For someone who is friends with 50 Cent and has acted with Denzel Washington, Cedric Sanders is all at once genuine and warm. Maybe that’s how they do it in Anchorage, Alaska, where Sanders was born and raised along with two brothers and one sister- all four of them one year apart.
If you haven’t heard of Sanders yet, you’ll certainly know him in January with the wide theatrical release of All Things Fall Apart (the “All” was recently added to the title to distinguish it from the 1958 novel of the same name), where Sanders stars as the younger brother of 50 Cent’s character Deon, a popular football player whose life is altered when he learns he has cancer. You may have seen photos of Fifty’s grizzly transformation for the film; he lost over 50 pounds, morphing from muscular to gaunt in nine weeks. When Fifty returned to film after the transformation, Sanders says, “We were kind of scared for him,” but at that point, he says, “I knew this movie was going to be something special.”
Upon reading the script, Cedric felt an instant connection to the character of Sean, who he describes as “a little awkward, very smart, keeps to himself. He’s actually very shy.” “Some of the roles I’ve gotten,” he explains, “I’ll look at the script and kind of know…I know I’m totally right for that. No one’s going to get that part but me. And I don’t know why, but that’s how I felt about that role. I just saw myself playing Fifty’s brother.”
That winning attitude paid off. Sanders walked into the audition,“And Fifty had a big smile on his face.” After he read, Fifty said, “Man, this one’s tough!” The next day, Cedric got a callback and they offered him the part on the spot. “Which never happens,” he says. “So I walk out and see the other guys waiting [to audition], and I’m like, ‘Alright guys – good luck!’” Sanders laughs and then ponders: “I wonder how many times that’s happened to me while I’m sitting out there.”
This pragmatic confidence seems to come natural for Cedric, whose passion for acting arrived in high school at The University of Alaska Fairbanks Summer Fine Arts Camp. “All these talented kids from all over the world came to little Fairbanks Alaska…for this camp, there were actors, dancers, writers, singers, and that’s when I decided I wanted to be an actor. Up until then I was going to be a singer; I was going to be like Usher or somebody.” Sanders has a gorgeous R&B voice inspired by the likes of Boyz II Men’s Wanya Morris and Brian McKnight, some of his favorite singers growing up. You can hear him singing “Set Me Free,” a gospel tune he co-wrote, as the credits roll on The Least Among You, which is playing on Showtime now.
In this movie, inspired by a true story, Sanders plays Richard Kelly, “a young African American male in the 1960s, who gets caught up in the Watts Riots, and as probation, they send him to an all-white seminary. And there he finds his calling: to be a preacher…and to bring more blacks to that seminary.”There’s no doubt the gospel songwriting, as well as his role as Richard Kelly, were inspired by his life with a missionary mother. “I grew up in church. I’m a preacher’s kid. So I understood what that was, but I don’t think that was my path.” He laughs, “My path was to play one in a movie.”
As for singing, Sanders does not intend to give that up. Instead, he plans to “Jamie Foxx it.” He is particularly inspired by Foxx, who “came out with all those accolades for acting,” and then burst onto the music scene with great success. Sanders and Foxx were once seated at the same table at a charity event, and the thing Sanders respected the most was what a genuinely nice guy Foxx was. Other actors he admires are Don C headle, Louis Gossett, Jr., whom he befriended on the set of The Least Among You (“he is like an uncle or grandfather to me”), and Denzel Washington, who he worked with on American Gangster. “I thought I was good, but when Denzel walked into the diner to shoot the scene, my stomach went crazy, started doing flips, because he’s so cool! I’ve always wanted that moment, and I didn’t expect it to happen anytime soon.”
So how did Sanders make all this happen so soon?
After graduating from high school, where he was prom king, class president, and star of many plays, including The Me Nobody Knows, he attended Howard University, which “was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life,” says Sanders. Though his high school had “a lot of ethnicities,” it was still predominately white. “I wanted to leave Alaska. I wanted to experience going to school with people who looked like me; I wanted to see what that environment was like. And it was mind-blowing. There were all these well-educated, beautiful black people in this great city of D.C.” At Howard, he not only learned acting techniques, he also got his “life experience. I became a man at college,” says Sanders, “and I feel like that aided me in being a better actor.”
After graduating, he moved to New York City, though it made his mom nervous, knowing he was just “this kid from Alaska, where we could leave our front door open.” When he arrived in the city, he auditioned for a part in the same play he had rocked as his first theatre role in high school, The Me Nobody Knows. Though it had been seven years, he still nailed the audition and, ironically, got the same role—the role of Clorox—“the role that made me want to be an actor.”
This production had been slated to go on to Broadway, and although it never did, “almost every agent, producer, and manager in New York city” happened to see him in those three performances, and as a result, Cedric had a pool of representation from which to choose. Despite having representation, he was making money through catering, auditioning all the time and coming close, but not booking anything. “After a year and four months—I thought it was the longest time ever—I went in for a movie for HBO called Life Support.” The movie starred Queen Latifah and was produced by Jamie Foxx. Though Sanders wasn’t exactly right for the lead, the director called him in for a role as the lead’s best friend. “One scene. Eight lines. It was the best thing in the world. I was like, [he drops into a nerdy kid voice] ‘eight lines, in an HBO movie? Oh God, I’ve made it!’”
Laugh now, but that small role seemed to be a magnet for other opportunities. Four weeks later, he got a role in The Ten, a comedy with Paul Rudd among many other stars. “But the crazy things was, two weeks before we started shooting, I go in for American Gangster, and I get that. So it was three movies in six weeks, after a year and a half of nothing.” That’s how it is for actors: the work comes in waves.
The Ten and The Least Among You went to the Sundance Film Festival, which was instrumental in getting Cedric to L.A. Before Sundance he came to Los Angeles to meet managers, and “a big managing company” signed him. Thus, in the summertime, right before The Ten and American Gangster came out, he moved to L.A. and was here for both those premieres.
Since then, opportunities have kept rolling in for Sanders. He got to travel to Jamaica with the film Rocksteady where he played a racecar driver of Jamaican descent. He was also thrilled at the opportunity to be on Law and Order, his favorite television show, as well as Law and Order: Criminal Intent. (His goal is to get a role on Law and Order: SVU and make it a trifecta!)
To understand Sanders’s future goals, you have to first know the actors’ adage “Theatre makes you good. Film makes you famous. TV makes you rich.” Sanders says, of his future, “I want to stay good, so I want to keep doing theatre. Fame is not as important to me – if it happens it happens and I just want to be prepared to deal with it. And um…I wouldn’t mind a lot of money in the bank!”
Surely all his talent and ambition will keep Sanders busy. To name a few possibilities, he and 50 Cent plan to work on more projects in the future. He also plans to keep a focus on his singing. He would love to do TV- “If it’s a really good series, something on Showtime or HBO.” He’s also still interested in doing theatre, especially in New York, though he speaks very highly of the Pasadena Playhouse, where he was awarded an NAACP Theatre Award for his performance in Matter of Honor. He’s always wanted to travel to Italy. He hopes to someday work with Spike Lee, Stephen Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese. He’s already clocked hours with David Fincher on The Social Network, though he says he “would love to work with him in a bigger role.” These are not small dreams, but if anyone has the tenacity and charm to see all of them through, it’s Cedric Sanders.
One last question explains a lot about Sanders: Which superpower would you rather have: flight or invisibility?” Cedric chooses invisibility. “I could always be a fly on the wall. I could tap into other people’s lives. I could learn a lot as an actor.”
To learn more about Cedric, check out his website.