By Caroline D’Arcy Gorman
The sun beats down mercilessly in Downtown Los Angeles, but inside the studio, it’s quiet and cool. Ashton Sanders speaks with a measured confidence, gently and evenly. Imbued with a sense of humility and clarity, his disposition has an immediately calming effect. And his quietness isn’t shyness; he’s just honest, genuine, and real. Although Ashton arrives with his style on point, as always, he’s ready to put on some fresh looks for our shoot. He embraces the clothing, making each piece his own with that special Ashton Sanders flair. His style transcends mere trend, perched at the intersection of modernity and timelessness. As we speak, he chooses language delicately, using soft tones that fill the space with a quiet self-possession. “The more I grow through my soul and through my artistry, I find that spending time alone is the most important thing. You need connection, obviously, but we need to live from our truth.” This mentality is the key to his ability to preserve his own truth, to find and savor the quiet moments through the chaos. “Everything around us is so much sometimes. I’ve been able to find confidence within my intuition by taking time to reflect, spending time with myself. I don’t need to have fifty friends to feel that I’m loved.” Moonlight exploded into the mainstream on October 21, 2016. The film’s Black, Queer narrative still marks it as one of the only movies of its kind to reach such a wide audience, let alone win an Academy Award for Best Picture. Sanders was in college when he was offered the role of Chiron, and he had to rely on his gut to make his next move. “When Moonlight happened, I had to make a decision: Do I stay in school? Or do I take a big leap of faith and leave to pursue this career? I had all these people telling me one thing or another, but my intuition was telling me, you need to do this.” And that clarity comes across when Ashton speaks, as well as when he performs. “Intuition is a godsend. As long as you let your intuition steer you, it may be scary, but it’s alright. Sometimes you hear the voice or you feel the feeling more so than other times, but it’s always there, talking to us.”
Moonlight’s radical success catapulted Ashton Sanders into a new world almost overnight. Finding moments of peace posed a new challenge, as it would for anyone accustomed to a slower pace of life. “I’m constantly adjusting. It’s a work in progress. It’s like working out a muscle. We train our minds and souls to get to that avatar state—that’s an Avatar: The Last Airbender reference—that spiritual realm, where we can find our solitude and peace.” Sanders, with a wisdom that far surpasses his age, has maintained a handle on the speed of it all. “I like to keep to myself. Things move so fast, it’s important to have time to reflect and check into your world. I always make that a number one priority. Silence and stillness are the keys to peace. It’s my time with the universe, with God.” For anyone who loves Moonlight, to
learn that Sanders’s favourite place to find
peace is the beach feels beautifully symbolic,
almost perfect. There, by the shore, he can
take a minute. Relax. Breathe. “The beach
has its own energy flow of air, where
you feel everything rushing into you when
you breathe. The sand creates this soft,
stress-free feeling to settle into, relax, melt
into it almost. And the ocean water is such a
purifying thing. I take all of that in.” Sanders doesn’t go to the trendy beaches in LA. He goes where he won’t be found, and there he finds inner peace within the vastness of the sand and sea. His oscillation between staying sequestered and being social allows him time to achieve solitude and to reflect. It helps Sanders to keep discovering new
truths about himself and the world.
“It can feel like a fantasy trip, but constant
change is our normal state of living.”
But the juxtaposition between being
alone and performing is what keeps that
energy moving. Ashton became interested
in performing at a young age, when he
was introduced to The Lion King. In
high school, his favourite role was Eddie
Murphy’s Jimmy Early in Dreamgirls.
“That was so damn fun. It was my ideal
role at the time in the musical world.”
We talk about New York City and his eyes
light up. He says he’s moving there soon.
“It’s super important in this chapter of my
life to live and experience New York;
I just feel like that’s what needs to happen.
That’s where the universe is pulling me,
you know? I just feel it.” His intuition is
speaking to him again.
In a world of constant consumption,
where the ego runs rampant, Sanders
stands for the direction we should all
strive to move in: towards inner peace,
towards compassion, towards growth
and acceptance. “If we ever feel stuck,
we need to figure out ways to keep
moving forward in life. Although it can
be scary, I’ve always taken those leaps.
The best authentic way to grow is
When I tell Ashton that I could listen to him talk forever, he laughs. “I honestly hate doing interviews. But it’s comfortable when it’s real, you know? Real shit, real conversation. That’s cool.”