (The Wire), Evan Handler (Sex and the City), and Melonie Diaz (Fruitvale Station).
Ahead of The Breaks returning as a full-fledged series, EW caught up with Wilds to discuss his long history with Method Man, reuniting with many fellow Wire alums, and his role in Adele’s “Hello” video.
With The Breaks, this had to be an exciting opportunity for you, being able to combine your passion for music and acting.
Just like you said, it’s two of my passions, so to have a chance to show that, especially me being a hip-hop kid through and through, having a chance to go back to the origins of it. Not when it started, but when it became the cultural phenomenon that it is today. It taught me a lot. There’s a lot of stuff that went down, that after reading Dan Charnas’ book [The Big Payback], it helped bring the character and world to life.
What was you biggest takeaway from that time in music?
I grew up in it, but because we didn’t have social media as we do today, there were so many things going on behind the scenes, whether it was in the offices or at these parties or the way the music was treated. All we knew was that we loved the music and we would do anything for it. But actually understanding the fight, the war that was going on between the kids who just wanted a voice and the people who didn’t think it was going to be anything more than what disco was.
Sticking with the music angle, you had Method Man playing your dad, which had to be surreal. Coincidentally enough, I know it was never directly referenced on The Wire, but he played Randy’s [Maestro Harrell] dad, so it’s kind of full circle with Method now playing your dad. What was that like? Like me, you had to have grown up listening to his music.
Absolutely. It was weird, I was fortunate enough that I grew up in Staten Island during the time that Wu-Tang Clan was actually starting to come up. And my dad worked at a barbershop in Park Hill and that’s where they’re from. They would always come into my dad’s barbershop, so I literally grew up with Method Man, Raekwon, U-God, RZA, all these guys as like big homies or uncles in the neighborhood. They always watched out for me, so as my career progressed, they’ve always guided me and kept me in line. When you say full circle, it literally is full circle. To come from them seeing me as a three-year-old running around like amazed by the things coming out of their mouth to now, as a 27-year-old man, and Method is playing my dad… it’s the craziest thing ever.
Following up on Method, he’s not the only Wire connection. There’s also Wood Harris and EP Seith Mann. You never had any scenes with Method or Wood on The Wire, but what was it like being around people who were part of such a big experience in your life?
It kind of gave a raw essence to it. I think one of the biggest things The Wire wanted to do was to be true and keep it real with the dialogue and what was going on in the country, what continues to go on in the country. Whereas with The Breaks, it’s kind of the same thing. Our biggest thing isn’t to be a parody or a fantastical version of what happened. It’s the real deal. We’re talking about all of the things that went into making hip-hop what it is today and that’s the good, bad, and the ugly.
How would you describe DeeVee and where he’s at in his life?
We only pick up a few days after where the movie ends. He’s kind of in the same place. He’s a very creative kid, amazing, and headstrong in a sense, he jumps before he walks. Sometimes that works in his favor and sometimes it doesn’t. You’ll get to ride along with him on his journey to creating this music. You get to see him try to tap this potential that Ahm [Antoine Harris] has, show him what he could possibly do, no matter how many bumps or bruises he may get on the way.
What can you tease about the show going forward?
I’ll tell you that it’s going to be a wild ride. Everything is unknown and unknown territory. They are young and young people make mistakes sometimes. But ultimately, it’s going to be a great show and anybody who has a dream or is following a dream or just loves to watch people come into their own, this is a show for you.
It seems like forever ago that you were in the “Hello” video, yet, Adele just won the Grammy for Album of the Year. Looking back on it, what was that experience like?
First and foremost it was amazing. Adele and her whole entire team are f—ing phenomenal, pardon my language. I think it was just great that we were in a moment where we didn’t know how big it was going to be. Of course, automatically you think Adele, you think it’s going to be big. But you don’t necessarily know how big is big. When we’re in the middle of it, it felt real, it felt natural. She’s an amazing actress as well. She will say she isn’t, but she is. All of the pieces kind of came together perfectly. [Director] Xavier [Dolan] was a genius when it came to that. He made sure everything came together, whether it was the rain scene and him running out there or him being Adele behind the camera and yelling with me so I can get the energy right. It was one of those things when it happened and it was big, it was like, “Jesus.” It just felt like everything shifted. I was glad to be a part of it.
I did have one question on your other upcoming show, Shots Fired (premieres March 22 on Fox). You play an officer who is involved in a racially charged shooting. This project interestingly flips the race dynamic that we unfortunately most often see in these situations. Is that appealed to you and what was that like taking on such a topical role like that?
Mind you, [creators] Gina [Prince-Bythewood] and Reggie [Rock Bythewood] started to write this like four or five years ago, so this was a while back. I think the biggest problem is that it’s still very relevant. It sucks that it’s still this current, but it is. I think the thing that drew me to the character was being able to have something that could create dialogue between different people. Have a dialogue, have a conversation. It seems like the roles are switched, but when you delve deeper into it, you’ll see how everything is unfortunately just how it is in our society right now.
The Breaks airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on VH1.