Wilder Yari Answers All Our Questions About The CW's New Show 4400 - Exclusive Interview

The CW's reimagining of a 2004 USA Network series, "4400" is about the mysterious reappearance of 4,400 people who'd vanished at different points in time over the past century. None have aged, and none possess memory of what happened to them. As the government tries to figure out just what occurred and determine if there any possible threats, it becomes apparent these returnees are now imbued with strange new abilities and they were seemingly returned for a reason. 

Thrust into the investigation is Agent Jessica Tanner of the Department of Homeland Security, played by actor Wilder Yari. Recently seen in the second season of "The L Word: Generation Q," Yari's previous projects include Kryzz Gautier's sci-fi short project "Keep Delete" and the 2019 dramatic short "Treacle," which screened at film festivals. In addition, Yari's feature film script "neem-rooni" was chosen as a semi-finalist for the Sundance Institute's 2021 Creative Producing Lab, while Yari — who identifies as non-binary and transgender — has also directed music videos for the likes of pop punk's Potty Mouth and R&B's Najeary, as well as for their own band, Poor Baby. 

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with The List, Yari discussed their "4400" role, the importance of trans and non-binary representation both on screen and behind the camera, and the celebrity couple they can't get enough of.

Who is 4400's Agent Jessica Tanner?

So what can you tell me about Jessica Tanner in "4400"?

Well, it's funny because this person is the complete total opposite of anyone that I thought I'd ever be playing. She works at the Department of Homeland Security. She's very by the book, and she's been tasked with spearheading the investigation into the 4,400 that have magically appeared on Belle Isle in Detroit. And she really believes in good guys, bad guys. And really does not care about how people perceive what she does.

What's your status on the show? You're recurring? Are we going to be seeing more of you coming up in the rest of the season?

Yeah. I'm in the season a lot. And it's funny because Twitter has been so warm about the show; they're so lovely. But like pretty much universally they're like, "Whoever that is, I'm really not into that. I don't, that's not ... I don't I like whoever that is." And for good reason, for good reason.

How does Jessica fit into the ongoing storyline of all these people reappearing from all these different points in time?

Well, obviously I don't want to give away too much, but basically Jessica is sort of in charge of the government response to these people sort of showing up. She's sort of between the White House and local law enforcement. So she's kind of middle management and is trying to just make sure that everybody stays safe. But in my opinion, she's not particularly sensitive to the needs of the actual 4,400. She's just like, "You're a potential security threat, and I'm going to treat you as such." Even if these people are like, "We're refugees out of time," as one of them said.

It's interesting, and I think this is one of the places that the show really shines, is that I think it's a great parallel to what happens in our actual government when there's a lot of fear of the unknown. It sort of shuts down and becomes less of a flexible humanitarian situation. So I think Jessica is definitely like, "I don't know what's going on here." And rather than explore that from, again, a humanitarian point of view, her perspective is, "Okay, I don't know who you are. I don't know what you are. I'm definitely uncomfortable. I got a lot of people breathing down my neck, so I'm going to do what I have to do. No matter what people are telling me."

Wilder Yari hadn't been a big fan of sci-fi prior to 4400

The show's got such an intriguing premise. Are you a fan of shows like "Lost" and those types of shows where there's this overarching mystery that propels the entire series?

It's a nuanced question. A short answer, no. I'm not really a big sci-fi fan, really, until this show. Because the background that I come from is much more character heavy, coming of age, family drama, stuff like that. And I don't think I've really given sci-fi its due before this show. And then I watched the original series and was like, "Oh my." I didn't realize that it's actually a really nuanced and interesting way to explore those same characters that I've been obsessing over for years. All those intense character studies. It's just in a different format.

How familiar were you with the original show that this one's based on?

I was not familiar at all. You're really exposing my weak points here. I didn't watch sci-fi. I didn't see myself playing a cop. Didn't watch the original show before. Not even before I got cast, but when I was sort of put into the running, I was like, "Well, I should watch this." But I wasn't a fan of the original series.

Did you debate whether or not to watch the original? I know some actors will want to delve deep into the original source, but others may want to avoid it entirely so it won't color their interpretation. 

With this particular [show] it was pretty clear from the outset that it was going to be really different. So I didn't have a problem [watching the original series]. But I think if it was like you're doing "A Star Is Born" or you're doing a Bond film, it can be easy to sort of delve in and then let that color how you've done things. But not in the case of this at all. It's very different, but the themes are the same.

It seems like a lot of The CW's shows are shot in Vancouver, but "4400" films in Chicago. What was that experience like to film there? 

