In the wake of the history-making Best Picture mix-up at this year’s Oscars ceremony, where the statue see-sawed between La La Land and Moonlight, some worried that writer-director Barry Jenkins’s ecstatically reviewed drama had been robbed of its proper moment in the spotlight. For Moonlight star Trevante Rhodes — who plays the adult version of the main character, Chiron — that messy, but ultimately sweet, victory felt like a fitting conclusion to the movie’s unlikely journey to Best Picture winner. “It’s the perfect ending, in my opinion,” the 27-year-old actor told Yahoo Movies one week removed from a wild and crazy Oscar night. “I feel like there’s no other way for it to have happened. From start to finish, my experience with Moonlight has been the most unique thing.”
For the record, here’s how events unfolded from Rhodes’s vantage point: When La La Land was initially announced as the winner, he enthusiastically applauded along with the rest of the audience. “I was incredibly happy for La La Land,” he says. “We’ve been on the circuit with these guys for the past four or five months, so we’ve been talking about getting to that moment since the start of all this.”
But then he noticed an interloper enter from the wings, clutching a red envelope, and pointed the man’s presence out to his co-star André Holland. “I said to André, ‘Something’s wrong, man.’ Then Jordan [Horowitz, La La Land‘s producer] came up to the microphone and said that Moonlight was the winner. I initially thought he was just being kind and trying to share the moment with us. Then I realized, ‘No, I think this is real!'” As the La La Land cast and crew exited the stage, Moonlight‘s ensemble took their place, clutching one another and looking alternately shocked and thrilled. “There was so much excitement, love, and happiness,” Rhodes says, clearly cherishing that moment.
The end of his Moonlight journey meant so much to him, he’s not about to spoil it by overanalyzing the flub. While the onstage snafu has been the talk of the town for the past week — with new details emerging daily about the errant tweeting and delayed reactions happening behind the scenes — Rhodes says he’s been mercifully removed from all the intensive post-telecast analysis. That’s in large part due to the fact that he left L.A. in the early morning hours after the ceremony, boarding a Vancouver-bound plane at 4:30 a.m. to continue shooting his next movie, The Predator, director Shane Black’s sequel to the 1980s action classic.
Back on The Predator set, Black and the rest of the cast and crew gave him a brief but touching hero’s welcome. “It was hugs and everybody going, ‘We’re so happy for you,’ and then we were back to business. You gotta get back to work!” Naturally, they couldn’t resist hitting him up for firsthand intel too. “I feel like you can’t say congratulations without also saying, ‘What happened up there?'” Rhodes said, laughing. “That’s going to be the conversation for the rest of the year.”
Watch the ‘Moonlight’ trailer:
If there’s an upside to Moonlight‘s topsy-turvy victory, it’s that a little $1.5 million movie is suddenly a major topic of conversation. Released on Blu-ray on Feb. 28, the film also expanded to 1,500 movie screens the following weekend, the biggest count in its theatrical run. Rhodes anticipates that audiences discovering Moonlight for the first time will come because of the Best Picture brouhaha and stay for the film’s sensitive, three-part depiction of Chiron’s turbulent journey from childhood to adulthood. “I hope they discover a piece of themselves that leads to personal growth, whatever that piece may be. We all have these things we try to hide, and I hope they understand that it’s OK to live your truth.”
One thing that Rhodes has kept hidden until now is that he was a bit of a scaredy-cat as a young kid. That’s why he held off on watching the entire Predator series until he was cast in The Predator. “I was really squeamish growing up — not too fond of blood and guts,” he admitted. “I saw the first one when I was young, and liked it, but I was like, ‘I can’t watch any more of these!'” Now he’s facing those childhood fears by playing Nebraska Williams, a former Marine who enlists in a special Predator-hunting operation headed up by his good friend Quinn McKenna (played by Logan‘s Boyd Holbrook). “We form a bit of a motley crew,” Rhodes says, adding that Black is putting his own distinct imprint on the franchise. “It’s what you expect a Shane Black move to be, set in the world of the Predator.”
As a rough-and-tumble soldier, Nebraska is a world removed from the conflict-averse Chiron. For that matter, so is Fernander, the frat-house alpha male that Rhodes plays in the new drama Burning Sands, which premieres on Netflix on March 10. Both roles — along with an eye-catching Calvin Klein campaign that also features his Moonlight co-stars Mahershala Ali and Ashton Sanders — are a conscious effort on Rhodes’s part to put some distance between himself and an experience he knows he’ll never be able to replicate. “Chiron is so distant from the person I am; it’s important for me to distance myself from that so people can understand that was the character,” he says. “Hopefully, I’ll find another opportunity that allows me to stretch like that again.”
Watch the ‘Moonlight’ cast at the Oscars: