Actor Ryan Sands‘ role in Hulu’s new hit series, Marvel’s Runaways holds him firmly in a world of superheroes. In his everyday life, Sands takes on the comic book universe as the creator of Beasts in Sneaks. At home, he is a superhero to youth – in a completely different way.
A Runaway Favorite
Marvel’s “Runaways” is the story of six teenagers who confront their mutual enemies – their parents. Sands embraces the character of Geoffrey Wilder, the leader of the dark group The Pride. Geoffrey is the father of Alex Wilder (played by Rhenzy Feliz) . “Being a long-time fan of all things Marvel, I was initially excited to simply be a part of that universe, ” Sands tells Big Purple Marble. “After focusing on who Geoffrey was, I was intrigued by the opportunity to play the role of villain on the show. Soon, I found that the character I’d be playing was much more nuanced than a stereotypical villain, so I was even more excited for the chance to play him.”
The character moves from devoted parent to a sinister member of The Pride. At 6’4″, Sands strikes an imposing figure. But he found that the character of Wilder allowed him to explore a deeper side of himself, and incorporate it into the role. “Geoffrey’s devotion to family was an unexpected aspect of his personality that I was happy to explore. That devotion influences much of his decision-making, which results in him doing a few, shall we say, questionable things,” says Sands, who is married to actress and author Erin Wiley Sands. “I’ve always been an extremely family-oriented person and I place a very high value on maintaining strong familial bonds. That commonality made it easier for me to understand Geoffrey and validate his choices.”
Projecting the Future
Born in Washington DC, Sands fed his creativity with sports and film. “After seeing Star Wars as a little kid, that movie captivated my imagination in a major way. I knew enough to understand that I’d probably never be a Jedi, but I could be an actor and perhaps one day, do exciting things on screen,” Sands says. He acted in elementary and middle school. But he put aside his acting goals to pursue another love – basketball. “Although I was playing ball every chance I got, I was still privately daydreaming about being an actor. During my last year of college, I saw Love Jones and was inspired to stop daydreaming and actually take steps toward making the dream a reality.”
Love Jones was released in 1997. It tells of the relationship between a poet (played by Larenz Tate) and a photographer (played by Nia Long). “That film showcased characters that I related to, young African-Americans who pursued creative careers while navigating the ups and downs of falling in love. These were characters that I hadn’t seen before who inhabited a world that reminded me of my hometown,” Sands explains. “When I saw that film, I knew that I wanted to be a part of a production that would inspire others the way that Love Jones inspired me.”
The young Ryan Sands was comfortable on the court as well as on stage. But he found another stage on paper. He copied comic book panels and recreated the work of favorite artists any chance he got. “Growing up in the ’80s, there never a lack of inspiration for my artwork,” he says. “From comics, to cartoons to movies and TV shows, I was always drawing something superhero or sci-fi related.”
But when Sands grew up and began working, he set aside his pencils. He went on to portray roles in many television series including The Wire, Drew Peterson: Untouchable, Scorpion, and Free Rein. Then an opportunity arose to participate in an art show, and it rekindled his love for illustration. “When I gave serious thought to what type of things I’d have fun drawing in the future, I turned to two of my favorite things, sneakers and the old cartoons of my childhood. Soon thereafter, the Beasts in Sneaks were born,” says Sands. “They’re a series of alien gladiators who were transformed by irradiated basketball sneakers. I created [an Etsy site] to sell art prints and apparel featuring the characters. I’m planning to introduce new Beasts in Sneaks characters in 2018.”
Ryan Sands offers sage advice to young artists. “Never stop working on [your] craft. Never stop learning. When it comes to these creative endeavors, there’s always a new facet to explore which helps to keep the creativity flowing. The great thing about the age that we’re in is that education is so accessible, ” says Sands. “If you’ve got access to the internet, odds are that within seconds you can find a tutorial. Also, I would encourage everyone to extend their creativity to find unique ways of getting themselves exposure. You have to find a way to stand out and get your work seen.”
Ryan Sands is active in his community, mentoring youth for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. The organization matches adult volunteers with children aged 6 through 18. The goal is to develop a meaningful relationship that nurtures a child’s innate ability to succeed and thrive. Sand was compelled to be a part of something positive for children. “I couldn’t imagine what I’d be thinking if I was a child growing up today with so much violence and vitriol on display in the media so frequently. I thought by being a Big Brother, I could be a source of positivity and encouragement in a young person’s life. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” says Sands.
And Sands has found that the relationship with his Little Brother is mutually beneficial. “My Little Brother, MJ, is such a great little guy. He’s very inquisitive, funny and creative. He never fails to stump me on a superhero-related question at least once during our outings. Recently, we were watching a video together and I remarked that I liked a collectible statue of Spider-Man in the background of the video,” he says. “Spider-Man was hanging upside-down from a web. MJ remembered that and drew me a picture of it. He framed it and gave it to me for Christmas. It’s now hanging up in my office and is a reminder of how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to hang out with him.”
Ryan Sands is currently working on new artwork to be released in 2018. And Sands is developing a feature-film project entitled When Autumn Leaves. “It’s a romantic drama that I’m co-writing, co-producing and will also be acting in,” he says. “It’s set in present day Washington, DC and was inspired by the effect that the film Love Jones, which we spoke of previously, had on me.” Ryan describes the new film as a love story, but also a love letter to his hometown. Learn more about the film at www.whenautumnleaves.com or follow the film on Instagram (@walfilm).
Listen to Your Heart
“I’d like readers to know that I¹m just a big kid from DC with big dreams,” Ryan Sands tells Big Purple Marble. “I didn¹t always chase those dreams because a part of me once thought they were unrealistic. I hope that anyone reading this who is second-guessing a dream that they can¹t seem to shake won¹t make the same mistake.”
Feature photo credit Vince Trupsin
Rosie Wolf Williams is a writer, voiceover artist and award-winning speaker. Her writing credits can be seen in print and online publications including USA Weekend, Woman’s Day, Costco Connections, NextAvenue.org, and many other consumer, local and trade publications. Her favorite comic book superhero? Wonder Woman.
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