Tristan Mack Wilds, better known as Mack Wilds, is no stranger to the stage. Coming from an art-driven family, Mack landed himself a role playing Michael Lee in the world renowned TV show ‘The Wire’. According to Mack, this is also when he started to write his own poetry and songs. His original music was very much hip-hop influenced early on. He even enlisted Mobb Deep, French Montana, and Busta Rhymes for a remix of his hit song ‘Henny’. But that was nearly a decade ago. Since then he has transcended as an artist and an actor. He was on TV shows 90210, Shots Fired, and even played Adele’s lover in her music video for ‘Hello’. Currently Mack is on broadway in the play ‘Thoughts Of A Colored Man’ as well as the new TV show ‘Swagger’ produced by Kevin Durant. He has also put out two albums ‘New York: A Love Story’ which was nominated for a grammy, and his critically acclaimed follow up project ‘After Hours’. Viper caught up with Mack Wilds early this month. We spoke about transitioning from the screen to the stage, new music, working with the late Michael K. Williams, and more. Read what he had to say below and be sure to stream his new single ‘Simple Things’:
I saw you recently went to the Soul Train Awards with your wife Christina. Was there anyone there you were excited to win or excited to see?
Oh man, absolutely. Seeing Lucky Daye, he’s one of my guys, man. So watching him from the beginning to where he is now it’s amazing. Seeing him perform was pretty cool. Also, Maxwell is the goat, anything that has to do with Maxwell is amazing. Just seeing a lot of my friends, a lot of my peers, people I haven’t seen in years. Especially because of quarantine and stuff, it was good to just be around people and friends that I’ve made in this business.
Are there any new artists that you are excited for right now?
OK OK. When you guys watched the Soul Train Awards, I’m introducing her for her performance. Her name is Marzz. She is really, really good. I really like Marzz right now. Lucky Daye, of course. Snoh Aalegra of course. Everything that SZA’s doing right now is really good. Summer Walker speaks from a real place. To me she gives off what Mary J. was given off during those ‘Real Love’ days and just like telling her real pain, her real truth. She only does it with a guitar, it’s so real, it’s so ill. ELHAE got some really really good stuff. Ye Ali, I love the last couple of projects that he’s done. That’s my guy. Like I said, the list goes on and on.
Congrats on the release of your new single ‘Simple Things’, it’s the first time you’ve dropped a solo song in four years.
It’s been a while, yeah.
We haven’t heard you since since ‘After Hours’. Why the long hiatus?
You know, I think, one, I just needed time to regroup, get myself together, just get back into my own head and to really understand and just to get some more experiences of life. I didn’t want to just keep writing about the same thing over and over again. I use music in a therapeutic or very cathartic sense where, you know, I write it and it’s kind of purging what I’m feeling, what I’m releasing, where I am at that time. So instead of staying stuck in the same place, I got to kind of go through life, let it hit me a few times and be like, OK, I’m ready to write new stuff. So that’s where I am now.
Which came first, acting or singing? Were you always a musical kid?
I was always a musical kid, first and foremost. I mean, the house that we grew up in was very creative as a whole. My dad literally does everything. He’s probably the most creative guy that I know. He sings, he draws, he builds things, he can make anything. It doesn’t even make sense. All of his kids, we all got little pieces of his creativity. My little sister is the most creative out of all of us. She does hair, she makes clothes, she builds things, she sings, she writes. But music always came first, music was always the first love and acting kind of came second.
When you were starting to get your first gigs were you already starting to do your own songwriting?
I started writing my first few poems and songs when I was about 12 or 13, and that was around the same time that I started my first few auditions. So on the way to the auditions, my mom gave me money for a metro card, I would be on those trains writing not even doing homework, literally just writing a poem and trying to talk about what I’m going through at that moment or what I saw in my neighborhood or anything. That’s where it really started.
‘Simple Things’ is a great track, man. Have you written other music in the past few years? Are you working towards an album right now or are you going the single route?
No, we’re definitely going to drop an album. I didn’t want to just come straight out with an album, I wanted to kind of give people something before the year was up just to kind of let them know we have something coming. But yeah an album is definitely on the way.
I saw that Tidal put you as the cover for one of their big R&B playlists.
Yeah, that’s love, man. I appreciate not even just Tidal but all of the platforms. I just appreciate how people have been gravitating towards the music. You never know any time you drop anything, you don’t know if people are going to like it, if it’s just going to go to the wayside or whatever. People are really connecting to it and it’s really dope.
You did a really great job with this track. The production is kind of minimal, which allows you to float all over it. Who did you work with on this track?
So the song was produced by this amazing man named Anwar Sawyer, that’s my guy. I remember he literally just pressed play on me and its sparseness caught me, because it leaves room for so much to happen. After even writing the verses, it still felt like there needed to be a little something more. I had my my vocal producer come in and help me with the harmonies that you hear in the background and just kind of fill it up. It was amazing.
