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Tristen J. Winger Becomes a Know-It-All Detective in ‘So Help Me Todd’

While growing up in South Central, Los Angeles actor Tristen J. Winger took an early interest in acting when he saw Jaleel White as Steve Urkel in Family Matters. Winger started his acting journey as a student at Wendy Raquel Robinson’s Amazing Grace conservatory (AGC). However, it was at King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science where he would meet fellow classmate Issa Rae who would later give him a role that would forever change his life.

Winger went on to portray Thug Yoda, a loving father from Inglewood who just happens to have gang affiliations and provides “Yoda-like” wisdom as well as guidance to Issa and Lawrence Walker (Jay Ellis) in Rae’s hit HBO series Insecure. The role came at a time when Winger was working at the Apple store. Prior to Insecure, Winger had worked with Rae on her comedy web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.

Insecure ended its run on HBO last year and now Tristen can be seen starring as Lyle, a silently judgmental, veteran know-it-all detective whose arched nemesis quickly becomes the newest addition to their team in CBS comedy series So Help Me Todd. When he isn’t on screen, Tristen can be heard frequently lending his voice to various projects including the podcast We Stay Looking, which was produced by HBO Max. The podcast was nominated at the 2022 Ambies for Best Scriptwriting, Fiction, and secured back-to-back wins at the 2021 and 2022 Webby Awards in the Podcasts - Scripted (Fiction) (Limited-Series & Specials) category.

Tristen is also giving back to his community and bringing awareness to the growing food desert issues in South L.A., where there are areas with extremely limited access to fresh food. In continuing his relationship with AGC, he is also an advocate for shining a light on the stigma around mental health, and lack of adequate mental health resources for Black men as he has been on a personal journey through therapy and building deeper, meaningful relationships with others, and himself.

Tristen recently chatted with The Quintessential Gentleman about his latest role in So Help Me Todd.

How would you describe Lyle in your own words?

Lyle is a silently judgmental, know-it-all who never lets anyone see him sweat. He is poised, every action is well thought out and calculated, and he is the most organized and efficient human on the planet. So, he’s a Virgo.

What drew you to the character of Lyle? And what is your process in selecting a role?

Lyle feels very familiar, like one of my military-trained uncles, and he represents the part of me who can be very type-A. When selecting a role, it has to feel like it is for me. Even if a character isn’t 100% relatable, I like to be able to find something about him that I can have fun with. Lyle is the person I would probably be if I didn’t care about other people’s feelings, and I love exploring that. He says exactly what’s on his mind, whereas Tristen can’t.

What makes the depiction of a Black male private investigator particularly unique within So Help Me Todd?

This is a Black man, in Portland, who doesn’t need to report to anyone or ask for permission. He’s unapologetically good at his job and what we’ll find out is the reasoning behind his fastidiousness. I’m eager to learn Lyle’s origin story. I see characters like him portrayed quite often on-screen, but the audience doesn’t get to learn about them, and that’s unfortunate for the groups of people these characters are written to represent. Lyle has lived a life before we got to meet him on So Help Me Todd, and we deserve to hear his story too.

What did you learn about private investigators in playing Lyle?

My research was more so reflecting on my previous life as a computer technician for Apple. There are so many different issues people can have with their computers and phones, from data loss to user error, like liquid damage. The similarities between that and playing an investigator is gathering all the available information and building a story in order to find a solution or, in this case, solve a crime.

What direction would you like to see Lyle head in as the series progresses?

I’d love to see more antics with Todd and Lyle. I always look forward to their scenes together because I know it’s going to be entertaining. They’re an odd couple who will have to learn to work together. Eventually.

You're also known for playing Thug Yoda on Insecure. Can you talk about that role and what drew you to it and working with Issa Rae? Would you consider doing a Thug Yoda spinoff and if so what type of storyline would you be interested in seeing with the Thug Yoda character?

Thug Yoda is another fun character because on the surface he’s this gang-affiliated character and it would’ve been very easy and basic to just play him one-dimensionally. I saw him as a loving father who was dedicated to figuring out what was best for his daughter regardless of his circumstances. I’ve known Issa since 9th grade – we were in plays together in high school and I always have a great time working together. She continues to look out for me, and she knows that I will deliver. She’s my favorite writer and one of my favorite people.I have considered Thug Yoda’s spinoff and I think it would be a mini-series centered around his relationship with his daughter Nala. There’s more to that story but I’ll let it come to fruition on screen.

What else can we expect from you?

I’m definitely hitting my stride so I’m excited to show the world my range. I’ve been doing some voiceover work too for a project and story we haven’t seen before. It’s gonna freak people out in a good way.

Photo Credit: Jen Garcia Photography


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