Dayo Okeniyi hitting the big time

February 22nd, 2013

By Jocelyn Uithaler

Nigerian actor Dayo Okeniyi tells us about his career, his music and working with the big stars in Hollywood.

Nigerian-born actor Dayo Okeniyi is making a name for himself in Hollywood.

Not only was he one of the tributes in the 2012 blockbuster The Hunger Games, but some of his upcoming projects include a movie with Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake.

Dayo spoke to DStv Online about his career, his interests and some of his favourite memories from his village in Oyo state.

Where does your love for acting come from?

From God I suppose. Passion can not be taught, it can only be nurtured. I have loved acting and films for as long as I can remember.

You played Thresh in The Hunger Games – what was that experience like?

It was an unbelievable experience. Actors go their whole careers without being a part of a phenomenon like The Hunger Games. When you dream of something for so long, like I dreamed about being a screen actor, when that dream comes true, it catches you off guard. I feel so blessed to have been a part of a film like that.

What type of training did you do leading up to filming of The Hunger Games?

I had about two months to get into shape leading up to the movie. Thresh is described
as being a physical wonder, so I had to gain a lot of good weight in a short period of time. So I was eating a lot of protein while working out two hours a day, every day for that two month period. An hour of weight training and lifting and an hour of combat and fight choreography training. I gained about 30 pounds of muscle for the role.

What did you learn on the set of The Hunger Games that you will take away and use on other film sets?

Too many things to count. When you work on a movie surrounded by so much amazing talent, just being on set is a learning experience. I would go to the set, even on the days I was not working, just to study the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland. It was like acting class everyday. I learned too much from those guys.

Please tell us about growing up in Nigeria – what are some of your fondest memories?

Growing up in Nigeria was great. I loved my childhood. Throwing “banger” and fireworks at Christmas, all the amazing food, being in the theatre programme at secondary school, running around with my best friends where I grew up in Ikeja, family trips to my village in Oyo state (Ogbomoso). All scenarios are filled with warm memories.

According to your IMDB profile, you have quite a few movie projects coming up, including Runner Runner with Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake. What are they like to work with?

I only got the chance to work with Justin Timberlake and he was a joy to work with. A very poised and prepared actor. He can do it all, the OG definition of triple threat.

If you can invite any three famous people for dinner, what would you cook for them?

Pounded Yam and Egusi.

If I had to pick up your iPod, what would be on your playlist?

Novakillz, Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, Adele, Drake, Meek Mill, Wizkid.

Your career is just kicking off. Which directors are on your bucket list to work with?

Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher and Guillermo Del Toro.

So many celebrities are trying their hands at everything – acting, reality TV, music, fragrances, fashion lines….which of those would you consider in addition to pursuing your acting career?

Music. Music. Music! I founded Balcony Entertainment with a couple of my partners Tomide Odeyemi and Tayo Osuntogun. Along with making music I manage musical talent as well. Novakillz is our new flagship artist. His crossover appeal is amazing. Sonically, his fusion of Afro-beat, R’n’B and Hip Hop is unlike anything coming out of Nigeria. We are a two year start up with ambitions of becoming a 360degree production company.

If you weren’t actor, what other career would you have pursued?

Advertising seemed to be the direction I was headed. Before moving to LA to pursue an acting career, I graduated with a Visual Communication Design degree and had undergone an internship at Ogilvy. I always had the idea that, that would be my Plan B in case acting didn’t work out. It seems like I will not be using that Plan B anytime soon.

Have you travelled much through Africa? If yes, which trips had a great impact on you?

Well, I am half Kenyan and half Nigerian, so I have made several trips from west to east Africa. I love Kenya and I have a lot of relatives that I keep in touch with there. They are such a peaceful people in comparison to west Africans. A region of truth hustlers and go getters. I’ve been to Ghana, Togo and Ethiopia. I love it all.

Next month, there’ll be the AfricaMagic Viewers’ Choice Awards – celebrating African film and TV. Do you keep in touch with African series and movies? If so, what are some of your favorite programmes or movies?

Tinsel takes the gold of course.

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