‘Hightown’ Star Atkins Estimond on Going After Roles You Aren’t ‘Supposed’ to Get

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Photo Source: Eley Photography

The following Career Dispatches essay was written by Atkins Estimond, who stars in “Hightown” on Starz.

So far in my career, I’ve been able to play a variety of characters. When starting out, I think that every actor is concerned with being typecast or pigeonholed. 

As a large black man, at the outset of my acting career, I definitely was concerned about the kinds of roles that would be out there for me; is it going to be thug Number 1 or thug Number 2? I didn’t want to play a hand in reinforcing negative stereotypes or tropes about my community. This brought me to ask myself, “What kind of roles do I want to play?” 

It is a question I’ve actually been asked a few times by other people, too, and I always find myself struggling to respond because deep down inside, I know what the answer is: I want to be Tom Hanks in “Cast Away”; I want to be Denzel Washington in “Man on Fire”; I want to be Leonardo DiCaprio in “Titanic.” 

Of course I never give these answers, because I’m afraid they sound silly. Fat guys don’t get those roles. This isn’t me complaining, this is just the reality that I’ve observed. 

As I started auditioning, my objective wasn’t to shift that reality. I just wanted to read for some meaningful roles. To my surprise, though, I found myself auditioning for all kinds of different roles—and booking them. In a major way, I attribute that to the push for diversity and inclusivity that we are seeing take place in the industry now. Ironically, I got to be a hacker, a doctor, and an undercover federal agent long before I got to be a gangster on “Hightown.” 

It’s funny that the role that I was initially so afraid of being typecast as would end up being the role that I ran to when it was presented to me, since it was so different from anything I had done up to that point. Initially, I still had my concerns about portraying a “thug,” but the concerns were assuaged once I had a chance to read the scripts and see that Osito was a complex character with layers and a heart.

Now, I find myself approaching the idea that “fat guys don't get these leading roles” with some defiance. Why can’t I be the guy screaming at Wilson? Why can’t I be the guy dishing out punishment in the name of young Dakota Fanning? Why can’t I be the guy on the bow of that ship screaming, “I’m the king of the world”? People need to be able to see themselves as the hero in the story. 

Growing up, I didn’t get to see many people that looked like me in those roles. But now, there may be someone who watches me and sees a reflection of themselves; at least that’s what I hope. I owe it to them—and to myself—to go after the roles that I’m not supposed to get.

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