Tye Sheridan
Photo by Corey Nickols
Emerging Masters

Tye Sheridan: “You have to rise to the moment”

Short Profile

Name: Tye Kayle Sheridan
DOB: 11 November 1996
Place of birth: Elkhart, Texas, United States
Occupation: Actor

Tye, is it true that storytelling is a big part of your family dynamic?

Yeah, storytelling has been around forever in my family. It's what we do in East Texas where I’m from, you know? In no medium other than just casual chat: you sit around, have cookouts, drink beer and everybody's telling about this story, that story. As a kid, I just remember having this richness. I loved it so much, but I was also never really conscious of how much I loved it. I was just totally captured by stories in my family, especially with my dad, who would always tell me hunting stories. I love stories, especially about the outdoors and a good old adventure, that’s what it’s all about.

It seems like your breakthrough role in The Tree of Life must have been a perfect starting point for you as an actor.

It was of those themes, yeah! I think looking at it as an adult, you know, you have a completely different perspective on what what you thought you were maybe making when you're 11 years old. That was the first time I’d ever been on a film set. It was a pretty unique film, I never read a script for it — there wasn’t even a script to read, there were never any lines or dialogue that I had to learn. It was completely pure in that way. It's a very unconventional method, but for kids, I think it’s kind of an amazing way to direct them. Even getting my start on that film was unconventional: they auditioned something like 10,000 kids across the state of Texas, recruiting them through public schools. I just happened to get picked out and invited to audition.

The Tree of Life went on to receive a handful of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Did you find that had a positive impact on your acting career?

Well, I wasn't consistently working as a kid. It wasn't until I was about 16 that it shifted gears for me and became something that I could even really see a career in. Up until then it was just a hobby.

“When you’re in front of the camera, you have to deliver, you have to rise to the moment. You forget yourself, and you’re solely focused on that thing.”

It’s almost like play.

Exactly, and it’s not that everyone has work that is, in essence, just play. When work becomes play, you’re so taken by what you're doing that you don't even perceive time. You have complete tunnel vision. You can only see where you're going, and nothing outside of that. When you’re on set in front of the camera, you have no choice, you have to deliver, you have to perform, you have to rise to the moment, whatever it is that you're trying to achieve. You forget yourself, you forget everything else around you, and you're solely focused on that thing. And when you find the thing that makes you feel that way, you have to pursue it infinitely, I believe. There's no other other way.

You’ve never had any doubts? Or come close to giving it up in favor of having a more normal childhood?

During high school, I did start to feel like I was missing out on things, especially because those are your formative years and I had to grow up really quickly, you know? I was surrounded by adults all the time, which was great because it taught me so much and I was a curious kid… But there came a point where I had to decide if I was going to be serious about acting as a career. I had to make some choices, I had to jump on the train or let it roll by. I was also playing baseball, that was one of my big passions, and my dad was my coach. In the end, I had to choose between them. I ended up realizing that it wasn’t fair to my team to be missing so many practices, and my parents always told me if you can't give 110 percent, don't do it.

How did your dad feel about your choice?

He understood, he knew it was the right decision. It was a really hard conversation for me to have because baseball was part of my identity. It's who I was. I wanted to be a baseball player when I was a young kid! (Laughs) I think I realized I wasn’t good enough though. But that was a really distinct step towards a career in acting. I was going to a lot of auditions, maybe one every other week, balancing that with school, and honestly, there were not a lot of callbacks. That’s something I had to get used to hearing from an early age, I got really used to hearing no.

That frustration seems like it’s very normal in acting. Olivia Colman called it a a mystery she’ll never understand: that one person’s luck and one person’s lack of luck could make or break it.

Everybody has that trouble! George Clooney once told me that he used to pretend to be his own agent, calling people to get auditions and saying, “I’ve got this great actor, you’ve got to check him out, let me call him and see if he’s interested in auditioning…” And it would work! It's a matter of persistence and being creative. You know, if something's not working, find another way. That's the most important thing.

Did your own journey ever start to weigh heavily on you?

I do remember one distinct moment when I was young, where I'd been auditioning for films for three years, I wasn't getting any callbacks. I was really frustrated by how much time it was taking away from baseball and hanging out with my friends and all that stuff. And I told my parents, “I don't want to do this anymore. This is not fun.” My dad said, “Okay, if you don't want to do any more auditions, then you need to call your manager and you need to tell him that. Because you made a promise, and he's representing you. Why don't you have a think about it, you know, before you call him.” So I went outside and I remember sitting there, looking down over this hill that we lived on, I sat out there and I was looking out at the pasture and thinking about what it was that I wanted to do. Something inside me just told me to keep going, you know, to keep trying a little longer.

And then what happened?

I told my parents I want to keep going, I'll do a few more auditions and see how it goes. And right around that time, I got a call from the producer on The Tree of Life about a new project. And that's happened all throughout my life, I’ve been just at the point of wanting to abandon ship or change tack, feeling myself at that edge. Persistence is what brings opportunity.

In your case pretty amazing opportunities; you have since starred in films by George Clooney, Steven Spielberg and David Gordon Green, just to name a few.

Yeah, but if you're not putting that persistence and hard work, you won't be rewarded. And sometimes you have to bash your head up against the wall, you feel like you're going to die, until finally you break through. There have been so many instances of that in my film career, my personal life, and especially with our company Wonder Dynamics.

“My parents always taught us that with a little hard work, anything can be achieved. I think maybe that’s what helped me get to where I am today.”

What’s that?

Well, I've always been interested in how movies were made. I think from the very beginning, since The Tree of Life, I was obsessed with the camera and how it worked; technology that helps us tell better stories has been a passion of mine, especially things like visual effects and how they’re used to make these blockbuster movies. When my friend Nikola Todorovic and I started trying to make films together, we were getting frustrated because we weren’t going to be able to make a lot of the things that we were writing, because they were just going to cost too much. It's just impossible. And so that's really when we got into interactive technologies, and dabbling in AI.

And through AI, you can break down those barriers?

Wonder Dynamics is a tool that automatically animates lights and composes a CG character directly into a live action scene. You don't need any hardware, you don't need to know how to use complicated 3D softwares. All you need is a camera. So you shoot an actor doing what you want the CG character to be doing and then we take everything from the actor’s performance, facial performance, the lighting, compositing, the camera motion, everything. And we retarget that into 3D space and propose CG characters. Hollywood can be a difficult industry to break into, you know, it’s pretty closed off… Now, once we break down those barriers to entry, and start allowing more voices from all over the world to be telling their stories, filmmaking can pretty much be democratized.

Where do you think that drive to always push further comes from?

My mother has this insane drive! She’s maybe the toughest woman I've ever met. I mean, she can endure pretty much anything, and she's not going to stop! Maybe I learned that from her. My parents always taught us to believe in yourself, to never sell yourself short, and that with a little hard work, anything can be achieved. I don't know, it's a really simple thing, but I think maybe it's what helped me get to where I am today.