Photography by Rayon Richards
“Keep yourself centered and stay grounded.”
Tobias Truvillion is grateful for the progress he’s made in his career. When Tobias is on screen, he is natural and charismatic. A standout in his role as Greg Jeffries in the upcoming romantic-comedy, Love Dot Com, Tobias started out on the stage at The National Black Theater of Harlem and trained under the auspices of the late great Tundé Samuels. On stage is where he garnered the prestigious AUDELCO Award, a theater award bestowed among some of the finest African American actors like Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and other icons. He eventually ventured into the soap opera world where he played Vincent Jones on ABC Daytime’s One Life to Live. Now, he’s had roles in major television shows like Empire and will star alongside legends like Jill Scott, Malik Yoba, Anthony Mackie, Vince Vaughn, and young stars like Kristen Stewart and Zazie Beetz in upcoming projects. Tobias sat down with us to discuss his biggest inspirations growing up, the lessons he’s learned so far in his career and his works on deck. After more than a decade into his career, it feels like Tobias Truvillion has arrived.
Where are you from and what was it like growing up there?
I’m originally from the Flushing, Queens area of New York City. We lived in a place called “The Ville.” The Ville was this little pocket of black middle-class families. My grandfather, who was West Indian, arrived from Barbados. He met my grandmother who was from Virginia in New York. They eventually settled down in Flushing and had five children.
Flushing was a very competitive place growing up. There was a lot of style and a lot of swag. I think of people who grew up there. Julius Erving and Rap and Hip-Hop icons that like Big Daddy Kane and Salt-N-Pepa. It was a town that influenced a lot of people and culture. Unfortunately, it also took out a lot of people.
Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, there was a sense of brotherhood in the culture. It was just a beautiful time. We played sports. Everybody around the way was into either football or basketball. It’s crazy to think about how long ago that was, where we are today, and remembering those who aren’t with us anymore.
Photography by Rayon Richards
Who or what was your biggest inspiration growing up?
My biggest inspiration growing up was my football coach, Kenny Wolf. When you’re a preteen, you are trying to figure out your place in the world. You aren’t quite a teenager, but you’re headed there.
Playing football was my number one passion. I was always a starter. Kenny would hold you responsible for your actions. I remember getting off the bus in Alley Pond Park for warm-ups. As a warm-up, you had to run laps around the park and come back and do calisthenics. After seeing everyone get off and leave to run, me and a couple of the guys decided to stay back. We were like, “Ok, we’ll run over there when we do the calisthenics.” But little did we know, Kenny could see us from the bus stop. He comes running over to us and he looks at me and looks at the fellas and he says, “Guys, what are you doing over here?!? We’re a family. Toby (what people called me back then), you’re a starter. Come on! Get over here!” He was a solid, blue-collar kind of guy. Kenny was a great man.
He also formed a great team and helped me to develop my character. That was really my first lesson about teamwork—setting yourself apart, but being selfless and a part of the team. I thought about him my entire life. Twenty-five years or so later, I saw his wife, Susan, face on Facebook. We reconnected. I could not wait to talk to him. I had tears in my eyes.
What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your career?
Two things were key for me. First, you can’t put yourself above the work. Second, you have to be who you are. It is important to know about your ancestry and family history and be involved in your community. At times, it feels like the media machine has been turned against us. It can be hard to find your way in this industry as an artist and as a man.
In this art, knowing who you are will protect you, as long as you keep God first and keep yourself centered. I really believe those are the things that give you the courage and strength to push through. Always check in with yourself.
When I was a youngster, I remember when the drug epidemic divided the community. Through culture and how we pulled together, we were able to push past that. Right now our culture still has a great influence on the economy and in this world. We also have some stuff to push through, especially self-doubt.
Do you feel like you have made it?
Absolutely not. I’m still growing as a man and in my career. I look at the early part of my career and compare it to today. I’m working on projects that are totally different. I’m always staying true to myself, learning to be more vulnerable, and more open to opportunities that allow me to continue to grow in my craft and as a human being. I have had a long career and I’m now getting into a space that allows me to be able to stretch a little bit more.
When you’re playing supporting roles, you’re placed in the story in a certain way and you try to put on your best performance. When you’re in leading roles, you get to create a different kind of art. I am grateful to be in this place in my career. I’m getting leads.
Signed stand-in photo for Michael Jordan’s “Six Rings” campaign. Compared side by side. Photography by Dan Winters.
What would you consider to be one of your greatest achievements?
