Interview with Marvel's 'Runaways' and 'The Wire' star Ryan Sands

Ryan Sands, Marvel, Runaways

The first season of Marvel’s Runaways is hitting Hulu streaming services on Nov. 21. Based on the comic series of the same name, the show revolves around a group of kids — the runaways — discovering that their parents are posing as a group of super-villains in disguise — a congregation known as the Pride. The show is already being marked with positive reviews from IGN and Check out the trailer below:

Ryan Sands is one of the actors in Runaways, playing the notorious Geoffrey Wilder, one of the members of the Pride. In the comics, Geoffrey, along with his wife Catherine, are prominent villains who helped form the Pride while doubling as criminal geniuses who control most of the illegal drug trade in Los Angeles.

Ryan Sands isn’t quite so maliciously evil. Having also appeared in a reoccurring role on The Wire as well as numerous other shows and films, he remains an extremely down to earth and humble personality. Sands spoke to's Brandon Schreur in an exclusive interview on what his experience was like making Runaways and what we can expect from season one.

Brandon Schreur: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to talk to me, how are you doing?

Ryan Sands: I’m good, man. It’s a pleasure getting to talk about this stuff.

BS: It’s super exciting. To start off, can you tell me how you got involved with Runaways?

RS: Just like everything else, I had an audition come through the email and my agent followed up on it. She knows that I’m a big superhero fan, so she let me know there was an untitled Marvel project coming up and I was already excited.

The character names weren’t there — when it comes to anything superhero or comic-book related there’s a strong desire to hide details, so a lot of times when the emails come, the character names aren’t there or it’s an untitled project. But when I read the breakdown for the characters I was like, ‘Wait a minute…this sounds like that Runaways thing!’ I put two and two together real quick and got excited right away.

I auditioned a few days after that and it went very well, we got a great casting director — Patrick Rush. Had a screen test, which was a little nerve-racking, and shortly after that got the call. I’ve been on cloud nine ever since.

BS: So you’d heard of Runaways before you auditioned for it. Did you read the comic-books and all that?

RS: I’d heard of it, but I didn’t read it. I got out of reading comic-books regularly maybe in the ‘90s when I was going to college, getting work done and playing basketball as much as I could. Right after that is when I started to pursue my acting career.

As much as I would watch the X-Men cartoon and all the movies that would come out, I didn’t really read the comics as much. But I’d heard of the Runaways through friends who were still actively reading them. It was a hit back then. I was familiar with the general make-up and very basic storyline.

These days, one of my favorite things in the world is my Marvel unlimited app, because now I’m playing catch-up with all those ‘90s properties. I dove in and went through all the first volume in one sitting, I think. I was drawn in and immediately started laughing when I saw what Geoffrey looks like — a big, black bald guy with a beard. I thought ‘Yeah, I could do that.’

Ryan Sands
Credit: YouTube

BS: Totally. So, seeing how you like comics and all that, do you have a favorite property or Marvel movie?

RS: My favorite character has always been Spider-Man. Growing up as a kid in the ‘80s, everything had Spider-Man on it. He’s absolutely my favorite character. A close second is probably Black Panther. There was a time when I was doing artwork as a kid that I realized I wasn’t really drawing any characters that looked like me. I went to an older cousin and said ‘Man, are there any black heroes out there?’ The first one he showed me was Black Panther, and shortly thereafter Power Man — aka Luke Cage. So they’re probably number two and three in terms of my favorite heroes.

But my favorite movie, which kind of leans directly from what I just said, is Captain America: Civil War. It was an amazing re-introduction of Spider-man, an amazing introduction of a live-action Black Panther. I thought it was a huge undertaking, action-packed and so well done.

BS: I totally agree about Civil War. So, when you’re making the Runaways what’s going on in your head? Are you thinking ‘No way, I’m part of the Marvel Universe now, look out Avengers here I come’ or do you treat it as just another day of work?

RS: [laughter] Man, I think a lot about it. I hope and pray that it never becomes just a job. It’s such a great feeling to have lived in this world with these Marvel characters, and even though we’re not crossing over with the Avengers or Tony Stark isn’t flying in the Runaways set anytime soon, it’s so cool to be a part of something that I used to be from the outside looking in for as long as I can remember. It’s kind of surreal in that sense.

I have to say, it’s truly a joy to work on this project for so many other reasons too. I genuinely enjoy my cast mates. I’ve said it repeatedly, but I love working with my TV family — the Wilders. Anytime I’m on set with Angel [Parker] and Rhenzy [Feliz], they’re great to work with and I know I’m going to enjoy myself. Yet, if I know I’m not working with them, I don’t care either because I genuinely enjoy working with everyone on that set. It’s a really cool vibe on that set, and it goes past the cast and crew.

