Wilder Yari: Playfully Poking to Know More
Asking more questions leads to more answers. When we don’t hold on so tightly to the question, we open ourselves up to receiving the clarity of answers. This analogy can be applied to the creative process in life. By being deliberately gentle in what we ask, the question becomes a matter of curiosity and wonder. Then, even poking someone with important questions is most valuable to everyone involved—that’s how expansion works.
Artist Wilder Yari (they/them), who can be seen in The CW’s highly anticipated sci‑fi drama series, 4400, describes themselves as “a playful person—and someone that definitely is interested in pushing boundaries, someone that is critical of authority. But so, from a place of love, if that makes sense. I want to know why things are the way they are. I want to see if those things can be changed. And I am also someone that’s interested in sort of poking holes in the walls we have around us. I like to ask myself, ‘Why is it like that? Why do we say that? I’ve always been that way, and why?’”
Wilder was born in Brooklyn, New York, to an Iranian mother and an American father. On being part of a multicultural environment, they reveal that “being born where I was, to who I was, really inspired me to question the idea of only one narrative. As Americans, we are given one narrative about our country, and how it works in the world, and how we relate to other countries, and other countries relate to us. And having an immigrant mother, especially from the Middle East, in the early 2000s, I was thinking, ‘Well, my mom isn’t a bad person. And yet, people are seeing Middle Eastern people as terrorists or as dangerous.’ And so having that connection in an incredibly diverse city has made me more aware of other people’s experiences, and that only one story is not accurate.”
From a very young age Wilder were also exposed to a lot of variety, therefore stimulation in their life. And like life itself, the world around us is diverse and unique, and from our experience in it, we make our choices about whom we want to become.
“Competition has been a huge part of my life for a long time. I went to LaGuardia High School in New York. So we were teenagers in the drama program. And there’s already a strong sense of who’s good, who’s going to succeed, who are not so good, and so on. And to be honest with you, like it really hindered my ability as an artist, because I didn’t want to look dumb or make a mistake at any point. But it was not until I graduated and went to college that I realized that, of course, making mistakes is how you get to be a better artist. And then when I graduated college and sort of formally joined the entertainment industry, I was obsessed with what other people my age were doing. I was questioning myself, ‘Why wasn’t I farther?’
“And it’s funny, because I think, in the entertainment industry, competition sort of helps you because there’s no path, there’s no guidelines, so you really only can tell where you are by looking around you. So I was like, ‘Okay, I am not getting any auditions, and my friend is getting a ton of auditions.’ If you’re a lawyer or a doctor, you know, step one, step two, step three, step four. So I think competition is definitely helpful. But of course, at the end of the day, it really hinders your ability to be in touch with your own work.
“And then in terms of who decides the guidelines to succeed, at the end of the day, it’s got to be you. Of course, it’s got to be you who decides, are you happy? Is this what you want to do? And to be honest, I think that there are so many ways to be a part of the entertainment industry. So, at the end of the day, it’s got to be about what feeds your practice and what keeps you interested,” Wilder passionately expresses.
We can define inclusivity in many ways. Because each of us experiences different contextual environments, we all see from different angles—our own unique existential perspectives. Perhaps inclusivity starts with including and accepting ourselves, and then based on our readiness we can infinitely stretch our sense of inclusivity to welcome more of everyone and everything around us.
Wilder reflect on this topic from their perspective as an artist: “To me, inclusiveness has to do with being behind the camera, not just actors in front of it. Of course, actors in front of the camera are a good place to start. But being able to control your own story, or write your own story, I think is even more important than being in front of the camera, if that makes sense. Because if you’re able to tell your own story, you’re able to speak to your own experience, you’re not dependent on anyone. And in terms of contributing to all that, I think the biggest way that I am, is just being a part of other people’s work. Yes, I am Middle Eastern. Yes, I’m a trans actor, and a queer actor, and that’s great. But I still look like a lot of other actors that are on TV right now. And I’m not going to pretend that I don’t. So I think the biggest thing that I have to contribute is in the service of people’s work, that isn’t what we see every day. I’ve gotten to work with a lot of great directors and writers who have really different experiences than what we’re used to seeing. And being able to kind of put myself in their hands and be like, ‘whatever you need me to do’, I think is probably contributing the most.”
The realities each of us experience guide our state of being, which in turn inspires our actions. We can’t experience success without knowing that we are worthy of it. It can be tricky to maintain belief in ourselves when there is so much variety; our minds are designed to solve problems and to see every situation from a place of pragmatism. But not everything has to make sense right away. Great joy lies in the discovery of being present, of experiencing the synchronicities along the way. Ultimately, any accomplishment is a split second in comparison to the journey that took us to be where we want to be; we always aim for a fuller experience, we always want to experience more.
“The belief in myself tied to my success the most is that I am as good as the people I see out there. I see people that are incredibly successful, and I know that I can totally do that too. And more than, I’m an incredible actor, or I deserve this or whatever, I know that I’m good enough. I don’t need to be the greatest actor, I don’t need to be the most talented or the most committed, or the one that is working harder than everybody else to be deserving of success, because I see other people that are just fine, and they’re successful. And I know I’m fine too. Honestly, that has really been the thing that has reminded me again and again—that you don’t need to be a star, to be a star,” reveals Wilder.
We all have two perspectives, and we are constantly dancing between them: our physical, outward, “focused” perspective and our inward, “unfocused” perspective. This balance allows us to play with all our physical faculties and then reflect from within ourselves the energies we possess to create worlds. And so too do actors when they explore the process of becoming someone else.
