Q&A with Tristen Winger
Written by: DaMarko GianCarlo
Photos by: Malik Daniels
Grooming by: Dion Xu
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in South Central LA. I still live here.
What age did the acting bug bite you?
I’ve been performing for my family for longer than I can remember, imitating my teachers, family members and my favorite characters from tv. My first acting role was in the fourth grade, as the lead role of The Tailor for a play written by my teacher Ms. Mautner called “The Rainbow Coat”. I was 8.
You attended coulburn school of Performing arts?
During high school I briefly attended Coulburn for acting and tap dancing. The most memorable experience was my tap class because I was a beginner and the only class available was with five and six year-olds. I took the class, every weeekend for about two months and performed in the showcase on-stage with my much younger classmates. I was about 14.
Coulburn is a badge of honor not everyone gets in the program their first time around correct?
Not sure, that wasn’t my experience. I don’t recall an audition process.
What did you perform for your audition?
Walked in the building and they were all like, “yup”.
Why did you feel the need to attend Amazing Grace conservatory after coulburn?
There’s a cultural difference between Coulburn and AGC. AGC was founded by Wendy Raquel Robinson and her best friend, the late and great Tracey Coley. It was nurturing, it was supportive, it was black-owned and embraced its blackness. I knew AGC was where I belonged from the moment I left the open house. I loved working for hours on end every weekend for months at a time to put on a show. The theatre experience was perfect for me to express myself without shame or ridicule. The AGC stage is a big ole sandbox for you to bring your gifts and put them on display.
You studied Dance at Amazing grace as well as acting did it seem foreign or natural because your Mom was a professional Ballroom Dancer?
Dancing wasn’t at all foreign to me, it was a workout for sure though. I’m the type of person who likes structure and direction so it worked out perfectly for me. Learning a dance was always fun because I never knew what the routine would look like until the end, when we put all of the parts together.
Auditions , Auditions, Auditions then you landed The Miss Adventures of Awkward Black Girl : What did you think of Baby Voice Darius when you first read the script?
I remember reading the script for episode 4 of ABG, I hit Issa and asked which role she wanted me to read and she told me that I’m playing Darius. I was a little disappointed at first because he didn’t have many lines but I was grateful and decided to make the most of it, I played around with it. In the text Darius was described as quiet and low-talking, also Issa’s character had a line about “asking this baby-voiced nigga to repeat himself” so I leaned into that to come up with Darius’ voice and demeanor. It worked out well.
You landed a memomarble role on Issa Rae next show Insecure : Were you like I got this role I did Awkward Black Girl so I’m in for sure?
When Insecure was picked up to series I texted Issa to congratulate her and she told me that she would look out for a role that I could fit. That was about October/November 2015. Fast-forward to the following January, she texted me saying that she thinks she found the perfect role for me and she would email me the scene. It was Thug Yoda’s first scene and I immediately laughed out loud because I knew exactly who that guy was. He’s my neighbor, he’s the guy ripping down Slauson in his Hellcat, the quiet-ish dude in line behind you at 7 Eleven who you aren’t sure if he’s gonna press you about the red on your Jordan’s and what hood you from or compliment you… or both. I was excited for the opportunity to audition my version of him.
Did you think Thug Yoda was going to have such an impact in Pop Culture?
I wasn’t sure how folks would respond to Thug Yoda. The producers and crew all laughed when the cameras cut and after filming, when I got back to my phone, I saw a text from Issa that she sent during the scene telling me I was killing it, so that felt great. I was concerned about portraying a person versus playing a caricature and I’m glad everyone who watches his scenes appreciate and celebrate him so much. He’s a whole real-ass person.
How did you get through you scenes without laughing as Thug Yoda?
Gotta stay in it. A person isn’t normally watching themselves as they live their life so I just had to speak with conviction, believing everything that I was saying as if they were my words based on my own thoughts.
Next you were casted in a Sketch Comedy show executive produced by Music Mogul 50 cent how was he as a boss?
50 Cent is one of the smartest and generous people I’ve ever met. On set we got to pick his brain every chance we got and he always told us his truth, dropping gems. He even picked up our cast himself and took us to a boxing match at Barclays. Me and four of my cast-mates rode with 50 in his Drophead Phantom and one of us rode in his gold-wrapped Bentley Flying Spur. It was insane. Every time we stopped in traffic people would run into the street to shake his hand and take a selfie with him. He taught us the importance of fan-engagement.
Were you sliding him tracks in between takes?
I can neither confirm nor deny to the sliding of any unreleased bars from me between takes.
How fun was it to shoot the Gieco Commercial?
That Geico shoot was a 12-hour day, six of which I spent in the most comfortable hot tub in the backyard of a Malibu mansion. It was the epitome of “living the life”.
Was it awkward to act like a lobster was there?
We actually had a very life-like lobster as a scene partner and the voice actor H Michael was a lot of fun to work with and a great improv partner.
Your currently on a new show entitled Bigger: What is the premise of the show?
Bigger is about a black woman in Atlanta who is facing the threat of engagement to her boring-in-bed boyfriend. I play her cousin Vince and when our friend from college dies unexpectedly, our group of friends begin to question our lives wondering if there’s something bolder and bigger waiting for us on the other side of our fears.
Is your character Vince anything like Tristen?
Vince and I have some similarities, he and I are the youngest in our friend circles and we both love music; he DJs and I produce music.
How was it working with Mr. Homerun Will Packer?
Working with Will Packer was a dream, you know you’re getting quality when you see his banner. The team was supportive and Will was extremely gracious. He opened his home to us, inviting us to spend time with his family and friends. I was nervous when I got the invite, not knowing what to wear. Should I do a suit? Do I get his buy-in by donning one of the Kangol hats he wears? I dressed up business casual, showed up five minutes early with my costar Tanisha Long and I quickly realized that I overthought everything. First of all, we were EARLY early. None of our other costars showed up until an hour later. Second of all, I could’ve and should’ve just came in my nice, everyday clothes. It was a super casual, family barbecue-style event and a ton of fun. Tanisha and I were the first ones there and the last to leave, Will and his family know how to throw a house party.
You have filmed in LA, NY and this latest show in Atlanta: What is the difference between filming in those cities?
Filming in LA is great because I know my way around the city and on any given day you can see those yellow signs guiding you to a set. It feels wonderful to have a sign with a set that you belong to. Filming in New York was dope because we had car service picking us up from our hotel and picking us up from set everyday. It was one of the bougie-est things things ever and I felt like royalty. Atlanta was a dream because of all of the trees and woods in the city. The people were a joy to be around and the food was thee SHIT. I could absolutely live in Atlanta.
Which city did you like filming the best in and why?
Atlanta is my favorite hands-down. There were so many successful black folks everywhere and southern hospitality is real AF. Waffle House employees greet you with a cheerful smile whether it’s 8 in the morning or 3 in the morning. I love Atlanta.
If you could do a scene with an actor or actress dead or alive who would it be and why?
I’d love to be scene partners with Sam Jackson. He’s prolific, carefree, masterfully straddles the line between comedy and drama, and best of all: he’s THAT motherfucker.
What Genre would it be?
I’d like to flex my drama muscle with Sam. I’m sure there’d be some comedy weaved into our performances.
What’s the next move for Tristen?
More commercials and I’m laying the foundation to my entertainment empire starting with a series based on my relationship with my mom.