One of the biggest reasons I'm excited for the new 90210 is the casting of Tristan Wilds. For two seasons on The Wire, Wilds played Michael, a tough and complex kid from the Baltimore streets. It was an incredibly nuanced performance from someone so young, one that had me hanging on his every word. When I heard someone that talented was making 90210 his new TV home as Dixon, the adopted son of Debbie and Harry Wilson (Lori Loughlin and Rob Estes), it made me take notice.
At the CW's party at the TCA press tour, I chatted with Wilds about making the transition from Baltimore to Beverly Hills. Here are highlights:
How did you find 90210 — or how did 90210 find you?
My manager called me and told me about 90210. I was a little skeptical about it, but I definitely wanted to show that I had a broader range than just Michael. Of course, when I went out for it, I found out that Dixon isn't really that much different than Michael. They both grew up with a really bad beginning — Dixon has been in and out of group homes his whole life, landed in Kansas, got into a little fight over something that got him in real trouble and that was going to send him to a juvenile detention center until the Wilsons came in and rescued him. They adopted him, so they saved him in a place where Michael really needed to be saved.
When you told your friends from The Wire that you were going to be on 90210, what did they say?
Actually, all they were saying was, "Really, you're on 90210? Wow!" They were all giving me accolades and all that. It was great.
What's it like going from a show like The Wire, which had a lot of acclaim but maybe not the viewers, to something like 90210 that has so much buzz?
It has so much buzz, and the way that we're shooting it — it's going to be edgy, it's going to be a little bit racy, but it's going to show the real lives of teenagers. Every character is a different aspect of teenagers' lives. I think that every teenager will be able to identify themselves with at least one character on the show.
To learn whether Wilds watched the original 90210 and what his experience was like on The Wire,
Did you watch the original 90210?
To keep my manhood intact, I don't want to say I watched it too much, but I've seen a couple episodes. I've done my research on it. But of course, you know, you always have that time where you want to watch cartoons and your big sister puts you in the headlock and makes you watch TV with her — so yeah, I've seen it a couple of times.
When you were working on The Wire, in those moments, did you realize how big and important the show was?
I was a big fan of The Wire from the beginning, from season one when the cops beat the kid until he was blind in one eye. I was a really big fan; I was really into it. Season four — I didn't know how big it would be, because it was always such an underground thing. You would see people every now and then talking about how good The Wire was, but you never knew how big it was going to be until after it came on and everybody was watching it, and I was like, "Wow. We have a fan base like this?" And it was so diverse, which is why I love it so much.
After The Wire, what were you looking for in your next role?
I think the main thing I was looking for was growth. I was trying to build myself as an actor, which is why I was going to acting classes . . . When this came along, I was like, all right, maybe this will take me to the next level. I'm praying this is what it is.
Are there things you get to tap into with Dixon that you couldn't with Michael?
I get to show the playful side of me. I get to show that troublemaker. I get to show the suave ladies man, if you will. Dixon portrays all of this. Michael didn't really get a chance to because he was a kid stuck in his ways.
What would you say to people who are fans of yours from The Wire who might be rolling their eyes at 90210?
I would say to them, "Just watch." Just like Michael was a three-dimensional character, Dixon is a three-dimensional character . . . You get to see life through another kid's eyes who lived like Michael did but got another chance at life.
If I looked at your TiVo right now, what would I see?
You'd probably see America's Best Dance Crew, two episodes of Tom and Jerry, the whole season of Family Guy, and probably Ugly Betty, 'cause I watch it with my mom.