Wilder excitedly says about their own character creation, “For me, it starts with an external process, it starts with a lot of research. And then from that, it helps set up the internal process. When I was getting ready to play my character, Agent Jessica Tanner on the series 4400, I had to understand what kind of person joins the Department of Homeland Security, and doing a lot of research on it, I found out that it’s people whose history has a lot of family ties to law enforcement. There’s a specific sort of person—even though there’s not one kind of person—but there are traits that are often shared by the kind of person that goes into the kind of job. So working from the outside, I kind of go inside, and then think about how I can relate to this person. Essentially my character and I have very different views. But we both are very loyal to the ones that we love. We both try to think about everything before making the move. And we both are really focused on doing things the right way and can get a little caught up in perfectionism. So I was like, ‘Okay, I get these aspects of this person.’ So from there, the last piece is probably working away from the obvious choices, if that makes sense. Like working if a character is written as angry. I ask myself, ‘Well, what if this was a soft moment for them? Why?’ It’s almost like we write characters. And sometimes we write them as being sort of pieces of a puzzle, as opposed to individual whole people. So I am thinking, ‘The function of this person is to be like the villain of the story, or the supporting character. But what about their own journey? Would they actually be angry at this moment? Or is that too easy? Is it that they feel this action is coming from a sense of deep sadness? And that’s why they’re doing this?’ I would say outside research relating to the character, and then questioning everything that I’ve been given about that person.”
Wilder shares what they have discovered about themselves by playing Agent Jessica Tanner on the series 4400, “I oftentimes hesitate to step into my full power, because I don’t want to intimidate other people. And when I was a little bit younger, I was told that I was a little bit intimidating, because I was just in my power constantly. And it came off a little bit—I would say aggressive, and not like welcoming or not necessarily compassionate. Getting to play this character, this person is a leader, and very much in her own sense of authority. And it was nice to walk back into that and realize that it’s not something to necessarily abandon completely. It’s just something to use when I need it. Or something to integrate into what it is. I already do.”
Wilder chose to apply the awareness they gained by playing Agent Jessica Tanner about standing in their power, saying “To me, empowerment is sort of like we were talking about earlier, this feeling of standing in your own power, being aware of your own voice and using it. Even if it’s a risk to do it, even if it makes you uncomfortable; and relatively recently, I was on a set, and they had my character doing something that to me, could be interpreted as transphobic. And as a trans actor, I really don’t feel comfortable doing this. So I emailed the person that was in charge. Traditionally, you would email a representative who would then talk to someone else, but I email the writer directly like the person in charge. And I said, ‘I’m not comfortable doing this’, but in a way that was still kind, compassionate. And by doing that, not only did the writer respond to me that it was a misunderstanding, and they changed the script, but another cast member heard what I did, and then felt strong enough to do the same thing for something that their characters were working on. So being brave enough to use your voice, partially because it’ll benefit you. And you don’t know what happens. Like, hopefully, it’ll benefit you. And if it doesn’t benefit you, it’ll empower someone else to do the same thing.”
As an artist, Wilder has infinite avenues of expression. Their desire to tell their own story was channeled into their first full-length feature script, neem-rooni, about the quail child of a Persian immigrant who returns to Iran to get to know the family they never knew.
“The name ‘neem’ means half in Farsi. And ‘rooni’ is a localization, which means half Iranian. However, the reason I chose the name neem-rooni is because it’s also very close to the word ‘nimru’ in Farsi, which means ‘fried eggs’. So this character demonstrates how close and how far away they are from this identity that they go through the whole movie. I think it’s like a perfect name for the feeling of coming from some kind of diaspora where you’re so close and yet, you just can’t quite get it. Honestly, I wrote and now producing this movie for the children of immigrants. Because some of our feelings are so similar. And I’ve seen this by knowing other children of immigrants in New York or Los Angeles, where even if the experiences aren’t the same, the feelings or the day, the rhyme, they’re similar. So the feelings of detachment that I have from my community, a lot of immigrants have no matter where their parents are from. The feeling of not being enough for your parents’ family is something that a lot of immigrants have. I hope that the people that I made the movie for feel seen. Because I remember the feeling of talking to the children of immigrants and or friends of mine about the stuff that we shared, even though their parents are from Cambodia or the Philippines or Africa. But there’s all the stuff that we shared, and talking about that was this surreal moment, because it was like, ‘Are we all living some weird version of the same life?’ But it’s very isolating in a way.” For people with this similar, shared experience, Wilder hopes they leave feeling seen.
Being honest with ourselves includes being vulnerable. It feels so good not to pretend to be or do something driven by pride and instead recognize where we are, thereby moving toward where we want to be.
“I think the thing I love most about myself is my willingness to take risks. It kind of goes back to what we were saying about poking at things and questioning things. And it definitely goes back to my mom being an immigrant. You take the risk, take the shot, do it. And break a rule. You should, why not? Why do the rules exist in the first place? Maybe not for good reason. And then the thing I love to see most in other people is vulnerability, honestly. I think vulnerability is just incredibly powerful. It’s what drives my practice as an actor, and it’s how we can affect actual change and connect only by being vulnerable enough to say, ‘Well, maybe I was wrong.’ Or, ‘I got that information from this source. And maybe that wasn’t the right choice.’ Or ‘I hurt you. I’m sorry.’”
How ready are you to be honest with yourself? Like Wilder says, “It’s hard to do those things. But only by doing those things can each of us personally become better to ourselves and to the world at large.”
Photography // Drake Hackney