With a megawatt smile that continues to radiate Niles Fitch’s signature boyish charm, early on the young actor was quickly cast for print ads and after an initial failed audition, secured a spot as Young Simba during a North American tour of The Lion King.
He continued on to join the Broadway production, began booking television and film roles, then found himself broadcast in front of millions of viewers weekly as the teenage incarnation of Randall Pearson [adult version portrayed by Sterling K. Brown] in NBC’s hit series This Is Us.
Fitch has continued to embody strongly written characters within his nascent career, playing a young man unfairly incarcerated in a scene opposite film maestro Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq. and the son of Emmy winner Uzo Aduba as she fights for his education in the indie feature, Miss Virginia. He’s had the opportunity to learn from the best in the business, and one of the key pieces of advice he’s taken away from his experiences on various sets was, really, just to breathe. ‘I was doing a scene with Mr. Milo [Ventimiglia] in This Is Us [and] he was like, ‘Hey. Breathe.’ I didn’t really understand what he was saying and then I did [it]. They said action and I paid attention to my breathing. I realized, as actors, we don’t breathe. We obviously breathe but we don’t get comfortable. I feel like we’re always anticipating… always still waiting on that cue. But when we force ourselves to breathe, I feel like all that just leaves the window.’
After making use of that valuable advice in the upcoming Disney film, Secret Society of Second-Born Royals, 1883 got Fitch to hop on the phone and talk about his process, doing professional stunts for the first time, and his experiences navigating 2020.
You’ve been able to do a lot of challenging roles. What’s your acting process been like? Do you usually work with a coach or do any exercises?
How I really prepare is in knowing my lines. I feel like when you know your lines, there’s a different level of comfortability that you have. When it comes to trying to prepare for a challenging scene, there really is no preparation I do other than knowing the lines because I want to be able to feel the space when I’m in it and sometimes I may read a scene that has this whole idea like, ‘Oh this is what I want to do.’ However, when I get there, the feel may be 100% different than what I thought. I think those are the scenes where I prepared the least actually because I feel like those are so… challenging scenes are so in the moment. For me to bring normality to something that I get in the script — for me, less preparation is more.
I saw you were in a recording studio yesterday. How has navigating work been for you with everything going on?
Yes, so navigating work has been… it hasn’t been a lot of work, to begin with, but yesterday was one of the first times that I was able to get back to being able to do my work in person. You know, usually, it’s been Zoom interviews. Yesterday I had to bring my own water, we had masks, we had to get our temperatures checked before we walked into the building, gloves on. So that’s basically the new normal, but you know you gotta do what you gotta do to stay safe and healthy.
A lot of the work you’ve done prior to Secret Society of Second-Born Royals has been fairly emotional and heavy. In contrast, this project has been a lot more fun. Was there a transition for you?
I say it was easy, but I say that’s mainly because of the writing. One, when we were doing reshoots for Secret Society in Vancouver, I was taping some This Is Us episodes so I was taping Monday through Friday on This Is Us, and [then] I’m catching the flight Friday night to then go shoot Secret Society [on] Saturday and Sunday — to then leave Sunday to go film again Monday. The writing makes it easy. It’s easy to transition from one part to another and go from Randall to Tuma even though they’re such different characters.
What is it about the writing that does that?
I’d say how extensive it is. I feel like This Is Us is really based on realism. It’s very real and so I feel like I’m more connected to Randall and I know how to play his truth better. So, for me, that’s where I feel like writing really comes into play when a ‘Randall’ is such an authentic, real character. I know a Randall in my life. I feel like that’s why it’s easier to play and easy to transition into Randall.
And what about your character in Secret Society of Second-Born Royals?
Tuma is a very, very amazing representation of, I’d say, a Black teenager. He is very confident in himself, very smart. However, he’s trying to deal and understand what it means to not be selfish and to fight for a team and the bigger picture. I feel like that’s a great message that we need nowadays for us to fight as a team and not be selfish and stop thinking about ‘I, I, I’ and start thinking ‘we, we, we’. I feel like that’s what you see Tuma really learns in Secret Society which is to be less selfish.
Were you able to do stunts in this film? It seems pretty action-packed!
I’m from Atlanta, so I’m a Georgia boy. I’ve been doing stunts my entire life! However, I’ve never done professional stunts, so this was my first time getting to run on walls, getting to do flips and jumps, and fight scenes where I’m throwing myself down. This was my first attempt at that. They had us training for about two to three weeks before we actually did anything physical, so we learned a lot in those three weeks to prepare us for the things they had us doing.
Have you had times where you’ve gone for roles where you didn’t feel comfortable?
Yeah. I’ve for sure had roles where… I can even give an example. Let’s say you are going in for a Transformers role, which I’ve gone in for before. When you’re supposed to be portraying you seeing a robot transform, there is literally no way. You probably can, but it’s very hard to be able to bring out that reaction and make it look real and normal. I feel like being able to take those deep breaths and be able to find that place in a quick amount of time is a big thing — and I didn’t book that Transformers role, but maybe if I knew how to find my comfortability I would have.
That’s an example of where I wasn’t 100% comfortable with the material that I was reading and it didn’t come off well, and then there’s always roles where you may have to be romantic or you may have to be emotional and you know sometimes you can’t be thinking, ‘Am I going to be able to cry? Am I going to be able to exert this level of anger?’ Sometimes you have to take that deep breath and find it within yourself to do it, but it takes time. I feel like the sooner an actor knows that, [then] I feel like acting comes a lot easier.
As a Black actor yourself, within both an industry and a country that is predominately White, what does the Black Lives Matter movement mean to you?
The police brutality [that] has been [going] on has actually hit close to home. My cousin was Rayshard Brooks. Already living life as a Black man during this time has been difficult, so to add on the loss of a family member by the hands of a cop… it has been a time of self-growth for me and speaking out and getting to see people’s true colors… We have a lot of money going to police. I would love to see how that could be rearranged to going to more housing and education and low-income areas. We’re putting all this money into police to, I guess you’d say, keep the crime out of low-income areas. However, people are really just trying to survive, and that money really could be allocated to other areas.
I heard your recent interview on the Speak Up Series on Instagram and you were very open about going to therapy throughout your teens. How important was that for you?
Therapy after you lose somebody, or when you’re going through something very difficult, is very beneficial. Not only beneficial, but I believe it’s essential based on my personal experiences. I didn’t want to go to therapy at first [after my father died], which I feel is a normal human reaction… The first time I went, I didn’t talk to one person. I sat down and listened. I probably did that for the next month, two months I went. However, while I wasn’t talking, I was taking everything [in]. For the people that are wary of therapy, group therapy was great for me because I didn’t have to talk. I could just listen. I believe therapy when dealing with death is needed. I’m gonna try to make sure that in the future that that’s a possibility because I really do believe that should be an option for people. I’m that weird kid that’s like, ‘Oh, you went through your parent passing? Let me help you, man. Let’s talk about it.’ I’m that kind of person. I feel really good being able to help them.
Do you think all of the different avenues of social media in recent times have become a safe space for people to speak up?
I feel like people are now really respecting our platform and the voices that my generation has. I feel like when it came to Miley Cyrus and them talking it was like, ‘Who wants to hear this little kid say something?’ [But] I feel like now they’re really starting to realize while we may be young, we do have opinions too and those opinions do hold weight.
interview by Jordan Blakeman
photography Dante Marshall
styling Jason Rembert
grooming Annette Chaisson @ Exclusive Artists using Bobbi Brown
tailor Griffin Jarrett
location Hotel Erwin, Los Angeles