Josiah Cross never wanted to be an actor. "My dream was to play basketball in the NBA." It wasn't until college that, he remembers, "The theater was just steady calling my name. So, I was fighting this internal dilemma — like, I'm a basketball player. I'm not a theater kid — but sometimes you have to go with the thing that makes sense, and acting just made sense."
Cross made his film debut with a small role in King Richard, the Williams sisters biopic for which Will Smith won the Best Actor Oscar. "Growing up, as a young Black boy coming out of Cleveland, Ohio, even my desire to do things outside of film was directly inspired by Will Smith. He's one of my biggest inspirations as a human." Acting opposite his idol was "so overwhelmingly surreal," recalls Cross. "The most valuable lesson that I took from Will Smith was being a generous actor and being a collaborative dance partner with your cast and your crew."
He landed his first leading role in A Thousand and One, A.V. Rockwell's drama about a young Harlem mother (played by Teyana Taylor) who kidnaps her son, Terry, from foster care. "Once I got into the script, I was like, 'Yo!' I felt this urgency to meet the director, to audition, to do whatever I had to do — I was willing to do it," he remembers. Cross plays 17-year-old Terry in the movie, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year and won the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize.
"When I saw myself on the screen, in that auditorium, with all those people," Cross reflects, "it was the first time where I really sat there and was like, 'Yo, I'm an actor in Hollywood, for real.' That was just crazy."
Next, Cross will star alongside Oscar nominee Austin Butler in the WWII limited series, Masters of the Air, and then, with Oscar winner Natalie Portman in the limited series, Lady in the Lake. "For me, it's all about elevation and quality," he muses. "As long as every project is elevating and challenging my skill set, and challenging my craft, and becoming more universally irreproachable, that's my goal."
Below, the self-proclaimed cinephile shares five of his favorite films with A.frame.
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann | Written by: Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce
I am a huge Baz Luhrmann fan — he is one of my dream directors to work with. The Great Gatsby is probably my favorite film from him because one of my favorite authors is F. Scott Fitzgerald. And the way that Baz was able to paint that picture is a cinematic feat. For me, it's not the budget, or the lights, or the set pieces; it's in the simplistic nuances of the script, the beautiful directing style, and the acting performances.
Leonardo DiCaprio, being one of my favorite actors, was the cherry on top. Seeing Leo say 'old sport' and hearing the words from the book that I love so much being manifested was just surreal. The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite, to-die-for films.
Written and directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Another one of my top five favorite directors of all time is Mr. Tarantino. What I took from Quentin Tarantino is an understanding that the greatest directors write their own movies. Because the language that Quentin is writing, it's so specific to him. You see his love for cinema through the writing. Django Unchained shows that. His selflessness in telling a story like that in the light that it deserves, with the bells and whistles of what cinema can offer it — the bloody, the goriness, and the authenticity of that type of story that you can't shy away from.
I love Jamie Foxx, and then obviously, again, Leo's performance in that movie is the performance to look at. It's so honest and it's so raw. And his commitment as an actor to that role, to me, is one of the greatest performances of all time, to be quite honest.
Directed by: Ridley Scott | Written by: Steven Zaillian
My direct muse for wanting to act is Denzel Washington, and American Gangster came at a time where he just kept elevating. I think a story like that could easily be misconstrued or glamorized in the wrong way, but Denzel humanized Frank Lucas in a way where you're rooting for him the entire movie, but he's the bad guy. I feel like the greatest actors do that. They humanize the character so much that you're like, 'Man. Well, who hurt him?'
It was such a beautifully written movie. I do a lot of impersonations, and that is one of my impersonations that I love to do. That scene where Denzel and Russell Crowe — who is also one of my favorite actors of all time — are in the jail cell, it's a whole masterclass. I love that movie and Denzel's performance in that movie.
Written and directed by: Spike Lee
I was born in the '90s, so I wasn't even born yet when the film came out. But what Spike did specifically for Black and brown people is he flipped genre on its head. This type of cinematography, these camera angles were so not associated with the Black experience — which speaks to the limitation that Hollywood itself was giving to Black creators. And Spike flipped that on his head, where he could make a John Cassavetes film but put color in it, and put an urban or street cultural perspective on it.
Man, I love Spike. John Turturro and Giancarlo Esposito at the beginning of their careers, and Rosie Perez — everybody. That film was amazing. I can't get enough.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese | Written by: Terence Winter
I'm going to disclaimer this by saying: anything that Scorsese has ever done. But, for me, the thing that stands out about The Wolf of Wall Street is that, yes, Goodfellas and Casino are based on true stories, but they're very loose stories. Jordan Belfort is an actual person, and this movie was almost like a diary of Jordan Belfort's life.
You see elements of Casino in Wolf of Wall Street. That first time that De Niro walks in there is like the first time Leo walks into the office space and the phones are ringing and all the people are throwing paper. I love film composition, and I think that Scorsese is great at composition. He tells you things without telling you things, and his voice is so clear.
And obviously, in true Leo fashion, he's giving you everything. I think you see a pattern here. I like Leo. But the underrated performance in that is Jonah Hill's performance. I loved his performance in that movie.