July 2022

Screened | The Wilds

Getting Into Character With Miles Gutierrez-Riley

Photos Martin Rusch | Words Tamara Rappa

Reflecting on his television debut and experience as a cast member on season two of Amazon Prime's massively popular hit show, The Wilds, actor Miles Gutierrez-Riley expresses gratitude for the chance to have worked with an ensemble cast he describes as "a massively talented group of young artists," one he came to view as family, one he was able to extract "little lessons from." Gutierrez-Riley says that The Wilds, his first significant project, has inspired him to be humble, to be a team player, and to learn. Recently listed as one of 20 Young Black Hollywood Stars To Watch In 2022 by Essence, it was a mere two years ago that Miles graduated from Fordham University with a BA in Theatre Performance, a recipient of the New York-based institution's Denzel Washington Scholarship. On The Wilds, Miles plays Ivan Taylor, an activist and aspiring playwright with cutting-edge style and wit, a bit lost, who has a penchant for both being sassy, and for villainous tendencies. Calling Ivan "a relatable and funny access point," the actor notes that, of the spectrum of characters seen across the series, Ivan is the unlikely one; the character one would not expect to thrive in The Wilds' mentally and physically rigorous, stranded-on-a-deserted-island setting. Miles gave Story + Rain an inside look at what it was like to play morally-complex Ivan, dissects Ivan's vulnerabilities and approach, shares what he believes his character conveys to the LGBTQ+ community, and more.

Ivan is sent to the retreat because of an incident. What made him act out? He baits Kirin into calling him slurs, then leaks the footage, which leads to a double expulsion. When Ivan finds Kirin in the locker room, upset about his coach, Ivan finally sees an opportunity to exert some power over him, to put him in his place. And honestly---to kick him while he's down. I think he wants to continue to teach Kirin a lesson, because facts are facts. The coach was racist, but Ivan goes about teaching that lesson in a really extreme, sharp-edged, unfair way. I do understand where Ivan was coming from, obviously, because in that moment, I had to believe in him. But anyone can see that what Ivan was doing was really, really problematic.

What vulnerabilities does Ivan bring to the experience of being stranded on the island? Ivan's willing to make a joke, and comedy can help any situation. He's creative, and he's intelligent. He exhibits a lot of bravery, which speaks to his character. As their journey progresses, I think Ivan begins to understand vulnerability, empathy, and understanding for others---equally powerful tools as canceling, conflict, or arguing, and as a means of getting his points across. By the end, I think we see Ivan extending compassion in instances where the other boys aren't, and that arc is both really beautiful and really important to show.

How does he approach getting to know the others? Ivan sees himself as a bit of an outsider. From the jump, he's very aware that there is a lot of straight male, and honestly, toxic, energy coming from the other boys. He sort of gravitates towards Josh right at the beginning, who is a softer soul; very sheltered, and very wholesome and sweet. He understands that there are certain boys who have softer, more sensitive sides to them, who are going to be a bit nicer to him, and he sees Kirin's and Seth's toxic energy and understands that he is nothing like them and doesn't even want to try.

How does he advocate for Josh, when he is sexually violated by a member of the group? We see Ivan's no-tolerance policy enacted in a very fruitful way as soon as he finds out about the incident between Seth and Josh. Ivan believes victims and has no patience for trying to understand or empathize with the abuser. We see Ivan allow his idea to morph and evolve once he understands that life and death are at play. Stepping up for Josh in the moment was really important, and it's a beautiful moment in which Ivan and Kirin actually come together to protect Josh, and also defend what they believe is right. 

How does Ivan's voice change over the course of the series? That's a great question. Ivan is incredibly intellectual, and you can hear it in the way he speaks. He's very, very wordy. Very articulate. Really verbose. And it's fun. He usually knows what he's talking about, but there are instances when all that talking just sort of gets in the way. It interferes with what's more important in the moment. Sometimes, you just need to shut the hell up. Josh is the one who initiates Ivan's understanding that sometimes you just need to back off, quiet down, and talk about anything else other than the issue at hand. Throughout episodes six and seven, we see Ivan get a bit quieter and learn to blend in or allow another voice in the room---in this case, the camp---to take precedence. Ivan's always very observant, but he comes to understand that sometimes the nicer thing to do is to listen.

In the killing of the jaguar scene, Ivan's role was to be behind, aiding in a backseat kind of way, in an observational way. Yes. It takes guts and courage to stay, when the rest of the boys run. He understands that he's not going to be the physical, brawny, courageous leader who actually slays the jaguar. In just being there, he surprises himself, and he surprises Kirin. Not to hint at the future, but I would hope it's a sign of the power that they wield, together, when they team up. In that scene, you're seeing two types of bravery.

What do you think The Wilds is saying, in terms of LGTBQ+ representation, in terms of the LGBTQ+ experience? I think The Wilds aims to depict the realities of queer relationships and experiences in terms of the nuances, the internalized biases, the joys, and the pitfalls, that come with growing into and understanding yourself. The creators don't try to show the characters as perfect people. It's and authentic portrayal and insight into what the beginning of self-love looks like as we come of age. In particular, the lesbian representation is crucial, intricate, and portrayed with so much love.

What would you like your character Ivan to convey to the LGBTQ+ community? Ivan is a symbol for the patience that we as queer people need to have with ourselves. For anyone who feels different, life, especially in high school, can feel confusing, and messy, and difficult. Ivan knows himself, but he's still struggling with defensiveness and insecurity. To me, that's very honest. I hope those who see his story see the beauty in how sensitively he learns to move, and how it's important to extend forgiveness, and practice levity, for yourself and also for others.


"My favorite spot is Public Records in Gowanus, Brooklyn. It's a vegan restaurant, record store, club, and bar. They do live performances, and the music is amazing. I love to dance there, and I love to eat there." 

"I love the brand Heaven by Marc Jacobs, a subset of Marc Jacobs' brand. It's a lot of quirky stuff, kind of ugly, which is my favorite part of it. I just bought this long-sleeve, mesh top that says, 'high octane' all over it, with red and orange cars." 

"I really love Ivory by Omar Apollo, which is his debut album, it's beautiful. He's one of my favorite artists ever---gay, Mexican, 25 years old, from Indiana. I've been listening to him since I was 17, and I sort of see myself in him."

"Everyone should have a Mush Studios rug. It's a queer-owned brand of quirky rugs from Brooklyn. I bought one for my room once I got back from California. It's sort of a gooey shape, with no hard edges, and there are holes throughout. You can see flooring peeking out from under it." 

"My current fragrance of choice is Karst by Aēsop. It reminds me of the ocean, which makes me think of home."

"I was a big meat-eater for years. I plan to be a meat eater again, but have temporarily given it up. I've been obsessed with eggplant sandwiches. If one's on the menu, I'll order it."