In Conversation with RJ Cyler on Style, Creativity, Real Friends and JAY-Z's Moncler Collab

Hypebeast caught up with the actor for an exclusive interview and shoot styled in the latest Moncler x Roc Nation collection.

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It is safe to say that Moncler has had a busy start to 2024, showing no signs of slowing down after last year’s tour de force that include collaborations with Rick Owens, Pharrell, sacai and Salehe Bembur.

Just this past weekend, the Milan based brand took to the Swiss mountains to showcase its Moncler Grenoble FW24 collection in one of the more memorable fashion presentations of recent times, and a little more than a week before this it announced a partnership with an altogether different kind of mountain – hip-hop royalty Shawn Carter, aka JAY-Z – for its latest Moncler Genius collection.

The Moncler x Roc Nation collaboration marks the latest in a long list of venerable partnerships under the Moncler Genius umbrella, and the Genius universe has come to stand for the brand’s evolving connection to culture. It is one that has been created with intention in recent years and nurtured under the leadership of Remo Ruffini, Moncler’s owner and CEO. Ruffini, who took control in 2003 during a particularly tough period in the company’s history, has transformed Moncler from a heritage, high-performance skiwear brand into a cultural leader in luxury fashion. The company has seen its fortunes turn, but Ruffini is under no allusions that he has done so alone, telling Hypebeast recently that “to build a strong brand, you need a strong energy behind everything,” and adding that “the people around you” – from store staff to customers – are the building blocks in the foundations of a successful brand. Indeed, it is this idea of an extended Moncler community that is central to the Moncler Genius program as, after all, it is a platform for co-creation.

“The Art of All is the journey, it is the everyday, it is waking up and using your voice. Genius is everywhere.” – JAY-Z

JAY-Z’s collaboration with Moncler builds on this very notion and the Moncler x Roc Nation collection was originally unveiled in London last year under “The Art of All” concept. This later evolved into “Genius is everywhere” and, with both the collection and the accompanying storytelling, JAY-Z – a undeniable genius and a giant of our generation – chose to shine the spotlight away from himself and opted to elevate his extended creative circle through Roc Nation. One of those tapped by Carter was his long-time collaborator, Mike Dean, the legendary music producer, who Jay chose to score the soundtrack for the collection.

Another is RJ Cyler, a 28 year old actor whose most recent role saw him play Elijah in the JAY-Z produced movie ‘The Book of Clarence’. Though young, the Florida-born actor has already demonstrated breadth in his work, with starring credits including historical war drama ‘Freedom’s Path’, the all-black Western ‘The Harder They Fall’, and even playing the Blue Ranger in 2017’s ‘Power Rangers’ movie.

Cyler was also handpicked by JAY-Z to front the latest editorial shoot for his Moncler x Roc Nation collection, which was recently shot and produced by Hypebeast in Los Angeles.

We caught up with the actor on-set to talk about his latest movie, sense of style, and the importance and intertwining of friendship and creativity. Check out the full shoot in the gallery above, and read our conversation below.

Tell us how you got involved with ‘The Book of Clarence’, and what drew you to the role of Elijah?

I got involved with ‘The Book of Clarence’ through Jeymes Samuel, our director, writer and producer. He first thought of me as the character of Elijah, when I was shooting ‘The Harder They Fall’. But he didn’t tell me! James will hide the biggest diamonds in his pocket, as he’s already giving me jewels. And, when I first got to read Elijah, I was so excited because he was so grounded as a character. But he was still fun, he was still funny. James was like, “put whatever you need to in there to create the character, RJ” and I was like, “alright, word.” So when I first got to put the skin of Elijah on, [I had] kind of worked out who he was going to be and how he was going to present himself. [For example] he has an accent – this is the first movie that I did an accent. It was fun to just give Elijah something else that RJ has never brought to the table.

What kind of accent?

It’s kind of a West African tone. Jeymes gave me the dialogue tip and I had a vocal coach to help take off my slang, because I’m very country. You know, I’m from the south! A lot of what I say, I’ll cut syllables or take off pieces of words.

But you didn’t have that in ‘Power Rangers’?

Exactly. [Blue Ranger] Billy’s grammar kind of matched the thought process that he goes through up here [points to his head]. So the same way that Billy wants to be a perfectionist in how he does his work and his science, he’s the same way with how he presents himself, because he doesn’t want to be misunderstood. Billy was fun to dig into. Just like Elijah. Elijah was fun to dig into because he has so many levels of nuance, right? He comes across one way, but when you dig into him more, you’ll see his reactions are [another way]. The uncomfortable space was read in Elijah, but it was in small little pieces. That’s what the fun was, building the logic. Because the character really does the work for you in certain ways, but the way that you make it pop is by going in and doing the little mixes and changes, and finding where there is mutual understanding.

There are some awesome actors in the film including LaKeith Stanfield and Teyana Taylor. Are you close with your cast mates?

We’re, like, penpal family members now! LaKeith will be in one state, Teyana is in this other state, and Caleb [McLaughlin], Michael [Ward], James [McAvoy], Nick [Pinnock]… everybody’s everywhere, but we have group chats and we know exactly where each other are and we share locations and such. We got close and we really hung out with each other, so we were able build actual relationships. Teyana used to cook for us all the time, I definitely kept my weight where we’re supposed to be because of that! If you see the clips of our BTS, it’s just like a party between family and friends.

