While some graduating seniors may have spent time still pondering their future during Jackson State University’s commencement on Saturday, actor Aspen “Hollywood” Wilson enthusiastically gripped his degree onstage as he prepares to further showcase his acting in his first major film role.
“Blood Country,” a western thriller set in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, is expected to spill onto cinema screens throughout the U.S. this fall. Wilson’s character is forced to make a “tough decision with extremely dangerous consequences.” To survive, he must battle between truth and falsehood after witnessing a murder. The film is now in post-production.
The fruit of his labor is sprouting just as Wilson completed his undergraduate studies with a concentration in integrated marketing communications in the School of Journalism and Media Studies. He earned the “Hollywood” nickname from campus peers after snagging small appearances in various films. Among his roles was as an extra in “Free State of Jones,” a 2016 action-drama that starred Matthew McConaughey.
Wilson said he’s excited his life is off to a roaring start. He expects more opportunities after walking across the stage to receive his bachelor’s degree during the ceremony in the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium with nearly 700 other recipients.
His interest in film heightened when a friend encouraged him to take an elective course on the fundamentals of acting in his sophomore year at JSU. There, he met the man who motivated him, actor-professor Yohance Myles – a professional with many television and film credits to his name. In addition to teaching, Myles currently appears in several episodes of Fox’s new dramatic series “Shots Fired,” which airs at 7 p.m. Wednesdays.
Wilson plays the younger version of Myles’ character in “Soul Damage.” That drama is in pre-production with an expected release in November. Filmed in Jackson, Miss., the story chronicles the mysterious, dark side of a charismatic attractive ladies’ man whose past prevents him from creating friendships or meaningful relationships. It also delves into taboos that are often unaddressed.
Wilson says he’s blessed to have learned from Myles and others in the industry but is quick to point out that his future in film didn’t always look so rosy.
“In 2015, I did 42 auditions – films and commercials in the southeastern region, with no callbacks. I prayed about it and learned from each audition,” honing his craft. Now, the floodgates have opened, with more roles flowing into his direction.
Recently, Wilson filmed an episode of OWN’s “Queen Sugar,” a dramatic series that premiered in September 2016. Oprah Winfrey is the executive producer. The show explores the lives and loves of estranged siblings running a struggling 800-acre sugarcane farm in Louisiana.
Mild-mannered and God-fearing, Wilson is taking all his success in stride. Waxing philosophical, he said, “When your mind is at peace all things are possible. Everyone should feel brave to go for his or her dream if you just maintain great character and personality. My faith in God keeps me grounded. I can’t remember ever asking something of him, and he didn’t respond favorably.” However, he cautions that “you shouldn’t ask for something and not be ready to accept it. Be prepared and have faith.”
These mighty words of wisdom defy the age of the 22-year-old, who once had aspirations of playing in the NBA. During his freshman year, he was a walk-on point guard for JSU Tiger Basketball, although his 5-foot, 8-inch body weighed only 129 pounds. Despite his size, he was “a great shooter. … Basketball was my passion. I played all the way through high school and college.” Today, the 145-pound Memphis-born native Wilson is bulkier and much more sculpted, preferring to cook and eat healthy foods such as salmon. He said he turned his attention to acting after not getting the opportunity to play basketball as a freshman at JSU.
His first time in front of a television camera was at age 5 when he earned a Kellogg commercial. And, he netted an NBA onscreen advertisement at age 8 during the time his mother worked for the Memphis Grizzlies. He credits her for many of his accomplishments.
“She keeps me going; she’s hardworking and a living sacrifice. … She encouraged me to chase my personal freedom,” said Wilson, hailing his single-parent mother. Although he’s her only child, he harbors no ill will toward his delinquent father who has been absent throughout his life. Instead he offers grace and forgiveness because “God has filled the role of father perfectly.”
With acting now his passion, he aims to finish several incomplete scripts. “Writing helps you analyze material better.” He also desires to produce and direct movies and start a foundation that focuses on mental health.
To achieve greater levels of success, he studied interviews and the work ethics of actors such as Denzel Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio, reviews a variety of books and DVDs via Amazon and eBay and follows the teachings of individuals aligned with the New York theater scene.
He describes acting as “the art of accepting one’s gifts to truthfully portray the circumstances of a certain character.”
As for other personal enrichment, he’s looking forward to doing more traveling and visiting a beach for the first time.
For now, however, the modest Wilson will keep auditioning for film and television roles and will be seen soon in a national 2017 United Way commercial.