June 30, 2022 Interview – Skylan Brooks
In recent years a ton of young, talented actors/actresses have taken bold steps forward. Out of Southern California, Skylan Brooks is one of those who have steadily been turning heads. First making a big impression with his role in the 2013 film The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete, Brooks would also garner praise for his portrayal of role of Ra-Ra in the Netflix Hip Hop series The Get Down, as well as Quincy in Empire.
Continuing to grow and relishing in a new challenge, he recently took on the leading role in the compelling film Outsiders. An interesting mix of Science Fiction and race relation issues, Outsiders hit theaters back in March of 2022 and should not be overlooked. Excited for the chance to keep moving forward with his career, Brooks recently sat down to talk acting, The Get Down experience, the depth of Outsiders, music, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – You began your career in acting professionally around a decade ago. Working in television and film, how would you describe your career to this point?
Skylan Brooks – That’s a great question, I never really thought of that before. I guess I would consider it kind of like a blind, head-on crash course. It is kind of like having no way of knowing what’s right or wrong, just doing what feels right. It has been taking it one day at a time.
Cryptic Rock – Understood. You have done a diverse mix of things through the years. Is there a particular genre you enjoy working in most?
Skylan Brooks – My favorite genres to work in definitely Sci-Fi-Thrillers. Everything else is very grounded and has a lot of spaces to go in, but I always feel nothing can touch Sci-Fi.
Cryptic Rock – Right, in Sci-Fi the possibilities are usually endless because of the imagination involved. Of your projects you have been a part of, perhaps the most well known is your role as Ra-Ra Kipling in The Get Down. A great series, what was it like working on The Get Down?
Skylan Brooks – Thank you. Being younger, I was kind of nervous in a way to uphold such a main character. With every episode there was something new added. It was definitely difficult and challenging. I had to keep up with a lot of veterans and hold my own. I was a lot of fun to get to work with the cast, Baz Luhrmann, and get introduced to a world of music on a broader stage/platform like Netflix.
Cryptic Rock – And you did a great job with the role. The series was extremely well-executed and entertaining. Were you disappointment when it was not renewed?
Skylan Brooks – Yea, I was bummed. I remember having conversations about bringing it back and what that could look like. A lot of people that I talk to who were really invested in the show would hit me up and ask, “Is it coming back?” We didn’t have the answers to those questions, but I was bummed about it not continuing. It led onto a lot of new opportunities though and it was a great way to expand my range in the entertainment space of acting.
Cryptic Rock – Most certainly. You went onto Empire among other things. Now you have the leading role in the feature Outsiders. This film is very interesting because it touches on Sci-Fi, but also the issue of racism and prejudice. So, how did the role come about for you?
Skylan Brooks – The role came about for me when my agency passed along the script to me. They said, go ahead and take a look at it. For that to happen you have to reach a certain tier to check it out. I am not the most picky person, but I do like to find role that makes me passionate to want to play them. What stood out to me is that it touched on a narrative of race and how that places a character into a situation where no one believes them even if something crazy happened to them.
It is a scenario that is so insane, and aliens are involved, but nobody cares about this character because of their skin color. The film doesn’t make you feel like you have to pick sides. I felt it was easy to read and easy to want to be engrossed in building that world. I just knew I had something I could bring to it and I related to it.
Cryptic Rock – You do a good job with the role too. It has a serious topic mixed in with the Science Fiction element which is compelling. Your character is sort of mysterious as well. The story alludes to the fact your character has a history of violence, but we never see that. What was it like building the backstory for your Jaylen?
Skylan Brooks – That was one of the most interesting processes. In this case there wasn’t that much we had built around him personally. A lot of of it was me actually building how and where he was coming from. The writing sort of hides a lot of people’s pasts, but still tries to bring it forward in a way that is relevant and still keeps the movie moving along. With Jaylen, he got into an issue with his father, and he was moved to this town to get him away from the city environment. He is just trying to start over and he is really just a calm guy. He is very protective over his family, because that is all he has. He is learning to cope with his own mental state and wanting to be left alone, but not wanting to be alone.
Jaylen’s character is very non-threatening to me. The only thing we could really talk about it how that fueled him into searching and fighting for his own self, instead of other people banding with him and wanting to be validated. He has never had anybody stick up for him, so he goes overboard for others, especially his family. That is how I built the backstory, mainly around his argumentative nature with his father over his mother and sister.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. Well, it works because you bring the character to life. As mentioned we have the Sci-Fi side of this and the racial side. As a viewer, depending on where you are coming from, you may perceive things differently. Someone who is white may honestly wonder, are people really this overtly racist as depicted in the film? That in mind, have you seen that type of overt racism in your life?
Skylan Brooks – No. It’s really in certain situations and places that the overall mindset and education of certain people has not kept up with the times in a way. That’s my honest opinion. It’s not overly like that. But in the case of a specific situation like in Outsiders, there is a moment between Jaylen and Trevor where they are trying to understand each other. The world Trevor lives is in is one that is in that sort of mindset. That mindset isn’t necessarily open to the idea that a young black teen is believable enough to believe that he didn’t have anything to do with a situation that happened.
