‘Tom Swift’: The Cast and Crew Talk Casting, Fashion, Representation and More at ATX TV Festival

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Quantrell D. Colbert/The CW

The stars of The CW’s new show Tom Swift visited Austin, Texas over the weekend to attend the ATX TV Festival’s eleventh season. The Tom Swift event featured a screening of the second episode (non-spoiler alert: it’s amazing) and a panel with the shows lead stars and creators behind the scenes. In attendance were series creators and writers Melinda Hsu Taylor, Cameron Johnson, and Noga Landau along with cast members Tian Richards, Ashleigh Murray, Marquise Vilsón, Albert Mwangi, and April Parker Jones.

The panel kicked off with Richards discussing his favorite aspects of Tom Swift, namely that he exists within multiple dualities. He’s a nerd but he’s confident in himself while also harboring deep scars underneath the surface, two things that are seen as opposites of each other. Tom is a man of many faces and Richards shares that’s he’s excited to explore the many layers of his character. As Johnson added, “hot people do math too.” Opposite Swift is this character of Zenzi, his best friend who acts as gravity, keeping the billionaire’s genius feet on the ground. Of her character, Murray shared that having someone in his life to remind him that “he may be right, but I’m right-er” keeps Swift in check. She’s not afraid to have the hard conversations with Swift.

Quantrell D. Colbert/The CW

Parker Jones spoke about her role as the matriarch of the Swift family, saying that she is an anchor to Tom in the same way that Zenzi is just in a different way. Lorraine may be disappointed in Tom not living up to his potential but she knows that he has what it takes. “She does question it, and we’ll see that unfold … There’s a lot of that push and pull in their relationship.” Mwangi, who’s character is quite suspicious off the bat, said that he’s chosen the word “conflict” in describing Rowan. He’s hopeful that fans will run with that description and try to figure out his character as the season unfolds. Everyone is flawed in some way because they are human, and he hopes that comes through in Rowan. Johnson also pointed out “he’s also hot, which helps. Make sure to watch episode 3.”

On the shows inception, Johnson shared that he was originally recruited to work on Gossip Girl but upon meeting with that team he was offered the chance to meet with Landau and Hsu Taylor. Though he doesn’t do ghosts he did say that “Yes, they were apparently looking for a black, gay guy with daddy issues and some really good shoes.” Thus Tom Swift was born! Many of the stories fans will see in season one are sourced from Johnson’s own experiences growing up and he even named Zenzi after his best friend.

The casting of the show took place over Zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions, but Landau shared that she actually loved using the online platform for the casting process. Her favorite aspect was getting to see snippets of the actors’ lives behind them and she recalls a clean white wall behind Murray who was also bathed in sunlight. Parker Jones had a crisp and polished background. This lead to Richards sharing the Mwangi’s Zoom background during their chemistry reading. He showed up in a sharp burgundy turtleneck with his beaming smile but behind him was… a Beef Bar sign? Richards said he and the casting director worked together to get Mwangi the best set up, ultimately using his phone and cropping the frame. “My mans runs outside but we were like ‘no, no we need you inside near the light.’ … He knocked it out of the park and here we are.”

Quantrell D. Colbert/The CW

The panel also took the opportunity to highlight the diversity of the show both in representing people of color and members of the LGBTQA+ communities. Vilsón, who plays a Tom’s transgender bodyguard, spoke about the excellent storytelling for Isaac, “His storyline is not specific to his trans-ness. It’s about being in support to not only Tom but to the Swift family.” LGBTQA+ characters are often given storylines based on their sexual orientation, it’s about coming out or about discovering their sexuality, but for both Tom and Isaac in Tom Swift their storylines are not centered on how they identify.

Johnson also spoke on the show’s fashion, sharing that he loved Sci-Fi but also loved James Bond and Mission Impossible which helped inspire a particularly fabulous outfit fans will get to see in episode 2! Richards added that Tom Swift uses his sense of style as a form of armor and Richard took the opportunity to learn about fashion in the course of filming season 1. Hair and makeup, particularly for Murray and Parker Jones, was a heartfelt topic as the series employees people of color who are familiar with working on their hair types. “It’s vital. As artists was want to be able to focus on what we do which is to create dynamic television,” said Parker Jones. “When you have to worry about your hair and makeup on top of that it can take away from it.”

Both actresses recalled projects where they were responsible for their hair and/or makeup because the styling teams were unable to work with their skin tones or hair types. The conversation pointed out a topic that’s not often openly discussed. “To come to this show and walk into a trailer where everyone is assuring me I can relax and I actually did,” shared Murray. “I didn’t realize how I had been held every since I started working because I had to mentally and emotionally prepare myself to do more than I was hired for.” Hsu Taylor also shouted out the stylist brought in to train the Nancy Drew team in Vancouver, “We had to source someone in but if you are intentional it can be done.”

Johnson spoke on the diversity in the writing room, both for Nancy Drew and Tom Swift. He spent time in the intentionally diverse writing room of Nancy Drew and wanted to mimic that in the writing room for Swift. “How do we make sure our points of view are diverse?” was his question in planning the room. “Our gender balance is about 50/50, 60/40. We got a lot of gay dudes with daddy issues, we got a lot of women with daddy issues. Our goal was to be as intentional as possible in putting together a room of people who could tell this story.” Additionally, they were intent on no one being the “token” identity in their room.

Quantrell D. Colbert/The CW

Naturally, the creative team couldn’t get away without an audience question on the possibility of more Nancy Drew and Tom Swift crossover content. As an avid fan myself I’m aware of the passion the fanbase has for both shows, so I’m going to transcribe Landau’s answers word for word to this one: “We will see. Right now we really love that the two shows exist in the same universe and what we’ve done is we’ve put really fun easter eggs in both shows. Swift Enterprises might pop up every once in a while on Nancy Drew and you’ll see later in the season what pops up in Tom Swift. For now that’s what we’re doing but we’ll see, maybe one day. That could be very fun.” Johnson also added that he’s staking a claim in putting Nancy Drew in head to toe Gucci. He needs it, we need it. Hsu Taylor was brainstorming already that Nancy may need to attend an event at Swift manner and the dynamic it would create in making her the outsider. Murray assured her that Zenzi would take Drew shopping and she wouldn’t be an outsider at all.

Tom Swift airs Tuesday on The CW. Check out all our coverage of the show here including recaps, synopsis, episodic photos and more.

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By Brianna
Brianna works full time in the publishing industry, passionately building books to bring to the masses. Her first fandom was Harry Potter, which she joined at age 11. Her love for books took her abroad to earn her Masters Degree at University College London, after which she lived in New York City, and now resides in Austin. She loves all things fandom including Supernatural, Doctor Who, and more. Ever the introvert, she can usually be found reading, playing with her dog, listening to music and practicing yoga. Brianna joined the Nerds and Beyond staff in 2018 where she unites her love for all things "nerd" with her passion for writing. Find her on Twitter here: @bookbag09
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