Ryan Sands
Credit: YouTube

We had a great bunch of directors come through, and even though every director has their own unique style and way of telling a story, it's been a really cool experience and I look forward to going to work every day. The general dynamics of the show, because it’s such a large cast and because special effects come into play as you would imagine, can lead to long days. But I’m glad I have long days with this group of people, for sure.

BS: That was kind of my next question too, I was going to ask what’s it like working with such a young and large cast. Is it ever overwhelming? You guys get along well and all of that?

RS: Yeah, everybody gets along. The Pride has all their scenes altogether, and we haven’t had very many scenes with all of the Pride and all of the Runaways at the same time. But what is really cool, and I noticed it early on, is the offstage chemistry of the Runaways. Whether it's on table reads, if they’re all on set or we’re passing each other on our way to our trailers, there’s a great chemistry they have off-set. The exciting thing is to see how that’s going to translate on-screen. I mean, it’s only going to help, and in that little bit that we’ve been able to see, that chemistry absolutely comes through. They’re fun to be around and I’m really excited for them as younger performers.

And they’re good. That’s the fun part — to see them shine is really great. The Pride themselves is more of the veteran group, but it’s really cool because nobody takes themselves too seriously. We laugh, but at the same time, we push each other creatively and artistically.

It’s a really cool environment and I consider myself blessed to be a part of it. I’ve got to give props to the show-runners — Jeph Loeb, Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage. Those guys set the tone and you know the fruit is going to be good from the tree they’ve planted. That’s a terrible metaphor on my part [laughter].

BS: No I got you, it works. Can you tell me about your character Geoffrey and what we can expect out of him from Season 1?

RS: Sure. I have to tell you that my biggest break was playing a police officer on The Wire and since then I’ve had a career of high guest-starring spots as law enforcement and military. So, the prospect of playing Geoffrey — who I’m basically going into this thinking ‘Man, I’m a bad guy, this is going to be fun’ — really had me licking my chops to be playing a villain. But then, when we’re having these conversations about the script, I went ‘Oh wow, this guy is a real person.’

The Pride aren’t villains in the prototypical sense that you would expect coming into a comic-book adaptation. The Pride is a group of people who have made decisions, and these decisions come with consequences, and some of those consequences weren’t as obvious beforehand. We find them fifteen years or so into all of this. So this is fifteen years of comprises and having to deal with the ramifications of their initial decisions while lying and living in secret.

But, the stakes are so high as a result, if something goes wrong it all would be for nothing. It’s really cool playing a character who had a rough past, one who wants to distance himself from it and genuinely be a source of good in his community as well as a good father and a good husband. Yet, every now and then he has to do some things he isn’t too happy about. It’s really fun to play out those things.

Fans of the original property are going to be pleased with some new dimensions to the Pride characters that weren’t there so much originally. Brian K. Vaughan, who did such an amazing job creating and writing the Runaways, said he wanted to do more with the Pride but there’s only so much he could do in those pages with that run. It’s really cool to see the Pride as real people who care about their families and communities, yet take on the villain role in this story.

BS: Yeah, I can’t wait to check out the show and I bet you’re great in it.

RS: Thank you, man, appreciate it.

BS: You’ve also appeared in movies before, as well as a lot of TV series and shows. What one do you like doing more?

RS: It’s been more TV than movies I’d say. The thing about a movie is it’s usually the only thing you’re working on at the time and you don’t have to balance jobs. You get to inhabit a character for a sustained shooting schedule and generally take a little longer with things. The schedule in TV is a little more fanatic, you got to get a lot done in a limited amount of time. It’s been my experience that the films, largely the indies I’ve worked on, have allowed us to take our time a little more. That’s fun. I definitely miss doing that a little bit. But, man, I don’t miss it that much. I’m good with what we’re doing now [laughter].

BS: You mentioned The Wire earlier, and that’s a show I absolutely love. I couldn’t do this interview without asking at least one question about it because it’s amazing and you’re great in it. Can you tell me what you experience making that was like? What was it like working with such high-caliber talent?

RS: I didn’t know a lot about The Wire going into it. My first official job on The Wire was during Season 1 when I got called to be a stand-in for Idris Elba. However, I didn’t get to meet Idris because it rained that day, so I ended up sitting in holding all day long.

But I didn’t have HBO back then. I’d heard that The Wire was good, but I didn’t know just how amazing it was until I got to set. To see such a gritty, raw and heavy show — you wouldn’t know it when the cameras weren’t rolling, but I had such a fun time working with my buddy Ben Busch, who played my partner. Seth Gilliam and Domenick Lombardozzi, those were great guys to work with too. That’s who I generally worked with, along with Rick Otto. I don’t think we knew The Wire would be revered as it is to this day — we felt like we were doing quality work and all, but it’s cool to be able to look back and say we were a part of television history.