One of my greatest achievements was when I was asked to host the Harry Belafonte, Martin Luther King Tribute Ceremony. As I strive to serve through philanthropic efforts in my community, it was an honor to contribute to this event as it acknowledged another amazing historical figure. It was one of the most humbling experiences for me. I also had an opportunity to recite the speech that he wrote for Dr. King, “Kind of Man.”
I also had a chance to work with the GOAT of basketball, Michael Jordan. I was the stand-in model for Michael Jordan in one of his videos. It was for his sixth ring campaign. When you’re a stand-in, they come in and adjust the lights so that when the stars come in they only have to be there for less than fifteen minutes and can leave. The day before, they came up with all of these ideas. Mike comes in and I get the chance to wear all six of his rings and meet the greatest baller of all time. He signed one of my Polaroid’s from the shoot. That was pretty cool.
What was the biggest challenge working in the film world compared to the soap opera world?
Soap operas are actually a good training ground because soaps move so fast. There is actually more work in a soap than there would be in a film. Soaps are more intense because there is a lot of dialogue and dramatic scenes that take time and energy. It’s grueling. You can’t mess up. You only get one or two takes. When you’re in a film, you can stay with a character and build out the role for as long as it takes to get it right.
In Love Dot Com, you play the urban planner Greg Jeffries. What attracted you to the role? What lessons do you hope audiences will learn from your character?
There are things in my life that lead me into that moment. It was an opportunity to play a leading man and play alongside the beautiful and talented Brave Williams. I met some great people in Washington, D.C. I love D.C. That’s what made me want to do the picture. I wanted to channel the vibe of the city with my role.
I think Greg was a good man. Just like in D.C., there are people in my city that are in politics and redevelopment. They are also supportive of the community. I lived that life. Playing Greg Jefferies was like being somebody I already knew. It was natural. It was familiar. It’s a black love story and we have to do the work to change the way we are portrayed and what we portray on screen. Love Dot Come points out the importance of eating better, living right, and loving right. It all was authentic and that’s cool to me.
Photography by Tinnetta Bell
You worked with Rodney Gilbert, Artistic Director of the Advantage Arts Program for Youth at the Dr. Marion A. Bolden Center. What has been the most rewarding experience you have had working with the youth in the program?
Putting people above yourself is part of our legacy. It’s not that you have to know everything and be the best, but you do have to get in where you fit in. We have an obligation to each other. We’re in a crazy world and I’m so happy that I’m blessed to do the work that I do and have an impact on the next generation. I hope my work and my story helps young artists believe that their dreams can come true.
What advice would you give to young actors trying to make it in the entertainment industry?
I think about Nipsey Hussle’s message about never quitting—running the “marathon.” You have to endure a lot to be in this game and you have to be able to give it up. What I mean by “give it up,” is that you have to give it up to God. You have to know who you are when you step into this industry. The movie machine can be very unforgiving. At the same time, it is a beautiful place where you can work and build your fortune. Did I mention it’s a lot of work!? It’s not a hobby. The industry is built on the labor of a lot of talented people that paid dues before you got here. So get in, do the work and make your dreams come true.
My favorite producer, Tundé Samuels, says, “You always hear me say I’m in the game, still playin’.” That’s how you have to be. You’ve got to be in it and if you’re in it, you have to pull your weight. No one owes you anything. You have to pull people up with you—lift as you climb.”
Photography by Tinnetta Bell
What projects are you currently working on?
Love Dot Com is releasing this summer. We love D.C.! First Wives Club is coming out on BET. That’s going to be great. It’s with Malik Yoba, Jill Scott, and Michelle Buteau. Equal Standard is an independent film I’m working on. Against All Enemies with Kristen Stewart and Anthony Mackie should be coming out this year. I just did a Christmas movie called Holiday Heist. I have a true crime series on TV One called Love to Death coming in the summer as well. In the very near future, I would like to produce projects of my own.
How do you relax when you are not working?
I love to cook. I’m on this new health tip. I make all kinds of food and now I’m on this vegan/vegetarian lifestyle, so my recipe book is expanding. I’ve always tried my best to live a healthy lifestyle—taking care of myself physically, mentally and spiritually. People don’t know I also do a lot of photography in my free time.
But the best thing to do when I’m not working is to be still. When you are on and off the road in different cities and you have been working 16 hours a day for three or four months, you just want to chill at home. I’m going to sit back and mind my business. I get to listen to my classic soul on Saturdays while cleaning the house. If I don’t do that, I will lose my mind. That’s the main thing that helps me keep my sanity. Once I get my energy in order, I like to travel and see different cities on my own time. Traveling helps me replenish my thoughts and spirit so when I do the work, I can pour all of my energy and new experiences into it.