Scroll To Top
Interviews

Wendell & Wild Star Sam Zelaya On The Film’s Unique Trans Representation

Wendell & Wild Star Sam Zelaya On The Film’s Trans Representation

Sam Zelaya and Raul in Wendell & Wild
Courtesy of Netflix

Speaking with PRIDE the up-and-coming actor opens up about how much the film means to him & his hopes for how it will inspire other trans kids.

rachiepants

Sam Zelaya may be a newcomer, but he’s already making a splash as the lovable, vulnerable heart of Wendell & Wild, Raúl Cocolotl.

The film, which comes from the brilliant minds of Henry Selick and Jordan Peele, follows a young girl named Kat (Lyric Ross) whose life has been shaped by tragedy and an impossible weight of guilt that she carries around like both a wall and a weapon. She also happens to have psychic gifts and the ability to bring demons up out of the underworld — enter Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Peele), literally her personal demons. Naturally, when you bring demons into the real world, things get very wacky, very quickly. Fortunately for Kat, Raúl’s kindness and bravery make him exactly the friend she (and we all) need so much.

Wendell & Wild is Selick’s most contemporary film to date, boasting a diverse cast including Zelaya who like his character Raúl is trans. That kind of representation matters, not just to the audience who need to see themselves on screen, but to Zelaya himself who saw this role as the culmination of many dreams come true.

Speaking with PRIDE, Zelaya talked about what makes Raúl such a unique character, how meaningful that was for him, and what hopes trans kids everywhere (and their parents) take away from watching the film.

Wendell & Wild

Courtesy of Netflix

Can you tell me a little bit about Raúl?

I love that guy. He’s great.

What is it about him you connect with most?

I like the way that it’s not a straightforward thing, like, ‘this is who he is and he’s always known that this is who he is,’ it’s kind of he tried to fit in, and he tried to be like the girls at school. And it just clearly wasn’t right for him. I think a lot of trans people, certainly my age and up, can relate to that. Because there wasn’t that same awareness that there is now. You know, people try to do the thing that they’ve been told to do and perform the gender that they’ve been told they are. And it can take a bit longer sometimes for things to click and for people to find out what’s out there, and know that this is an option for them.

What did it mean for you, as a trans actor, to play a character like Raúl?

It’s so cool for me. Even knowing that this movie is getting made, I think whether I was a part of it or not, I would have been crazy excited about that. But the fact that I’m in it, and I get to be that representation that I’ve wanted for so long, and that I want other people to have, it’s insane. It’s the kind of thing that I wouldn’t have wanted to even dare to get too excited about the possibility of.

Wendell & Wild

Courtesy of Netflix

Actors like you are blazing a trail when it comes to representation on screen. It’s so inspiring, but there must be challenges being at the forefront as well.

I’m really proud of everything that they’ve done with this movie. I mean, it’s kind of a little bit scary, suddenly more people are going to see me than ever before, and there’s always that kind of worry about suddenly being so visible as a trans person. Actually in the U.K. where the climate is not so great for us right now.

One of the major themes of this film — one that is universal, but I think trans people can identify with, too — is about facing your fears and not letting them control you and even finding power on the other side of that. Did that stand out to you?

That’s definitely a very important part of Kat’s story, and her coming to terms with her past, but I think that will connect to a lot of trans people as well. There’s an element of that with Raúl being drawn into this crazy event, and having to suddenly deal with demons and all of that. He’s just a kid but he really steps up. And it’s really touching to see that friendship that he has with Kat and the way they help each other kind of face up to their fears.

Wendell & Wild

Courtesy of Netflix

Is there anything you would love to see audiences, specifically queer and trans audiences, take away from Wendell & Wild?

I hope that people see themselves in it. Maybe people who didn’t necessarily know that [being trans] was out there, and this was an option for them. Kind of like I didn’t when I was Raúl’s age. That makes them see that you don’t always have to force something if it doesn’t work. There’s other ways out there for you to be yourself and express yourself that might feel right for you in a way that you didn’t know could.

Wendell & Wild is now streaming on Netflix. Watch PRIDE's full interview with Sam Zelaya below.

'Wendell & Wild' Star Sam Zelaya

Rachel Shatto chats with Sam all about the exciting new Netflix film.

Who voices Raúl in Wendell and Wild?

The Wendell & Wild character Raúl Cocolotl is voiced by newcomer Sam Zelaya.

Is Wendell & Wild claymation?

Wendell & Wild is a stop-motion animated film directed by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas).

How long is Wendell & Wild?

Wendell & Wild has a runtime of 1h 45m.

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

author avatar

Rachel Shatto

EIC of PRIDE.com

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.