Ryan Sands
Credit: YouTube

This is something that has stood the test of time. It was a special opportunity and a lot of fun with good people. It was cool being close to home too — being from the D.C. area, I’d just drive up to Baltimore to go to work. Couldn’t beat that.

BS: Awesome. So you started talking about this, but when you’re working on something super serious and dark like The Wire, does it compare at all to working on something like Runaways? Is the on-set dynamic more-or-less the same or more serious on The Wire?

RS: Definitely more serious on The Wire. There are times when we’re acting as if we’d seen a giant explosion or someone flying, and we'd play it off like we’re having fun or something.

But to be honest The Wire was a big wake-up call in a lot of ways. We shot in a lot of locations that had to display what was really going on in Baltimore, what the conditions were and what some of the kids had to go through in their day to day lives. I commend The Wire for being truthful and giving people a voice who didn’t necessarily have a voice. I went to school for a few years in Baltimore, but there were parts that we went to that I’d never been to. I think it did a great job of letting people know what life is really like for people who don’t necessarily get to have their stories told.

So there was a reality and weight to what we were doing, we were always conscious of that. I give big props to Method Man — I worked with him one day. He was on set and all the kids from the neighborhood mobbed him. I mean, come one, it’s Method Man. He gave all his time and attention to those kids and I never forgot that. I’ve tried to do the same whenever we’re on location and a kid would come up and talk.

Ryan Sands
Credit: YouTube

But yeah, we felt the reality and seriousness of what we were doing. Although we had a good time while doing it, we had to be as authentic as we could be. It’s a little different. Sometimes we’d go into a community and then we could go in our trailers or go home. But those people still live there, so we had to try our best to respect those people by telling the best story we could and honoring what they had to go through. 

BS: I imagine it was. So now, working with the Runaways, do you have any plans or anything you can say about going forward? Are you hoping for a second season or, seeing how Marvel is so big, is there some kind of crossover that you would like to have happened?

RS: Oh man, I’m the wrong guy to ask that to [laughter]. I want everything. I want every crossover. I want the Agents of Shield to knock on the Wilder’s door.

BS: That’d be awesome.

RS: Right? But I don’t know. We haven’t been told anything or details moving forward about crossovers. It’s been awhile since I read that first volume, but I think the only crossover that took place in the book was Cloak and Dagger — which could be interesting, seeing how that’s another new show on the horizon. I think the Avengers made an appearance at the very end too. Yeah, it’d be amazing to have any kind of crossover take place, but I don’t know what the future will hold. I’m just anxious to see what it is.

BS: I think we’d all love to see that. Last question, it’s a fun one but I’m going to put you on the spot.

RS: Uh-oh.

BS: In the Runaways you play a super-villain with some kind of superpower. If you yourself could have a superpower, what would it be and would you use it for good or evil?

RS: Man, you know, as soon as you asked that the first thing I thought of was flying. That’s weird because I don’t know too many practical applications of flying and, to be honest with you, I don’t love heights. So I don’t know where that comes from. I guess just the freedom to be able to take off and take flight is something I’m cool with. Of course, I’d use it for good man. Getting kittens out of trees, rescuing people from burning buildings — there we go, there’s the practical application [laughter].

BS: There it is. That’s a good choice, way to not be evil.

RS: Exactly, that’d be like putting cats in trees. That wouldn't be cool at all.

BS: Nah, maybe not [laughter]. Can people follow you on social media anywhere?

RS: Sure. I’m @TheRyanSands just about everywhere — Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I also draw a lot and my artwork is on my Instagram feed. Hopefully, I’ll be launching a website soon — Stay tuned for that one.

BS: That’s super cool. Is there anything else you want to add here to say to the fans out there?

RS: I’m just excited for fans of the original run of the Runaways comic to see this. We’ve done a great job of staying close to the source material and having things the fans love and gravitate to. Yet, we’ve also got some really cool twists that are bringing the story firmly into present day. It’s funny because you hear some people say that they don’t really get it or like it when adaptations stray from the source material. For me, I honestly wouldn’t want to watch something where I knew exactly what was going to happen and there’s no surprise, so I don’t get that. We’ve done a great job at tweaking the formula and keeping you guessing, so old fans and new fans are going to have a lot to like. I hope everyone will join us on this journey.

BS: Great, and you can catch Runaways on Hulu on November 21. I’m super excited to check it out and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.

RS: It’s been a pleasure Brandon, thanks a lot.

Be sure to check out Ryan Sands in Runaways in just a few weeks, and go back and watch him in The Wire if you haven't already.

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