The generation that grew up in the 1990s may remember grunge, parachute pants or the expansion of the Internet. But, in the urban settings, some young teens grew up with racial tensions and gangster rapper.
In the dark comedy “American Milkshake,” it is about a white high school student Jolie Jolson trying to fit in a mostly black high school by joining the varsity basketball team. He makes the team, but tries to fit in a sub-culture that he is not—being black.
Latino-Review had the opportunity to have a conversation with the main star Tyler Ross over a phone interview late last month. We discussed about basketball, preparing for this tough role and the 1990s.
“American Milkshake” is in limited theater release in Los Angeles and New York. It is also available on VOD.
Read or listen to the phone interview below.
Latino-Review: Could you tell me what attracted you to this project?
Tyler Ross: It wasn’t something that I’ve done before first of all. I thought it was a nice balance to some of the other projects that I’ve finished in the last few years. I liked how it was not like [some of the scripts] I normally read. I found the humor in it appealing. It felt like a case study on culture and how it affects somebody growing up especially in the 90s. I looked at it as a really cool period piece.
I believe in the 90s. I grew up in the 90s a little bit. Not really in high school when it happened, but it was really cool to see that perspective as well. I kind of related to the character in some ways. I never took the same actions as he does in the film per say since it’s so specific in time and place. There were elements that I connected to in my own life in which maybe I could bring to play.
Latino-Review: You say that you’ve related to the character. Could you be more specific? Are you talking about high school experiences?
Tyler Ross: Well, sure. What’s going on around you is the most important thing at the moment. It’s what the pop culture world telling you on what’s going on. What is means to be cool. What it means to be somebody. Specifically when I was younger, you’re bombarded on what it means to be cool like on all levels. I don’t want to give too much away.
You know, it’s like when you’re in high school or middle school—you’re pressured to have your first kiss by a certain age. That’s one example if you know what I mean. What if you’re not ready? What if you haven’t found someone you’re connected with? It doesn’t matter. If you haven’t kissed one by the time you’re thirteen, then you’re a loser.
So you’re pressured to be somebody. Is it actually about the kiss or about having the status of the kiss by someone by a certain age? So as a younger kid, I was fairly nerdy. I want to think that I’ve made smarter decisions than Jolie did, my character in the film. At the same time, I’ve emphasized with the character to know what he was going through when I read the script. I feel that I get this kid. I felt like the trap is to make him really likable since he was doing all this ridiculous stuff.
As for relating to him, I can see why he was doing what he was doing. Everyone around him was showing, “This isn’t what you really need.” He’s so blind to it to be somebody else. It’s so funny and humorous. It’s kind of sad, but you’ll laugh at him too and still kind of like him.
Latino-Review: How do you prepare to play a white boy who pretends to be black?
Tyler Ross: [Laughter] I don’t know how to answer that. This is an eluded question. [Laughter] When I got to the set in Takoma Park—some of the actors cast were local kids from the city. And some of them were cast on the basketball team. I tried hanging with them a little bit. We played some basketball in between takes while they’re setting up shots. There was a gym near a high school.
I sometimes join in their basketball games. I don’t know what I’m completely doing. They were way, way better than me. I was jumping in with whatever moves I’m competent to do. So I tried [to fit in].
I also based off a lot of what I did on Dave Andalman, one of the writers and directors. Jolie was not specifically based off of him, but he grew up in that time and that place on where we shot the movie. And he’s a white guy. I’m sure he joined a basketball team, but I don’t know if he tried to be black. He got more of the mannerism than me trying to get across in the movie. I picked him, not arbitrarily, but sort of a basis. I just want to make it clear that Jolie wasn’t written to from him, but that I just based off playing on him.
I, the actor, was highly conscience of that the whole time. I wanted the character to be so deluded that he was thinking that he was pulling this off. And in some cases, he is pulling it off. He is at least getting the girl or the girls for whatever reason. Maybe they’re deluded too, but in high school—it’s really hard to figure out what really matters in high school.
Latino-Review: Your character Jolie has a lot of basketball background, but it seems like you didn’t really play that much basketball. Did you practice any specific types of moves, especially the spinning of the ball?
Tyler Ross: [Laughter] Actually, yes! The spinning of the ball was the only one I practiced. Well, that’s not really true. I did hit the court, but I didn’t want to get too good. I wanted to be in the process of trying to be good. I wanted it to be more about status than anything. I wanted it to be that it seems like I can hang with the guys. I want to give it my best shot. I didn’t want to be so good that I was actually better than anyone. Then again, it probably wasn’t going to be a problem. I probably wouldn’t be better even if I wanted to be.
As far as spinning the ball, I thought his success is in the way it appears and looks. That was like the one trick that I had to get this down. Like the month before we started shooting, I was constantly trying to get that spin down. And they put in the film a couple of times. I love it! I tried to pull it out every time I could.
I’m glad and it’s funny that you brought that up.
Latino-Review: Now you didn’t live that much in the 90s, but were there anything that you were astonished from the period such as the technology or toys around the set?
Tyler Ross: Actually, I lived throughout the 90s. I was born in 1989. I remember it. I do remember when the Internet was coming out and it was a big thing then. But the music was probably the biggest effect on me. I wasn’t into that music growing up. I was raised in a Southern Baptist Christian community. I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of that stuff.
Now working through the film, it opened up my world when it comes to that side of the music from that era. I’m talking about Biggie, Tupac and Dr. Dre. So that was cool.
And…..the Game Boy. Like the old school grey brick Game Boy. I remembered having one of those and that was a good flash back.
Latino-Review: To wrap this up, do you have any other future projects you’re working on?
Tyler Ross: I’m auditioning a lot right now. I got close in being in a feature recently. But, it’s just a grind. I’ve done a couple of TV guest stars. I don’t have any upcoming features. But, there is one! It’s not officially a done yet, but I can officially tell you. I did film called “The Wise Kids.” It’ll hit Netflix Instant on September 17th. So you should check that out. The director and writer of that film is Stephen Cone, and he’s writing another film that may shoot [with me] sometime next year. But, that one has not officially cleared, but that’s the intention. I had a table read already, so it’s pretty cool.
Latino-Review: Thank you for this talk on “American Milkshake” and congratulation to being named at Sundance as one of the future stars to watched.
Tyler Ross: Yeah, that was cool.
Latino-Review: Hopefully, I will interview you again sometime next year on your future projects.
Tyler Ross: Alright, cool. Hopefully I get to hear from you again. Thanks!
“American Milkshake” is currently playing in limited theater release in New York and Los Angeles. It is also presented on Video on Demand.