How did you guys unwind after hours?

Chillin’ with each other and talkin’ shit [laughs]. We allowed for our set to be such a pure space to where we could not tarnish it. Of course, we had our inside jokes and such, but when we were off set we just loved to be in each other’s company. So [we weren't] hanging out because we were coworkers, the reason we were hanging out is because we actually liked each other. We [got to] know about each other’s lives because we got outside the workspace to know each other.

You grew up in Jacksonville, Florida but moved to LA at a young age right?

Yeah, I moved to LA with my moms when I was 18. We were here and my dad was in Florida supporting us while we were pursuing this [acting] craziness I’d asked them to let me pursue. We were homeless for some months. We just used to go between the truck and the hotel when we could afford it. And then God just did his thing, you know? When I booked ‘Me and Earl’ the winds were getting bigger, you know, so we just kept putting in the work.

How would you compare the lifestyle and culture between Jacksonville and LA?

It’s just slower in Florida. We’re a big city, but we’re not one of those major hubs of entertainment and such. Even though everybody in Jacksonville is talented! The pace is the only thing that’s kind of different, and how much people get to spend time with each other. The people here are just as heartwarming as the people in Florida, so the people culture is great. Some people say, “Oh, LA will change you.” Alright, but not if you came out here unchangeable! [laughs] LA just exposes who you are and allows for you to have such a plethora of opportunities to do these things that may help you, or may hold you back a little bit. You can’t blame that on the city because the city has the escrow to give you what you want. [But] if you come to LA just to take, then LA is gonna take from you. And that’s life. If we only come to take, we never win, you feel me?

What’s your fashion sense?

I don’t think there’s nothing that I don’t look good in! Thank you, Father [praises God]. It’s a blessing.

Was that a Jacksonville thing?

No, that was just an RJ thing! [laughs] My parents really gave us the freedom to express how we felt through what we wore. Fashion don’t got no boundaries. I can be real simple, or I can be real boisterous, but it’s gonna flow. I don’t really wear [clothes] the way that they’re supposed to be worn, I wear them the way that I wear them. And they look way better on me. It’s all about how you do your thing. Fashion works by your rules.

How are you styling the Roc Nation x Moncler collection?

I’m [liking] the puffers with the brights. I like that the oranges go with the creams. Or the blacks will be with the oranges. The green is overlapped with a [darker] green. Or even the straight nudes with the flannels, those are heat pieces. Also the shorts with the hoodie big puffer… that was pretty hard. Moncler snapped with this one. I had on the mismatched [pieces] because the orange and the cream were the color scheme of this collection. It’s in the tag, it’s in the logo. You have to look at that and play with those colors.

How important is keeping your creative circle close?

It’s definitely important. All of my closest people are creatives. Not because that’s what they do for a living – I have friends that have 9-to-5s but their mind space is creative – [but because] their mind space will always look for a new way, or a new solution, or a new venture. That’s what creativity is. Move in the constant, never stay in one place. I wish we could be the same as kids, you know? Like [how they can] build a whole story of their invisible friend, [and even] show you evidence of their invisible friend? That’s what creates the beauty of children; their relentless nature to just create. And when you have that space as an adult, and you still have that freedom, life is just that much more beautiful.

What are some of your passions? Let’s start with footwear.

Teyana Taylor has a pair of shoes that she released with Jordan and they’re so hard. They’re so crazy. All of my shoe plugs can get ‘Gucci Air Force 5s’. And those don’t exist. They can get ‘Air Jerusalem 6s’. Those don’t exist either! But they could not find [Teyana's] shoes. Air Force Ones, too – they’re like T-shirts. If I’m at the mall or something, check my bags, there’s always gonna be a pair of AF1s.

Music?

My own music! I got a track out right now called ‘GUGGAH’ on my website that’s very fun. I’m not gonna lie, I was a little nervous [putting that out]. But I was only nervous out of a false sense of fear, because I know that I’m really good at making music. But now releasing my own music is really fun. My wife helped me. I watch her in just amazement because she’s always been an artist. I couldn’t do that. I’d lose my mind, to be honest. I’m just learning from her to just take breaths [and] just, like, chill out.

Movies?

The DC Universe really excites me right now. I love how we’re about to see an elevation of the DC comic world. Some characters are finally coming to life. And also, as an actor, to know that I’m gonna end up in one of these, like, “Yes, RJ Cyler WILL be Static Shock!” That’s where I’m going [because] that’s my dream job. I know they want to bring it together as a live action. And I’ve always messed with Static Shock.

Gaming?

Call of Duty! The new update on Call of Duty… I was a little upset at the last season update, because I don’t feel like we got anything new – we just got some new skins, that were impossible to unlock, and a few new guns. I went and bought a PC, but that was just to stream [on Twitch]. I was like, when you’re gonna be mean online, I’m gonna hop on the PC and I’ma embarrass you.

What does 2024 have in store for RJ?

2024’s got a lot of grace. I feel like this is the year of RJ. I’m showing the world a lot more of my face, but not as the face that they just know me as. God has been pouring a lot more into me and He’s allowed for me to pour a lot more into the world. I’m excited for the world to really see all that I got in store to give.

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