While covering The CW’s Upfront 2022 Red Carpet, I had the best time chatting with Tom Swift stars Tian Richards, Ashleigh Murray, and Marquise Vilsón. The title character was originally introduced to audiences in season two of Nancy Drew. The new show, which is inspired by the Tom Swift book series that hails from Stratemeyer Syndicate, premieres tonight!
As an exceptionally brilliant inventor with unlimited resources and unimaginable wealth, the devilishly charming Tom Swift (Tian Richards) is a man who many men would kill to be, or be with – a man with the world in the palm of his hand. But that world gets shaken to its core after the shocking disappearance of his father, thrusting Tom into a breathtaking adventure full of mysterious conspiracies and unexplained phenomena. On his whirlwind quest to unravel the truth, Tom finds himself fighting to stay one step ahead of an Illuminati-scale cabal hellbent on stopping him. Tackling this treacherous pursuit armed with his vast intellect, his roguish wit, and an endless supply of designer sneakers, he will also rely on his closest companions: his best friend Zenzi (Ashleigh Murray), whose unabashed and unvarnished candor keeps Tom grounded while she forges a path for herself as a business visionary; his bodyguard Isaac (Marquise Vilsón), whose fierce commitment to his chosen family is complicated by his own simmering feelings for Tom; and his AI, Barclay (voiced by LeVar Burton), whose insights and tough love have been a constant throughout Tom’s life.
We discussed their individual characters, all of the amazing representation, how they would describe the premiere, and more!
So first off, what has it been like to see the fan love for Tom Swift, even though the show hasn’t premiered yet, and what are you most excited for fans to see?
Ashleigh Murray: Honestly, it’s great. Criticism is hard, especially like I’m just kind of grown up to be prepared for somebody to have something wild to say because I grew up in a gay household, I have queer people all in my family, I have queer friends, I have a queer environment and I’m always naturally very protective of that. I worry that I have to brace myself for something negative being said about a project that I’m doing and the way that it has been nothing but positive, excitement, and reception — the fact that networks and studios are seeing that just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s bad. Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s not going to be loved and well-received because what we’re doing on this show is what people are doing in real life! We’re just out here living but on camera.
Tian Richards: I think people are yearning for this, they’re yearning to see people that look different, that look like us, that are telling the type of stories we’re having. It’s not about oppression or pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, it’s about success, it’s about opulence, and being beautiful, intelligent, and intellectual. Though we’re having so much fun and it’s about Black joy, we’re also telling human stories that people will relate to; you can tune in and see this. I think the appetizers, the taste they got on Nancy Drew, just seeing her evolution and seeing that come together, now is no better time.
Marquise Vilsón: I am most excited for fans to see all of the beautiful Blackness and richness that is this show, that is Tom Swift. He’s Black, he’s gay, he’s a billionaire, he’s flashy, he’s sexy, he’s charming, he’s gonna get on your nerves — he’s gonna do all the things that we all would. I love the show.
In terms of your characters, what are you looking forward to sharing with the fans? Were there any specific challenges for you acting-wise or any favorite aspects to explore?
Murray: The thing that I’m most excited for people to see of this character, one is me playing her because people know me as Josie; they know me as a sweet, cute, high schooler that’s singing and just trying to get away from all the madness. But as Zenzie, you get to see me play a proper, young — by proper, I mean, like an actual, proper adult — you get to see me in a way that you haven’t been able to see me, the aspects of who I am. I lean so much into this womanhood and it’s something that I’ve been wanting to do personally. I like to choose roles that allow me to live stronger in my own life so that it shows up even more on camera. I get to be funny because she’s funny.
Richards: Come on, cause our quips — the quips we have, the moments, the chemistry, it was off jump. We joked before we even read the scenes together on the chemistry test, like that’s who we are and that’s our language that we speak. It’s getting to see us just be beautiful and love one another, but also at times Zenzie can be the object of Tom’s frustration. She’s right there to pick him up, but also, you need to step aside for me and let me tell you something. I’m excited for people to see that, to see two Black men and a Black woman love each other that doesn’t look like the way you think it should, in a different way, and for it to be rooted in love. We have our little back and forth, but it’s love pouring into each other. To see a gay Black man take up space, but underneath it, just like he can read you under the table, he can also read you under the table. He’s an MIT graduate, he’s an aerospace engineer. So you get to see someone at the forefront being everything society dreams of but has never got to look that way. That hits everybody because when you’re a person who’s come from oppression, you understand that. That’s the humanity we’re speaking on.
Vilsón: I love playing the role of Isaac Vega as a Black transmasculine person and then this character being Black, trans, pansexual, and a badass. I think it’s a way in which personally, I’ve never seen a Black transmasc character live and exist on TV. So to fully be present in this way, I’m excited for audiences to see that and just all of the cool things that we get to do along the way. I mean, I’m playing Tom’s bodyguard, so it’s a lot of action, there’s a lot of tactical stuff, stunts, it’s all the things — you got to see it.
What is it like to do all of those stunts and the action? Did you love it or was it something where you were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m doing this?’
Vilsón: I think it’s like all of the things. It’s definitely a “yes, and.” It’s super exciting. I never thought that I’d be in a role like this. I just can’t believe it’s all happening. It’s been super cool. It’s been a lot of fun. This team is amazing to work with, all of the stunt coordinators have been amazing to work with. I’m just grateful.
I think this show is going to mean a lot to viewers and many are going to feel seen by it. Are you ready for the response that is bound to come in regards to the representation your character provides?
Richards: Listen, I was telling her last night, people don’t know like— in the pocket, in the pocket!
Murray: I am very excited. It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to and working toward, to continue to expand my artistry and a deeper knowledge of myself, while also being able to share that with the world artistically… I’m nervous but like, I’m ready.
Richards: A little moment that I want people to watch out for — she has two moments, right? She’s walking, it’s when you first see her, keep your eye and it’s one other moment that will take your breath away. How she holds space, how she moves through space, I say we’re like planets; I can be the sun, the fire, she’s that mercury, she’s that gravity and that’s just as powerful.
Murray: I’ll be out here retrograding everyone.
Richards: The show is called Tom Swift, behind every strong man…
Murray: Is a Zenzie.
Richards: Is a Zenzie, a dope woman.
What can you tease for me about the premiere? How are you describing it?
Murray: Yeah, chaotic.
Vilsón: Well, there’s gonna be some stuff, right? There’s gonna be some things happening. There’s gonna be some missions to go on. We’ll go on the mission together and explore this journey. Please tune in: May 31, Tuesday, 9 PM.
Lastly, do you have any sort of message to the fans that are eagerly waiting for the premiere?
Vilsón: You are not going to be disappointed. You will not be disappointed in any capacity. If my outfit is an indication of anything, the fashion is going to be crazy.