Tyler James Williams says Disney’s “Let It Shine” is about being yourself

Tyler James Williams

Disney Channel took inspiration for its latest original film, Let It Shine, from the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, then added some 8 Mile and Footloose-like drama to deliver a refreshingly uplifting story about staying true to oneself. The film debuts Friday, June 15 at 8pm ET/PT.

The mouse ears ventures out of its usual comfort zone for this music-driven film, as the story is set in the world of hip-hop, rap and gospel music. Everybody Hates Chris star Tyler James Williams plays Cyrus DeBarge, a shy teen whose heartfelt rhyme about his childhood friend Roxie — who is now a teenage singing sensation (played by recording artist Coco Jones) — wins a contest, but is mistakenly attributed to his best friend (Trevor Jackson, Eureka). Cyrus lacks the confidence to claim the lyrics as his own, and he’s left to deal with the consequences of his untruths­ while overcoming his own self-doubt and pursuing his real dreams.

“I would summarize it as ‘be yourself’ — that’s the big issue we’re dealing with in this movie,” Williams says. “No matter what you want to do, be comfortable — accept yourself first before you look for acceptance from anyone else, and commit to that. Tell the truth. Be yourself, because that’s ultimately what’s going to keep you out of trouble.”

As for being yourself, Williams, who is most known for his comedy, was candid about his interests in music and poetry.

“They’ve been around for awhile, only nobody really knew about it,” he says of his rapping skills. “I kind of saw it as a hobby. I’ve been writing and producing music since I was 13, but I never really wanted to put myself out there.

“I actually started out writing poetry, spoken word  — that was pretty much how I started because I didn’t like some of the music I was hearing,” he shares. “And it’s all very surface in a way, you hear a lot about ‘what I have, what you don’t have’ types of things and I always felt that, especially with hip hop and rap, it’s so close to poetry in the way it’s written. I thought to myself ‘why aren’t we talking about issues we’re having in the world?’ That’s one thing I really connected to with the character. Every time he picks up a pen he’s saying something.”

But putting himself out there has paid off. The film is equally as entertaining as it is meaningful in its message, and it certainly exposes audiences to the creativity and talent required in the hip-hop and rap world.

“At one point there was a conversation about making the final wrap battle a dance number,” Williams says. “For me, if we were going to keep this authentic it has to be a battle where they are just squaring off just spewing out things in freestyle wrapping – not being concerned about how you’re moving, just trying to get the words out of your head and getting the rhymes at the same time.”

Williams nails the rap battle scenes in the movie and has a single, “Don’t Run Away,” on the film’s soundtrack.

“I think what this movie really does is that it gives younger kids permission to like hip-hop again,” Williams says. “There are songs you can listen to without being afraid of censoring while riding in the car with your parents, yet you still have the rap aspect, you still have the witty wordplay that’s in there. I definitely hope that comes across.”

And it does, making the film a refreshing change of pace from Disney’s traditional light-hearted music/dance sequenced films.

“It’s about time a network steps out and does something outside of what would appear to be their comfort zone,” Williams says. “I really applaud Disney for that. This movie, in a way, is a risk but it’s usually those risks that are taken that will pay off or will change the course of how the company runs.”