In an interview with Ebony magazine, Dayo Okeniyi talks about growing up in Nigeria, moving to the States, his parent’s reaction to him wanting to be an actor, and landing the role of Thresh in The Hunger Games.
EBONY: You have an interesting backstory. How did you end up moving to the United States?
Dayo Okeniyi: I was born to a Nigerian dad and a Kenyan mom, and coming to the States was really academic. I came to go to school and even though I had been an actor my whole life−I had been an actor since I was in Nigeria but when I came to the States I put all that behind me, because if you know anything about coming from a third world country to America it’s like, you have the opportunity to do something with your life so you want to do anything but something “trivial” like acting. I decided to go to school for advertising and graphic design. That was what I was gonna do but acting is that thing, it’s like a splinter in your mind and you can’t get rid of it. So I decided to move to L.A. a few years ago and it just snowballed into this thing called The Hunger Games.
EBONY: Considering the mentality you described about coming from a third world country, how did your family take it when you started pursuing acting?
DO: It’s a funny thing because usually where I’m from, it’s frowned upon. Most folks where I come from want their kids to be doctors and lawyers but I think my parents are different because they also had the opportunity to go to college. They went to college in the United States, and I think that makes them different because they come from the mindset of you can do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it, which is very unusual for Nigerian or African folks, so they were all for it. It was almost like they knew that that was what I was supposed to do with my life but it just took me a while to figure that out myself. So, when I mentioned it to them and said this is what I want to do, they were like, “It’s about time!” They told me that if nothing happens in a year or two years that I can move back home and start from scratch. When I called them about The Hunger Games I was pretty happy because that meant I wasn’t coming back home.
EBONY: What was your experience like landing the role?
DO: It was a crazy experience. I signed to my managers last year and they wanted to test me for a while. They wanted me to go on auditions to get feedback from casting directors about how I performed in the room. I don’t think they thought I was gonna get the part, they just sent me in to (casting director) Debra Zane’s office to read with her and get feedback. The Hunger Games was the first audition I went on when I signed with them…I had so many moments on set like, “Is this really happening?” I’m a big fan of the movie just like everyone else. I’m waiting to see this just like everyone else, and I think we did a good job on the movie.
You can read the full Q&A at Ebony.