In this year’s release of So Help Me Todd, Tristen J. Winger plays Lyle alongside a cast including Skylar Astin and Marcia Gay Harden, which started airing weekly in the United States at the end of September, with Lyle marking Tristen’s first network television role. From 2019 to 2021, Tristen was in the cast of the BET+ series Bigger, playing Vince across all episodes, and he played Thug Yoda in Issa Rae’s series Insecure, which was nominated for and won numerous awards including at the Emmys, and Tristen worked again with Issa Rae on the HBO podcast We Stay Looking when he voiced the role of Petey. Amongst Tristen’s other projects, he worked with American rapper 50 Cent on 50 Central, and in web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, he played Baby Voice Darius. Tristen answered our questions about playing Lyle in So Help Me Todd, his time playing Vince in BET+ series Bigger and working on Insecure.
Can you tell us about So Help Me Todd and how it feels having the series released on CBS in the United States?
I’m excited to be working on So Help Me Todd in my first network television role. Leading up to booking the role I just felt an energy come over me. It literally felt electric. After we shot the pilot, I had a strong feeling we would get picked up to series and we did. I found out on my birthday!
You play the role of Lyle, what is it like to play him and can you tell us more about the character from your perspective?
I get to play this type-a, know-it-all, silently judgmental investigator named Lyle opposite Marcia Gay Harden and Skylar Astin, who plays an amateur investigator who is anything but professional. Playing Lyle is fun because he isn’t concerned with making friends, he only cares about doing his job the best way he knows how: by being a rule follower.
What drew you to the role and how was it reading the pilot script for the first time?
Lyle feels very familiar, like one of my military-trained uncles, and he represents the part of me who can be a bit of a prude. Lyle is the person I would probably be if I didn’t care about other people’s feelings, and I love exploring that. He says exactly what’s on his mind and he’s calculated. Reading pilots is always exciting because I get to see the world of the show for the first time. It’s like taking a trip to a place you’ve never been before, it’s exciting!
What is it like working with the rest of the cast, such as Skylar Astin and Marcia Gay Harden?
It’s a treat working with Marcia and Skylar because I had an idea of the type of people they were, and I was right and wrong at the same time. A lot of Marcia’s roles are very serious and as much of a serious person she is, she’s also very funny. If we had gone to school together, I could see Marcia as one of my friends that I could be silly with, and she’d go right along with it. Skylar is always singing on set and anytime I’m singing to myself or humming he’ll join in. They’re both fun scene partners.
What have you enjoyed most about filming Season 1 of So Help Me Todd and do you have any favourite memories from your time on set?
Lyle is a shady person. He often sends quips toward Todd and sometimes I get to throw in an adlib. There was a scene in Episode 4 in which Todd was teasing Lyle for being nerdy, when he is actually a nerd himself! I added the line “who’s the nerd now, Sheldon” referencing Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, another CBS show.
There was one day on set where our characters were looking at evidence and Marcia has on a pair of latex gloves. She kept gathering air in the gloves and making them squeak and we could not stop giggling.
How was it working on the short film The Hostage, in which you play Tripp?
That was a lot of fun, we shot this in one day in Encino, CA, I think. I got to play with some hilarious people like Annie Mumolo and Isaiah Mustafa, who a lot of folks know from the Old Spice commercials. It’s a Paul Feig production, my third or fourth one with his company Powderkeg, so it was a blast.
From 2019 to 2021, you played Vince across all episodes of Bigger, what was it like to be a part of that series?
I got to shoot Bigger in Atlanta and loved it. The city of Atlanta is like the Black Mecca, there are so many thriving Black professionals there. Tyler Perry’s Studios is there, and I got to meet some of my favourite people while filming Bigger. We got to shoot two incredible seasons and I enjoyed playing Vince because he was basically me if I had decided to pursue a career in music. It was created by Felischa Marye and produced by Will Packer, who is a visionary. We got to bring something to BET+ that hadn’t been done before and I love and miss my co-stars.
Did you have a favourite aspect of playing Vince and how was it developing the character throughout the series?
My favourite part of playing Vince was how much he and I love music, specifically early 2000s hip hop and R&B. It was a lot of fun doing the throwback episodes where we got to see Vince thriving in his early career and making the choice to pursue DJing over going to college for Mechanical Engineering. I was a Mechanical Engineering major, and I tried my best to stick it out but I just… hated it. I was not enjoying myself at all. I spent more time in my campus apartment working on music than I did going to class. Vince got it right.
Can you tell us about your time playing Thug Yoda in Insecure and, in your own words, how would you describe the character?
Thug Yoda is iconic. I loved that any time he popped up the audience knew that he would say and do something ridiculous, but his point of view was so specific and honest. Thug Yoda is a loving father to a beautiful soul of a daughter and he’s just trying to figure it out for the sake of his family. He’s responsible and thoughtful and he just so happens to have some gang affiliations and a limited vocabulary.
What was it like seeing the success and viewers’ response to the series, which included the show being nominated for and winning numerous awards, including at the Emmys?
The viewers’ response felt validating. This was Issa’s (Rae) first large-scale TV show, she was nervous about its reception, but I KNEW it would be a hit. Her web series had her unique voice and Insecure was extension of that with a louder microphone. We know when something is authentic, it’s a feeling. The way that she represented South LA and our people was the most authentic representation of us, so the response reacted to that authenticity with appreciation and love.
What are some of your stand-out highlights from working on 50 Central and how was it being involved with a project like that?
We got to do a sketch about OJ Simpson coming home to a surprise party, but everyone was still anxious about being around him. That was my favourite sketch to shoot. 50 Central was a good time, I made some great friends, and 50 Cent is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
What do you remember most from playing Baby Voice Darius in web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl?
After the show had been out for a while, I remember strangers greeting me by whispering AT me. I would be confused every time and it would take me a while to realise that people were imitating my character to me. It was always funny, and I appreciate how many people related to that character.
As a voice actor, you starred as Petey in the HBO Max podcast We Stay Looking, how was that?
I love voiceover acting because it doesn’t matter what you look like or what your face is doing, you just get to BE. Originally, Looking for Latoya was the show within a show on Insecure and because of the response and awards we won, we were able to make it a stand-alone series. I always have a lot of fun on Issa’s projects, and she keeps a talented circle of writers, performers, and directors that I have a good time being a part of. It never, ever feels like work.
Where does your love of acting come from and can you tell us about your training and work with the Amazing Grace Conservatory?
My mom was a performer – she was a touring ballroom dancer on a few teams before having me, so I think it comes from her. I would imitate my favourite characters from TV, mainly Steve Urkel from Family Matters, and my uncles, which amused them and my mom. My mom would eventually enrol me in Amazing Grace Conservatory, co-founded by Wendy Raquel Robinson, where I got to put my skills to use and learn new techniques for stage performing. I would spend about three months a season there going to class on weekends, preparing for our big stage production at the end. It was so fulfilling, I was hooked.
Do you have any favourite films and TV shows to watch and how do you like to spend your time when you’re not working?
My favourite film of all time is Back to the Future. I’m a nerd at heart and I love sci-fi and time travel and cars so that movie put all of my favourite things together. I can recite the whole thing. My favourite TV shows are Atlanta (Donald Glover is a genius) and Abbott Elementary (my mom was a teacher for 30 years). I spend a lot of my off-time exploring Vancouver and eating good meals.
What are you hoping the upcoming year brings for you?
May this next year bring more health, wealth, positivity, and prosperity!
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