PHOTOGRAPHY BY SHANE MCCAULEY
Trevante Rhodes wasn’t exactly a theater geek growing up in Little Elm, Texas, just north of Dallas. “I didn’t even know that acting was a thing,” he recalls. Instead, he played football and ran track, earning a scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin as a sprinter. While jogging on campus one day, he was spotted by a casting scout, who convinced him to move to Los Angeles after graduation. Small parts followed, including in Terrence Malick’s Song to Song and Tyler Perry’s If Loving You Is Wrong, but you know him for his breakout role: the adult Chiron in Barry Jenkins’s Oscar winner, Moonlight. “My manager called me and was like, ‘This is the best thing I’ve read in I don’t know how long,’” Rhodes remembers. “So I read it, and, man, you cry by like the fifth page. I was like, This is it; this is what I wanna do.”
I read Moonlight, and man, you cry by like the fifth page. I was like, This is it; this is what I wanna do.
Rhodes brought a subtle sensitivity to an outwardly tough character in Chiron, and this month he pulls a similar trick in 12 Strong, playing a member of the first U.S. Special Forces team to see action in Afghanistan in 2001. The film, based on a true story, also features Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon, and Rhodes studied his accomplished costars closely. “I want to be the best,” he says. “So getting the opportunity to share space with those guys was the best—just being around them and watching how they move and how they work.” While the movie has a serious streak, hinting at the problems U.S. forces would face in Afghanistan in the ensuing years, Rhodes admits that filming the action scenes was fun. “I was on set and I’m sitting there like, What the freak is my life?” he says with a laugh.
The 27-year-old actor won’t have to wait long to test his action chops again. Later this year, he’ll star in The Predator, the fourth film in the sci-fi series. “Honestly, I shy away from scary movies,” he admits. “But obviously, I saw the first one, and it was just a classic bro fest. And then working with [director] Shane Black—for the rest of my life, I would do whatever Shane wants me to do because that man is a mad scientist.” Rhodes is also currently filming Bird Box, an upcoming Netflix series starring Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich—“It’s an action-thriller kind of a thing but with a heavy level of poignancy”—and he says he texts Jenkins every day: “I pitched Barry on 12 things, and he said yes to like two. And I’m like, ‘All right, are you gassing me right now, or are we gonna get this thing moving?’”