Lens Spotlight: Interview with Actor Michael Oloyede
New York City, New York
How did you get your start with acting?
I started acting when I was a kid. I did local productions at school and it was always a hobby. I’m from a Nigerian household so acting isn't a career goal. I auditioned here and there but it was not something my family or I took seriously. My senior year of college, I was a marketing student at Georgia State Univeristy and I decided I might as well do (career-wise) what I enjoy. So I started studying outside of school in an acting studio in Atlanta. I moved to New York three years ago and I began to slowly make a transition from the “9 to 5” job to studying and auditioning. 2 years ago, I quit my job and decided to pursue acting full time. I’ve been auditioning and working on stage, film, and television ever since.
What sparked the decision to pursue acting full time?
It was a gradual realization. Being in New York and around everything that is "New York" really inspired me. My office was on 40th and Broadway, right in the Theatre District, I would walk pass all the Broadway shows and meet people who were acting and working. The dream became more tangible to me. I thought to myself I’m right here where it happens and I know people making it happen. That is what really push me to step out of my comfort zone to do what makes me happy.
In your opinion, what is your best quality as an actor?
I have always been good at understanding perspective. I believe this is one of the most important tools as an actor. You take on someone else story and it’s important to take on their perspective, and not judge that perspective, good or bad... right or wrong.
On memorable projects:
Recently, I did a play called “Someday Must Come” by Cyrus Aaron. It was a very emotional journey because a lot of the situations in the play are things that we currently face as black men in society. The play was really important to me because the effect it had on the audience. People will stop me on the street and tell me how the play changed their perspective. That showed me how I as an actor can affect the culture, our society, and my peers.
What are some of the challenges you face as an emerging actor?
There are a lot of personal challenges. Acting isn’t a profession where you have someone to report to or have deadlines you have to meet. Right now, I am my own boss. My success is dependent on how hard I work. Transitioning from corporate America and the system of “this next step and this is the process to get to the next step” has been challenging but in a good way. It's challenged me to be disciplined and be diligent. I'm making my own story. Understanding the balance of being an independent artist and paving my own path.
Who are your acting role models?
David Oyelowo is someone I really look up to. We have a lot in common. He is of Nigerian descent and he was born in London like myself. Watching his career from his theatre days in London to his film career, he is really about the craft and being truthful to what he believes. Not only on screen but off screen as well. He is very vocal about what is going on in society and that’s the kind of actor I want to be. It’s not all about being in films and being on stage. It’s about having a platform to speak to truth, inspiring people to walk in their truth.
Denzel Washington for his discipline to the craft. He is another actor who has words of wisdom that just hit and sticks with you.
Meryl Streep is another actor that I really admire. Watching her transform from role to role, have that longevity in the business and still be great at what she does after all these years. That is something I would like to emulate throughout my career.
You stated you have the desire to use your platform for more than just acting. You wanted it to stand for something more. Can you speak more on that desire?
When I made the decision to transition to acting as a career, I asked myself why and I thought long and hard about it. I believe acting can be a platform to give a voice to people who don't generally have a voice to tell their stories. Offstage, people look up to actors to explain what’s going on in the world. To help change perspectives about what one person thinks of another. I want to be able to put things on screen that brings people together. Everyone has been given a gift and I believe we should use those gifts to spread goodness.
Outside of acting, You do some print work as well. Do you consider yourself a style maker?
Yes, I would like to think so. I have a lot of friends as well as people on social media hit me up and ask advice on what to wear and places to shop. I enjoy looking nice, dressing up, and expressing myself through what I wear. Even as a spectator, I enjoy viewing and observing fashion.
How did you develop your personal style?
My mom taught me from a very early age to always look my best. Even if it was a Saturday morning and we were in the house. We would get up, take a shower and put on something nice, just in case we had company. Growing up, I went through a period where I tried to fit in and that didn't work out too well. Then, I got really inspired by artists like Usher, Pharrell, and Kanye. I saw their fashion statements and decided I would step out of the box. That's when I began to develop my personal style.
What is your "go to item" for this winter?
I’m really obsessed with coats now. There are a lot of trench coat situations I think are really cool. I want all of them.
Switching back to acting, what is your dream role?
My dream role on Broadway would be to play Fela Kuti. As far as film, I definitely want to get into writing and producing so I think my dream role will be the one I create.
2016 was a great year for black actors in film and television. How has 2016 inspired you as an emerging actor?
It taught me you have to create the opportunities that you want for yourself. All of these stories were birth from someone saying the door isn’t being opened for me so I’m going to create my own. I’m from Atlanta, so watching (Atlanta FX), I relate to almost everything because it comes from a place of truth. Insecure, my friends and I relate to everything because it comes from a place of truth. It has inspired me to create my own opportunity in truth. It showed me that my experiences, my friends' experiences are good enough to be told, shared and celebrated. It’s been a really good year for people of color in film and I’m excited to see what happens next.
What recent and upcoming projects are you working on?
2016 was a really good year, I was focused on the Broadway aspect of the craft. I did five very different, amazing plays. Some period pieces, some topical pieces with subject matter such as Black Lives Matter. Moving into this year, I’m doing more film. I just shot a short film, Curtis, with a good friend and amazing female director by the name of Tannis Spencer. A film I shot last year called Silent Morning is finally coming out this month. I'm going into production of another short called Love Letter written by Lauren Marissa Smith. It's directed by Marishka Phillips, who I worked with on the off-Broadway production of Their Eyes Were Watching God. I'm excited about this project because Hans Charles (13th) will be serving as director of photography. Also, I've been in talks with Shikeith, a visual artist who I believe is the next Steve McQueen, we worked on a project "Black Boy and a Tree" and we are in discussion about another project in 2017.
What quote or mantra do you live your life by?
Patience and Persistence.
With acting, you go into an audition and you might not hear back for three months... you might not hear back at all. You have to be patient in the journey but at the same time, you have to be persistent. I wake up every day and think to myself have patience in the journey and in what's coming my way, but don't sit around, be persistent in the pursuit, always be doing something.