You’ve come so far since the ‘Henny Remix’. How do you feel that your songwriting has changed since then?
I think it just evolved. It just matured a little more. Thinking about anything that came from ‘New York: A Love Story’, there were a lot of songs on there that kind of were the beginning version of what you’re hearing now. Like ‘The Sober Up’ has a very similar feeling or even ‘The Art Of Falling’, even though it’s all me rapping, just the idea, the feeling of what I’m talking about lends itself to being in the same place. Then when you lean into ‘After Hours’ it’s a little more developed with songs like ‘Choose’ or even ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. This is just the next elevation of it.
Your music started more on the hip-hop side, when did you start to transition into this R&B/pop side of music that you’re doing now?
Hip-hop is always in my heart. It very much informs the way that I write, informs the beats that I choose, etc. Even just the way that I attack. I attack them more like a rapper sometimes than I would as a natural singer. It has cadence to it, it’s melody, it’s flow.
One of the big things you are known for is your appearance on ‘The Wire’, as the character Michael Lee. What was it like being on set?
It was nuts. I often wish that I was older to appreciate it A little more. Being 14, 15, 16 years old doing ‘The Wire’, I was more happy just to be out of school and have my own apartment than anything else. I didn’t fully appreciate it. I learned a lot, I stayed open, I stayed sponge-like so I could pick up as much as I possibly could, but I wish I would have been able to just sit in the moment and revel in it.
What was it like working with the late Michael K. Williams?
It was amazing, man. He was and always is a shining light. Somebody to kind of push me forward and show me that there’s more to do. Just watching him, the way that he’s moved, the things that he’s done, the people that he’s touched, and the different communities that he’s connected to. He’s a conduit for people who would’ve never met otherwise. He’s everything, man. To work with him, to be around him, it was truly appreciated. I thank God often that I was able to meet somebody with such a light.
What was it like transitioning from television to the theatre?
I think to me, theatre is where I started. Theatre is something that I’ve always loved, and the film side really just popped off way faster than anything else. I was never really able to even do any long off-Broadway or regional theatre or anything like that. The film side just popped off very, very quickly at a young age. I think we got into a place over the pandemic where after we shot ‘Swagger’, and with theatre always being in my heart, a play came up. It was called ‘Thoughts Of A Colored Man’, and I was already a fan of from their regional run. There was just something. I was like ‘why not now?’. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and this is something that I know will push me to not only become a better actor, but just a better person as a whole. The experience was something I couldn’t have even imagined would have happened. This has been something transcendent. It’s ridiculous, man. The transition has been cool because I’ve done it before and I was prepared to go through whatever I needed to, to do it. It’s been an amazing ride, man.
What’s it like being a part of such a powerful play?
It’s amazing. Again, you never know what something is going to be until you’re in the midst of it, and even then you don’t realize how crazy or historic it is until you’re out of it. Enjoy the ride. It’s not going to feel like the biggest thing in the world until after you’re out of it. When you look back and you see what you did, it’s going to be like, ‘Oh shit!’ But as of right now, just enjoy the feeling. So for me, I’m just enjoying the feeling of being able to go out on that stage, being able to be vulnerable as a black man, to just be myself, and to have the strength and the help of all of these other men and women.
You’re on this new Apple TV show, Swagger, which was executive produced by Kevin Durant. How did you guys link up?
So top of maybe like 2019 we were starting to have conversations about it. They were telling me what they were working on, how they wanted to go about it. We started shooting maybe mid 2019. We only shot the pilot. We got picked up. We came back, started to shoot it. We came back after the Christmas holiday, January, February. Pandemic hit. We had to stop for like six months. We started back up in October and then we rocked until April. That was the shooting process. It was really Reggie Rock Bythewood. He’s one of my mentors and having him reach out and say, ‘Yo Mac, I got this role please just trust me. In the beginning, it’s going to seem like you’re not doing that much but your journey at the end is something very very big. I know I can trust you with this, with the emotion that needs to be portrayed in this.’ I was like,’ Bro you don’t even got to tell me.’ Then I saw K.D was on board and he pulled me to the side randomly. I’ve known KD for a while, so I went to his birthday party and he was like, ‘Yo, so you’re doing the show or not?’ And I’m like ‘Ah word at your birthday party, you’re going to approach me like this?’ Then Brian Grazer and the entire imagine team jumps on. CBS jumps on who I’ve worked with during my 90210 days. So that’s family over there. Everything just made sense.
What can we expect from Mack Wilds in 2022?
More, just more. I think this season that we’re in right now is just a taste of everything that I’m able to do. You know, music, we’re definitely going to have more music. Directing, the short film that I did was in ABF and Urban World, so it’s just more directing, more writing more, more movies, more TV. If I see a play dope enough, maybe more theater. I’m allowing myself to be able to create as freely as I want, so whatever creative thought idea pops up into my head, you guys are going to see it.
Interview by Calvin Schneider