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There’s a scene at the end of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight — a magnetic coming-of-age drama told in three chapters which trace the journey of a Florida boy as he becomes a man — when that man named Chiron (played in the final chapter by Trevante Rhodes), answers a question from onetime crush Kevin (played by Andre Holland).
The question: “Who is you, Chiron?” Chiron’s response: “I’m just me, man. I ain’t trying to be nothing else.”
Although actor Ashton Sanders plays the part of Chiron in the second chapter and, thus, the line is not his to deliver, the statement has had an impact on the 21-year-old actor who clearly has embraced that same level of authenticity in his own life … and closet. So much so that he borrows Chiron’s words when asked by The Hollywood Reporter about his style strategy. Not even in an ironic way. It’s just him.
“This is just me, man,” Sanders explained just steps away from the press line at Vulture’s first-ever Awards Season Party at Sunset Tower on Dec. 8.
But just who is Ashton Sanders exactly?
The L.A.-bred actor, who left DePaul University early to chase his Hollywood dreams just across town from where he grew up in a Baptist church, is a man who loves fashion. He’s been profiled by WWD and W magazine, and if that weren’t enough, his appearance in a cool-as-hell, three-piece look by Louis Vuitton at the Gotham Independent Film Awards in New York in late November, snagged the attention of fashion blogs that had yet to zoom in.
His father worked as a fashion designer, Sanders said, so it’s in his blood. But that doesn’t mean he can handle the red carpet all by himself, especially when Moonlight is so in demand on the current and very demanding stretch called awards season. The film just snagged an ensemble nomination for the upcoming SAG Awards, and he’ll also be walking the carpet at the Independent Spirit Awards where he and his costars will be honored with a special acting prize. The accolades list seems to be growing by the day, and the praise has been supreme. (The New Yorker singled out Sanders, writing that the burgeoning star “has a conjurer’s gifts, and an intuitive understanding of how the camera works.”)
Sanders also understands how the red carpet works, so he hooked up with stylist Jessie Jamz to collaborate on his carpet ensembles. The two met at an October shoot with celebrity photographer Shanna Fisher for LADYGUNN magazine (he’s featured in the mag’s Spring/Summer 2017 issue) and have been working together since. “Everything is a twist of how I love to dress and what I like right now and she makes sure that it’s A1,” Sanders gushed. “I like to have fun and be myself and express myself through how I dress.”
Those expressions, which so far have included everything from Valentino and Topman to ASOS and Vuitton, don’t necessarily draw from his hometown. Yes, he loves trendsetters like Pharrell Williams, Andre 3000 and the original innovator Jimi Hendrix, but he also loves anything “super mod.”
“I look at different generations, like Paris in the ‘60s,” he continued. “And the U.K. All of those artists during that time and the ones I mentioned are unafraid to be themselves and to step out and do something risky.”
His steps so far have been well-received, but he can’t really put one foot in front of the other these days and not get ambushed by a fan or well-wisher complimenting him on his work in Moonlight. It happened that night at the Vulture party, which hosted big-name attendees like Natalie Portman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Constance Zimmer, Tony Hale, Fred Armisen and Rachel Bloom. (Also making the rounds were New York Mag‘s CEO Pam Wasserstein, publisher Larry Burstein, editor-in-chief Adam Moss, culture editor Lane Brown, editorial director Neil Janowitz, Hollywood editor Stacey Wilson Hunt and senior editor Kyle Buchanan.)
But it was Regina King who stopped him to say, “You’re so wonderful in Moonlight — congratulations. Let’s take a picture together,” she gushed.
“It’s so surreal,” Sanders explained of all these opportunities to rub elbows with A-list actors. His favorites so far include Tom Hanks in Rome and Emma Stone down the street. “Hollywood is showing respect for all different types of art.”
Spoken like a man who knows exactly who he is.
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