I think it’s an understanding thing. I think it’s a want to be understood, listened to, and believable. In a lot of cases I believe it’s misinformation and a lot of assumptions. I just feel people don’t have that conversation because it makes them uncomfortable. One of my hopes with Outsiders is that we can have that conversation where we can say – what do you not understand about me so I can understand something about you. It’s wanting to have that open dialogue about it, because sometimes in certain places it is like that.
Cryptic Rock – Excellent point. We should be open to speak about these things. It is just difficult to believe that in the modern world someone could be so overtly racist. However, when you think about it, sometimes you do hear something and you stop to think, “Did they really just say that?”
Skylan Brooks – Exactly. Sometimes it is blunt ignorance and sometimes it is willfully conscience. We should more so look at the common denominator to say, “it is what it is, it came out a certain way, and that’s how I feel.”
It’s a complicated thing because people’s understanding sometimes go in two different directions. You don’t want to say, “You’re being sensitive or overly sensitive.” That invalidates somebody’s feelings. We also have to get to the point of it and say, “What is the actual issue, and why do you have this reaction?” After that we reach a consensus of, “Well, we don’t really meet eye to eye, but at least I understand that and next time I won’t react in a certain way. I will just walk away from it understanding each other.” It’s difficult, but a lot of it is history too. Hopefully we can move forward and create a new dynamic between everyone.
Cryptic Rock – Agreed. It is just very striking when Jaylen has that conversation with Trevor, and Trevor says, “I thought you were different.” The point is we cannot lump people together based on what our perception of what that person is. You don’t know what someone is based on their race, sexuality, or economic background, or whatever…everyone’s different.
Skylan Brooks – Right, exactly, everyone is different. With social media, and where the world is today, everyone is already a little bit on edge. Some people are one click away from going off the edge. To be kind to somebody or take yourself out of a certain mind frame to understand somebody could really help them get along in their life. It might create an understanding for them too. But don’t try to be overly sensitive…people are kind of sensitive these days, I’m not going to lie. It’s also being aware and intelligent enough to know not to say certain things to certain people because of a certain history.
Cryptic Rock – Right, it’s about being open minded and education. All of this is a big part of Outsiders and you can feel it. Then there is the twist of Sci-Fi though. You have this idea of aliens abducting people. So what do you think of that twist?
Skylan Brooks – I think Delmar Washington made a great point – in the case of the young black male in America today in some situations…is he believable to the masses? There is a shroud around him that kind of keeps him in this light that is more harsh and rooted in pre-damnation where you are not innocence until proven innocence in the eyes of the media or masses. That’s over years of programming. The narrative has always been geared toward not really putting us in a different light where people can say, maybe so or maybe not that.
The ending Delmar has for Outsiders puts it in way that sometimes we need an other worldly force to kind of help us out. Something like a pray to a god, any god, to help us out of these situations where no one is believing us. The aliens here are the physical representation of that idea of needing someone to abduct my character or take him because no one believes him down here. That was the idea Delmar was going for.
Cryptic Rock – It makes you think and is a creative way to approach the topic.
Skylan Brooks – I think the Sci-Fi element is another way to find another angle to tell stories that are much more difficult to tell.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and you mention how the media has created a narrative through the years. However, films are also to blame. Throughout the years many films depict black people in a very similar way and paint them as a one dimensional image. It is not really the case and it is limiting.
Skylan Brooks – Yes. Even in slave films, we are at a time that everybody knows that’s what happened. It’s a part of history, but we are also building history in a way that is not built up off of that. We need to remember our past so we cannot make the same mistakes. Hopefully we can become true comrades and family. We don’t want to go back to that, that’s backward progress. We can make new films that revolve around the healing and the process of communication about that.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely, that is the right track. The wrong track is just calling each other names, that just divides us.
Skylan Brooks – Oh yea, we don’t get anywhere with that. That’s just stirring up the negative narrative of progress.
Cryptic Rock – 100%. So with Outsiders completed, what else do you have coming up?
Skylan Brooks – Right now I am working on developing a show called Dope Dealer. I also have two pilots and a feature that is going to be a Sci-Fi/Mystery. I am also working on a Hip Hop Jazz album with 1500; they have worked on a numerous amount of projects.
Cryptic Rock – Sounds like a lot of great stuff coming up. Tell us more about your music.
Skylan Brooks – I do Hip Hop Jazz, that’s my style. I do everything though, I do orchestration and produce too.
Cryptic Rock – That is awesome. So what are some of your musical influences?
Skylan Brooks –Definitely Lupe Fiasco. I know people wouldn’t expect me to say this, but I used to listen to Linkin Park a lot. Others include J Cole, Logic, and Kendrick Lamar. I also like Jazz and I am heavily influenced by instrumentation.
I can’t wait to put my new music out. It’s going to be between ’80s and ’90s Hip Hop Jazz. My style varies, everything kind of gets jumbled in there. Even though I was born West Coast, the East Coast influence from The Get Down definitely got into my music.