It was magical, honestly, and I'm not making that up. I had never been to Chicago before and was brought out, was put up in this like stunning hotel. And then, did the architecture tour. I have my Chicago facts at the ready. Do you know why it's called the Second City?

I don't actually, no.

Because it burned down 'cause of this giant fire. I'm from New York originally and I'm like outing myself as like an elitist here, but I was like, "Oh, 'cause it's like second to other cities. I get it." But no, it's because it burned down. Chicago is really magical, and I was surprised, as well. I thought we were going to be heading out to Vancouver, but it was a pleasant surprise.

Wilder Yari's short-but-sweet appearance on The L Word: Generation Q

Is this the first project you've done with all the new COVID protocols? All the testing and the distancing and the pods and all the safety measures on set?

I'd actually been on "The L Word," I want to say two, three months before getting ["4400"]. So I was a little bit familiar with the COVID testing, but our crew really had it on lock. People were calling me and being, "Yeah, we're downstairs. We're going to test you." I'm like, "I'm not on set today." And they're like, "Yeah, we know." But yeah, the COVID protocols were great, and I was kind of already used to it.

Does that affect your performance at all? 

Honestly, no. I think, as with any film set, the most important thing for me is to be able to find some space alone to sort of dig into what my character's going through, having space to talk to my directors, et cetera. So the masks, they were shields, but once you're on set, it all comes off. And it's just the two of you anyways. Honestly, it wasn't that big of a barrier.

You mentioned "The L Word." What can you tell me about your role in that?

Oh my gosh. Yes. So funny. So, I am in one episode of "The L Word." I'm in one episode; it would be a stretch to call it a guest star, really. But I'm very much a part of the queer scene in Los Angeles. So a lot of my friends were watching the show and [were] like, "Oh my God, is that ... is that you?" More attention for that one line than for most of the work I've done on [a] show, I have to be honest with you. They're like, "Is that? Wait, I think I just saw you on TV." And I'm like, "Oh, my God. Yes, it's one line. Relax."

But yes, that was really fun actually. It was more in the middle of ... COVID protocols were really intense because everything had just started up again. With "4400," they're already kind of like in a groove. So on "The L Word," it was like me and just three other actors. These three series regs on the show. It was just like the three of us in holding. And I was like, "I watched you when I was 12 years old." I'm like trying ... But, yeah. Yeah.

Now, that you're, I guess, part of the sci-fi genre, you've probably noticed that fans take their shows very seriously. 

They're intense.

They sure can be. Are there any opportunities you see arising to do conventions, that kind of thing? Because from what I hear — ka-ching! Actors in sci-fi series can go do a convention for a weekend and come back with duffle bag full of cash.

I would love to. I would love to, but it's funny because I'm recurring on the show, and I'm pretty heavily recurring, but I'm not one of the series regs on the show, and the cast is gigantic. There's 10 main characters, and they're all incredible. Once again, Twitter has been very kind. And for good reason; they're so talented. They're so endearing. You just fall in love with these people. So there's 10 of them. So the bus is full, basically. They're like, "We're good. Love you." But hey, if anyone wants to call me to talk about what it's like being a narc, I'm open to it. I will pick up the phone.

Wilder Yari on the importance of representation on screen and behind the camera

From the perspective of someone who watches a lot of television as part of my job, I've noticed a big shift over the last couple of years in terms of actually seeing non-binary representation on screen where there was sort of zero previously, and I'm talking within just a few years. As a non-binary actor, have you noticed that shift behind the scenes? 

That's an interesting question. Basically, there's definitely more demand for non-binary roles and trans roles, and that's really amazing. But I definitely am noticing that casting and directors and writers are still sort of trying to figure it out. Which is why it's so incredibly important to have non-binary and trans writers behind the scenes, which we actually do on "4400." Not to just shamelessly plug, but we have three trans writers in the room. And it lends so much to the show. Whereas in other scripts I've seen, they don't really get it. They're like, "This androgynous person," and that's not really what that is. Or having these characters try to explain who they are, and it's just like, "That's not it." Or with this male character who's wearing a dress and are they non-binary now? I'm like, "No." It just makes it all more important to have trans non-binary representation behind the scenes as well.

It does seem that in Hollywood right now, that there's a real urgency to get more diverse representation in terms of trans, non-binary voices and characters. It seems like the last couple of years, there's been this groundswell, this big shift.

