Best known for playing Sam Anderson on The Walking Dead, Major Dodson has also appeared in Revolution and American Horror Story. This March, he’s starring in Kim Bass’ Tyson’s Run as an autistic teenager named Tyson, alongside Amy Smart, Rory Cochrane, and Layla Felder. As a homeschooled student trying to find his way at the high school where his father teaches, Dodson’s Tyson discovers passion and skill as he trains for a marathon under the watchful eye of Barkhad Abdi’s coach.
As a six year old in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Dodson first found himself as a local theater actor in the midst of A Christmas Carol. He’s obsessed over sharks and Transformers, but at the time, he loved trains and says, “I could’ve told you anything about locomotives.” When Robert Zemeckis’ version of the Charles Dickens story ended up showing off memorabilia alongside an Amtrak showcase, his mother decided maybe Dodson would enjoy acting as they adapted to his newly-minted autism diagnosis. Discovering that the local theater would guarantee a spot as long as the person auditioning sang a song, Dodson said that he’d sing Abba’s “Thank You For the Music” but he’d only sing one word and refused to dance! Cast as Tiny Tim, Dodson’s acting career was born.
Playing an autistic teenager, Dodson says that a significant amount of what the audience sees is acting, but he admits that he can relate to Tyson. “I struggled with social queues and was never the cool kid,” he says. “I lingered my way through school, made a few friends, and just wasn’t really a socially conscious kid. Therapy helped, but I had terrible motor skills. Tyson goes through a lot of growth to get where he is, and I did, too.”
Dodson says that he didn’t experience the level of frustration and judgment that Tyson does, notably from his father. “I’ve had a lot of support,” he shares. “There’s no way I could do the hobbies I enjoy without help, recognizing I am who I am and have the ability to function as an adult.”
The young actor, now eighteen, talks freely and easily about his diagnosis and his experience, recognizing that it changes how he sees the world but acknowledging his adaptations. At six, the diagnosis of his attention span – the ability to have a conversation with an adult while maintaining eye contact – was ten seconds; he credits his family and friends for having helped him get to where he is in the moment, even interviewing with a stranger.
That’s not all that Dodson has adapted either. He’s a graduate of high school via homeschool online, and is pursuing a college degree in business, while also interning at a music production facility to learn how to use his music studio equipment more effectively and learning a business ethic. He’s a success story, and his success comes with a pleasant blend of humility and excitement about where he’s come from and where he’s going.
“I have been doing interviews for a little while, and I was being interviewed by a father of two neurodivergent daughters,” recounts Dodson. “One of them came in while we were talking, and he asked her what she thought of the movie. She said she saw something of herself in Tyson.”
“I had worried it wouldn’t be realistic, or relatable, that I would do something to cause offense. It was gratifying to hear that she felt that way.”
Dodson also learned the physicality of running while preparing for the film. He says exercise before might’ve included biking to a friend’s house, or getting out of bed. But in the months leading up to his marathon performance, he ran at the local high school and then at a local gym. He wanted to make sure his performance worked, that it didn’t let the film or its message about overcoming obstacles down.
For Major Dodson, learning to run with endurance was just one more obstacle to conquer.
Tyson’s Run debuts in theaters on March 11.