Following his first TV role in the second season of Prime Video’s The Wilds, newcomer Miles Gutierrez-Riley made his feature debut in the Toronto Film Festival-selected film On the Come Up. Following the coming-of-age movie’s recent release on Paramount Plus, Gutierrez-Riley spoke with LA Confidential about his acting origins, being on set and what’s next.
When did you first know you wanted to be an actor?
I knew pretty much from when I was probably like five years old. It's all I ever really liked doing. I played sports and stuff, but my heart was definitely always here. And I did performing arts through high school, and then I applied to acting school for college.
My mom says the first time she heard me say that I wanted to be an actor was after we saw the Lion King musical on tour when I was five. But I probably attribute a lot of knowing I wanted to be an actor to Friends the TV show, which I started watching when I was like six.
You have a bachelor's degree from Fordham University in theater performance. Why was university the right path for you?
I knew that I wanted a college degree. My mom was pretty hard up about that. She really wanted me to get a degree, and I wanted one too. And I knew I wanted to take college as a time to learn more about the world. I kind of thought that being a more well-read and challenged individual in that sense might help me with my artistry even more. And I knew that I wanted to go to New York for school too. So Fordham ended up just being the perfect fit. And I had a really good time. I felt really challenged creatively and academically. And I think I took that time to become a more well-rounded individual and also an adult. I partied and I got to know New York and I made mistakes and I had fun. I just gave myself a chance to like, be 19, 20, 21, stupid, still learning about myself so that by the time I did enter the industry, I think I had a better understanding of who I was.
It was just about gaining experience in being like a human, and acting is basically just like being a hundred different humans.
You play Sonny in On the Come Up. What did you enjoy about the role?
Sonny is Bri’s best friend. He has a class clown energy. He's rambunctious, creative, pretty positive and optimistic. And he's openly gay. He reminded me of myself from years ago, like a louder and more goofy version of me. I was attracted to the role because I thought it was an important character to play in that space and in a hip hop movie. And also I wanted to play a role that was about having fun. It was about laughing and being too much and literally just having a good time. I could tell when I was watching it back that I was having a good time shooting it.
Jamila Gray (who plays Bri) and Michael Cooper Jr. (who plays Malik) and I really got along. Fast, fast friends. We would hang out all the time off set, so that chemistry and trust naturally translated onto the screen, I think. It didn't ever feel forced. And it's also nice to feel like you can actually genuinely lean on your co-stars that are also young actors who are new to the industry. I think there was just a real familial bond there that the three of us found. As for the rest of the cast, we were working with a lot of icons and industry legends and there were a lot of lessons to be learned from each of them. It was just a really humbling experience.
What do you hope audiences take away from watching On the Come Up?
Whether or not you're familiar with battle rap or hip hop movies or music industry movies, I think fundamentally this movie is about pursuing your dreams in an authentic way. Which, in my opinion, is a lifelong thing that you will grapple with for your whole life. I hope that people see that it is this universal story of what it takes to really get to know yourself in order to tell your own story in the most truthful way possible and that it becomes much easier when you look around— this sounds so corny— when you look around and see how much people love you for being exactly who you are.
You mentioned you’re a fan of Friends. Is booking a TV sitcom the goal or do you like having a mix of projects?
Oh my gosh, I still feel so new to the industry and that right now everything is exciting to me. I want to love the projects that I do, and so far I have loved them all, so I'm very grateful for that.
Do you have any upcoming roles you’re excited about?
I shot a movie for New Line and HBO Max, just like a small part in it, this summer called Sweethearts directed by Jordan Weiss. I think it's gonna be really fun. I was really happy to do that. And then I don't know how much I can talk about this, but I do have another project that I’m just signing on to right now.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Emilio Madrid