Totally. Yeah. "Groundswell" was exactly the word I was thinking as well. Yeah, I'm so thrilled to see it. I think it's really just because it's been sort of one way for so long and there are all of these really interesting stories that have not had a chance to be told yet. And I think what Hollywood is discovering is there's a massive market for all of this stuff.

And it's not just like, "Oh, people want to see people like them," which they do. But it's also like, you don't need to be ... I forget where the main character is from in "Minari" ... but you don't need to be an immigrant coming to Oklahoma in the 20th century in order to relate to "Minari." It's a beautiful story. Same thing with "Moonlight." The list goes on and on. "The Gordita Chronicles" is actually a show that a good friend of mine is writing on right now. And it's about this, it's a Dominican family that comes to the U.S. And I cannot wait to watch that show, and in no way am I Dominican — like remotely. But yeah, you don't. I think it's a really positive moment because you're realizing that like, "Oh yeah, it's what art is supposed to do." You're supposed to empathize.

The role television can play in educating viewers about non-binary and trans issues

It seems like there's also a huge opportunity, I think, for the average viewer who might not be that knowledgeable about the subject. Television can be a great vehicle to educate.

I completely agree. I was talking about this in another interview I did recently. Like 80% of people in the United States say they have never met a trans person. So really all you have is representation. And then it just takes its veil off and you understand, "Wow, these people are actually pretty similar to me." Or it even opens a door for you to Google. Google is free, you know what I mean? And maybe you're like, "Oh, I didn't realize that's ... what is hormone therapy?"

Just a quick side note: I got into this huge argument with someone relatively recently about hormones. Because we were talking about trans kids and this person was under the impression that it was incredibly easy to get hormones, especially as a young person. And it's not. It's incredibly difficult and not something that medical professionals take lightly, even to the extent that it's pretty difficult to get hormones, especially in some parts of the country. And I think even little tiny things like that are such a powerful opportunity for television to educate, to start conversations, to kind of move the needle along a little bit.

Wilder Yari shares their favorite off-set memory with the cast of 4400

Now, getting back to "4400," do you recall any favorite moments from the set? Things that really sort of stuck with you?

Oh my gosh. So many. There are a couple things. First of all, I cannot say enough about how kind not only the showrunners, Sunil Nayar and Ariana Jackson, are but also how wonderful the core cast is. Everyone is sort of within the same age range. I want to say most of the cast are under 35, the vast majority. Most of them in their 20s. So there's this real sense of community and just love, to be honest with you. Because it's sort of very "High School Musical"; we're all in this together. It's all our first big thing.

But my favorite moments were actually off set, and it's the times we've gotten to spend time together. We did a watch party when the show premiered on October 25 and everyone was losing their minds. We were at Joseph David-Jones' house in this screening room in his apartment building. So there's this massive screen, and every time one of us would come on stage, everyone would just screech, like we didn't think that it would happen. But something about one of us coming on stage and we're like, "Ah!" If you could see any of our Instagram Stories that night, it was just like a public execution level of just screaming. Yeah. And we all do karaoke together, which is not something I was expecting coming in. But everyone on the cast can sing, which is a bummer for me. I can't. But yeah, there's just been so many really beautiful moments. But especially off set for me.

So when's the musical episode?

Dude, the main cast keeps talking about the musical episode, and I'm like, "Stop. Guys, I'm going to get written off the show. You can't do this to me." 

But just really quickly, one more note about karaoke. One of my favorite moments was we were all packed in this little room — I don't even know where we were. On the north side of Chicago and JoJo, Joseph David-Jones, who plays Jharrel on the show, came late. So we, Ireon Roach, Brittany Adebumola, Khailah Johnson, most of us were already there, and had been there for hours.

So JoJo and his girlfriend come in kind of at the end, the tail end. And he comes in, and they're like, eyes wide because we're all in the throes of some great karaoke, and then as he sits down, "Adorn" by Miguel starts playing. And Jaye Ladymore is one of the series reg, she plays Claudette. She's a beautiful singer. So she starts singing "Adorn." And I don't know why someone just hands the mic to JoJo. He'd just come in, wide eyes, and he's like, "These lips ..." Stunning, as if it was rehearsed. I was there with my partner, and we were just like, "Oh, come on. You too? And you too, JoJo?" But the musical episode, I think if we make it maybe a Season 3, that'll come around. But I don't know.

What to expect from future episodes of 4400

When you're doing a series like "4400," where you're shooting on location, as opposed to being in L.A. where everyone finishes for the day and they go back to their homes, is there more of a bonding experience with the cast, do you find, when you're shooting away from home?

Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. All the main cast, not including me, but the main cast, had to basically move to Chicago. The main cast had to move to Chicago. So I say nine of the 10 did not live there. So everyone's exploring the city at the same time, and nobody knows what to do. Except for Ire — Ireon Roach is from Chicago — but everybody else was like, "I think Chinatown is cool. Are we going there?" So yeah, you really rely on each other in a different way. And the same thing happens when you go on location to shoot a movie. It's this weird little pod. It's you against the environment.

With a movie, though, that period is usually a very finite amount of time, but with a series like "4400" that has the potential to run for years, can that bring about a deeper sort of experience for actors?

Yeah, definitely. Especially, because there are writers involved who are all wonderful and sort of their own pod. And I know I'm just saying, "Everyone's so great," but really, I think it's the same on the other side as well. Where a lot of the writers, it was sort of their first big gig as well. And the writers get to produce their own episodes. So they're always on set. We get to meet them. We spend some time with them. Getting to deepen that bond, not only with each other but with these people who are also on the rise, has been a really special part of the experience, as well.

Is there anything you can tell me about what viewers can expect in the rest of the season? In a vague, non-spoilery kind of way?

Yeah. Let me think. I mean, wow. There's break-outs, there's break-back-ins. Oh my gosh. There's like a haunted episode. What else? I'm not trying to give anything away, I want to entice. But yeah. There's break-outs. There's break-ins. Powers become revealed. There are characters that you don't even know yet that are going to come into the picture. Jessica continues to be on the rise. Multiple couples come together and fall apart in these really unique ways. And "don't trust the government" is my big slogan for everybody to watch the show.

Wilder Yari reveals their favorite celebrity couple

Let's shift gears and talk celebrities. Do you have a favorite celebrity couple?

Yes! I go all in on celebrity couples. Absolutely. I'm a huge fan of Kourtney [Kardashian] and Travis [Barker]. Listen, I love them. And I also want to say that I think they kind of started the trend, Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly. I want to look away, but I can't look away. But I'm with it; they're my favorite. Whereas, I feel ... Hold on. I want to show you this photo. I know you've probably seen it already, but there's this photo of Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker in Italy. Hold on, I'll show you. It is ... Yeah, there we go. Okay. We love a grainy picture pushed up to a phone screen, but he looks like Voldemort with the bald [head] in that moment. But they look so happy and I love that for them. I'm like, rock and roll! Good for you. Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly. I'm like, "Okay." And also just because Megan Fox is bisexual, and I'm just like, "Come on. Woo!" Yeah, and I really hope Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson aren't dating. But have you seen that tweet, that's like if Princess Diana were alive she'd be dating Pete Davidson?

I haven't! That's perfect though.

It's so true. But yeah, that is my favorite couple for sure.

All right. What about favorite celeb look of the year? Do you have any celeb looks that have stood out for you?

Wow. Yes. I love fashion. I love talking about fashion. I did a whole, like, Met Gala rundown on my Instagram. It's Wilder.Yari if anyone is wondering. I'm trying to think, my favorite celebrity look of the year. Man, let me think. Oh, definitely Zendaya at the "Dune" premiere so far. She's in this nuts Rick Owens thing. I don't even know how to describe it. It's like floating but solid, and it's appropriately sand-colored. Yeah, she's a star. I think she's going to win the Fashion Icon Award, the youngest recipient. God bless. Yeah. That's definitely my favorite so far.

Did you see what Lady Gaga wore at the "Gucci" premiere?

I did. I did. Have you seen all those memes where it's like, "Me as like a 6-year-old making a dress out of sheets. My parents are gone." Yes, and I love that for her. That's a great color. Like rock and roll. 

Now, do you have any other projects coming up that you can tell me about?

Totally. Yeah. I'm attached to a couple things in the works that I can't talk too much about, but there is a movie that I'm making. I wrote it, producing it, starring in it. You know, classic. It's called "neem-rooni" and it's about the child of a Persian immigrant that goes back to Iran and uncovers all these family secrets. Gets into this affair with a married woman. It's sort of like "The Farewell" meets ... Oh my God. Oh, where to go? Oh, "Rummy." Yeah. "Rummy" meets "The Farewell." The short version is done. We were semifinalists in the 2021 Sundance Creator Producing Lab and we're hoping to make the feature in 2022.

That's fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you speaking with me today, and good luck with the rest of the "4400" season.

Thank you so much. It was so much fun talking to you as well. Truly, call me whenever. We can talk about fashion at any time.

"4400" can be seen Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.