Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 02/16/22

Walking first, then a good Run. Known for his role in TV shows like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story, teen actor Major Dodson found his role as an autistic runner in the upcoming family drama Tyson’s Run (in theaters March 11th) to be a change of pace in more than one. First, there’s the obvious difference in tone between the projects, then there’s the fact that he had to train to literally keep pace with his role as an 15-year-old preparing for a marathon and, finally, there’s the personal aspect of the story. His character’s struggle with autism to some degree mirrors his own life as a young person on the spectrum.

In the movie, Tyson (Dodson) is attending public school for the first time when he befriends champion marathon runner played by Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips, Blade Runner: Black Lotus). Not letting his autism hold him back, Tyson becomes determined to run his first marathon in hopes of winning his father’s approval – in the process learning that, with faith in yourself and the courage to take the first step, anything is possible.

JWK: Tyson’s Run is an inspiring movie about the values of family and determination. It certainly seems different in tone from some of the other projects you’ve done such as The Walking Dead, American Horror Story and Left Behind. How would you compare the experiences?

Major Dodson: Comparatively, it is rather uplifting – no zombies or murderous clowns here. One thing these productions all share is a true dedication to making quality film and television. Every person involved knows what they’re doing and puts admirable effort into their craft.

JWK:  You began your career as a child actor at what age?

MD: My first foray into acting came when I was six. A local theater was doing a production of A Christmas Carol and children were invited to audition. For my audition, I sang Thank You For the Music by ABBA but stressed to the casting director that I would only sing “a few words”. At the end of the day, I booked the role of Tiny Tim.

JWK: When were you first diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum and how do you think it has influenced your career and performances?

MD: I was diagnosed when I was four. Apart from memorization of lines, which may be helped by where I am on the spectrum, for the most part I feel my acting ability has been unaffected by my diagnosis. With the exception of a few quirks perhaps, I’m really just a normal guy who can become a character on screen.

JWK:  In Tyson’s Run Tyson, your character, is also on the spectrum. Is that why you were drawn to the film?

MD: I was drawn to the character because I felt he would be interesting to portray. I always like a challenge and playing a character who is on the spectrum in a respectful and tasteful way certainly was one. Just after I finished my audition for Tyson, I mentioned to Lisa Hamil, the casting director, that I was on the spectrum. At the end of the day, it worked out nicely that Tyson is played by a genuinely neurodivergent person.

JWK: Being on the spectrum, is there some amount of understanding that you bring to the role that you think another actor would have a hard time getting?

MD: There are definitely some shared experiences between me and the character. School wasn’t the easiest thing for me growing up, as I was mostly blind to cultural and behavioral things that were expected of me by the other kids. For example, it took me a while to understand what loom bands even were. Eventually I learned and grew wiser to what was “normal”. Fortunately, I was never bullied for being different, which was a blessing.

JWK: Tyson, of course, is a runner. Did you have to train for that aspect of the film?

MD: Absolutely. Before starting principal photography for Tyson’s Run, I had a few months to train back in Houston. I spent several days a week stretching, running, and doing laps in my local high school’s parking lot. Building up that endurance and maintaining it was a lot of work, especially considering how much of a couch potato I was previously. When we were filming in Atlanta, I also hit the gym in our hotel to use the treadmill. Nowadays, I mainly just ride a bike around my neighborhood to stay in shape.

JWK: What do you hope audiences take from the film?

MD: I hope the film’s themes of family, perseverance, and acceptance shine through and uplift viewers. The past two years have been very hard on everybody, and wholesome family films such as Tyson’s Run are a nice way to just relax and see some hope in the world.

End Note: I must confess that, until looking it up after this interview, I had absolutely no idea what loom bands are. Anyway, as noted above, Tyson’s Run arrives in theaters on on March 11th. 

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
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